Time for Penance

Russell Shaw on why the Sacrament of Penance isn’t more frequently received by Catholics:

[A]t least for some Catholics, the sacrament of Penance remains a normal, natural part of their religious lives.

It hardly needs saying that today this isn’t everywhere true. There’s been a drastic decline in reception of this sacrament in the last 30 or 40 years. The question is, why?
You can see a hint of an answer, perhaps, in a Catholic News Service story noting the topics of some of this year’s Lenten pastoral letters in the United States: “immigration reform, an end to the death penalty and helping children in need.”

Immigration reform, ending the death penalty, and helping kids are good causes that I strongly support. Nor do I question a bishop’s right to determine what needs saying in his diocese at any given time. The question I’m raising isn’t the goodness of the causes or the rights of bishops. It’s whether, generally speaking, it makes sense to focus the meaning of Lent on issues like these.

Lent is a special occasion for penance in both its sacramental and general senses. Penance means sorrow and reparation for one’s sins. Obviously there are many good ways to express sorrow and make reparation. But immigration reform — desirable though it is –seems a bit of a stretch. Work for it, certainly, but in Lent work especially to eradicate sin from your life.

The sacrament of Penance is an important one as it helps us rectify the wrong we’ve done to God through our sins. For many reasons, it’s fallen out of favor. The Church needs to remind people of the need to reconcile with God and Lent seems to be a perfect time for that. It seems, though, that once again that the view of the Church as a social agency has won out again within the bureaucracy of the USCCB.

3 thoughts on “Time for Penance

  1. The USCCB’s opposition to capital punishment is based upon flawed reasoning and is strictly part of a social agenda, conflicting with biblical, theological and traditional principles.

    Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    Based upon recent events, it might be wrongly assumed that there is little Christian support for the death penalty. However, the biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty is quite solid.

    Many of the current religious campaigns against the death penalty reflect a fairly standard anti death penalty message, routed in secular arguments. When they do address religious issues, they often neglect solid theological foundations, choosing, instead, select biblical sound bites which do not impact the solid basis of death penalty support.

    While religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction, it is always important to look at all sides of the issues.

    1) 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows: June, 2004 “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=1125
    Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: More Concerned with ‘Comfort’ than Christ?, Catholic Online, 7/11/2004

    2) Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000, “At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (Jn 19:1 l).Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Lk 23:41). ”

    “Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.”

    “Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners.”

    “The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment. ”

    “Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.”

    “The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime. Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the Consistent Ethic of Life here at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the classical position that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

    “Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. ”

    (“The Death Penalty: A Right to Life Issue?” at http://pewforum.org/deathpenalty/resources/reader/17.php3
    NOTE: although Dulles makes palpable errors of fact and logic within the sections “The Purposes of Punishment” and “Harm Attributed to the Death Penalty”, it is, otherwise, a solid historical treatment of the Church and the death penalty)

    3) St. Augustine: “The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice.” The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21

    4) St. Thomas Aquinas finds all biblical interpretations against executions “frivolous”, citing Exodus 22:18, “wrongdoers thou shalt not suffer to live”. Unequivocally, he states,” The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146

    5) St. Thomas Aquinas: “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.

    6) Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. In addition to the required punishment for murder and the deterrence standards, both Saints find that executing murderers is also an act of charity and mercy. Saint Augustine confirms that ” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.) Saint Thomas Aquinas finds that ” . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6 ad 2.)

    7) Pope Pius XII: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

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    A specific case

    “For the temporary gratification of his lust, the defendant destroyed an entire family’s future. He has forfeited his right to live.” Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg endors(ing) the jury’s recommendation to impose the death penalty on Alejandro Avila, who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered 5 year old Samantha Runnion. “Avila grabbed a kicking and screaming Samantha as she played outside her Stanton home. Her nude body was found the following day in the mountains about 50 miles away, left on the ground as if it had been posed.” ( ” ‘Judge: Girl’s killer forfeits ‘right to live’ “- Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA), July 23, 2005, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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    8) “Catholic scholar Steven A. Long says in “Evangelium Vitae, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Death Penalty” (The Thomist, 1999, pp. 511-52), “It is nearly the unanimous opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that the death penalty is morally licit, and the teaching of past popes (and numerous catechisms) is that this penalty is essentially just (and even that its validity is not subject to cultural variation).” Most recently, Avery Cardinal Dulles says both Scripture and tradition agree “that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death” (First Things, May 2001). Moreover, Cardinal Dulles admits that opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches.” “Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan has noted that the moral-theological tradition of the Church is “almost unanimously permissive of the death penalty” (“The Death Penalty in Evangelium Vitae,” in Ecumenical Ventures in Ethics, p. 219).” (“Capital Punishment, Justice, and Timothy McVeigh”, Keith Pavlischek. The Center For Public Justice, May 21, 2001, www(dot)cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$444

    9) Pope (and Saint) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

    10) St. Thomas Aquinas: “If a man is a danger to the community, threatening it with disintegration by some wrongdoing of his, then his execution for the healing and preservation of the common good is to be commended. Only the public authority, not private persons, may licitly execute malefactors by public judgement. Men shall be sentenced to death for crimes of irreparable harm or which are particularly perverted.” Summa Theologica, 11; 65-2; 66-6.

    11) “St. Thomas Aquinas quotes a gloss of St. Jerome on Matthew 27: “As Christ became accursed of the cross for us, for our salvation He was crucified as a guilty one among the guilty.” “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins and crucified among thieves.” ” That Christ be put to death as a guilty person, presupposes that death is a fitting punishment for those who are guilty.” Prof. Michael Pakaluk, The Death Penalty: An Opposing Viewpoints Series Book, Greenhaven Press, (hereafter TDP:OVS), 1991

    Christian, not specifically Catholic, references

    12) Paul, in his hearing before Festus, states: “if then I am a wrong doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die.” Acts 25:11. “Very clearly this constitutes an acknowledgment on the part of the inspired apostle that the state continued to have the power of life and death in the administration of justice, just as it did from the days of Noah (Gen 9:6)”.

    13) God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11. By executing two such devoted Christians for lying to Him, does the Holy Spirit show confirmation of His support for His divinely instituted civil punishment of execution for premeditated murder or does it show His rejection of capital punishment? And read all of Revelation.

    14) Jesus “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22. Should any explanation be necessary, Jesus is saying that even as execution is the required punishment for murderers, as per the Old Testament, He tells us that those who speak ill of others and have hatred in their heart shall suffer in hell. Not only does Jesus never speak out against the civil authorities just use of execution for murder, He prescribes a much more serious, eternal punishment for those who hate and speak ill of others. And what price does God exact for any and all sin? Death. (Romans 5:12-14)

    15) Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”(John 19:10-11). “Jesus reminds Pilate that the implementation of the death penalty is a divinely entrusted responsibility that is to be justly implemented. Prof. Carl F.H. Henry, 45th Annual N.A.E. Convention, “Capital Punishment and The Bible”. Jesus confirms that the civil authority has the lawful right to execute Jesus, and others, and that this right has been given to that authority by God.

    16) Biblical scholar Dr. Baruch Levine ” . . . pronouncements about divine behavior (in the Hebrew Bible) correlated in the judicial context to attitudes toward death as a proper punishment. Quite clearly, the New Testament carries on the earlier mentality.” As Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount, “Obedience will be rewarded with life; disobedience will be punished with destruction. A God who rewards with life and punishes with death is One whose laws provide for death as a judicial punishment.” “Capital Punishment,” p 31, What the Bible Really Says, ed. Smith & Hoffman, 1993.

    17) Biblical scholar Dr. Carl F. H. Henry “The rejection of capital punishment is not to be dignified as a higher Christian way” that enthrones the ethics of Jesus. The argument that Jesus as the incarnation of divine love cancels the appropriateness of capital punishment in the New Testament era has little to commend it. Nowhere does the Bible repudiate capital punishment for premeditated murder; not only is the death penalty for deliberate killing of a fellow human being permitted, but it is approved and encouraged, and for any government that attaches at least as much value to the life of an innocent victim as to a deliberate murderer, it is ethically imperative.” Twilight Of A Great Civilization, Crossway, 1988, p 70,72.

    18) Father Pierre Lachance, O.P. : “There is no question but that capital punishment was not only allowed but mandated in the Old Testament. In the New Law (New Testament) (St.) Paul recognizes the legitimacy of capital punishment . . . “It is not without purpose that the ruler carries the sword. He is God’s servant, to inflict his avenging wrath upon the wrongdoer”. Romans 13:4.(TDP:OVS, 1986, pg. 84) .

    19) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, wrote a landmark essay on the death penalty entitled “A Bible Study”. Here is a synopsis of his analysis: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113) Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116). Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

    20) Protestant scholar Rev. Reuben Hahn (Mt. Prospect, Ill.), “God, Himself, instituted the death penalty (Genesis 9:6) and Christ regarded capital punishment as a just penalty for murder (Matthew 26:52). God gave to government the legitimate authority to use capital punishment to restrain murder and to punish murderers. Not to inflict the death penalty is a flagrant disregard for God’s divine Law which recognizes the dignity of human life as a product of God’s creation. Life is sacred, and that is why God instituted the death penalty. Consequently, whoever takes innocent human life forfeits his own right to live. (Human Events, 3/2/85). Church of England Bishop the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, said that anyone who deliberately murdered another human being “immediately forfeited his or her right to life”. This was in a discussion regarding the recent execution of Iraqi dictator and mass murderer Saddam Hussein. “Saddam ‘forfeited right to life’ says Bishop”, THE TELEGRAPH (London), 1/2/2007).

    21) Charles W. Colson, Founder, Prison Fellowship : “It is because humans are created in the image of God that capital punishment for premeditated murder was a perpetual obligation. The full range of biblical data weighs in its favor. This is the one crime in the Bible for which no restitution was possible (Numbers 35:31,33). The Noahic covenant recorded in Genesis 9 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. “Gen 9:6) antedates Israel and the Mosaic code; it transcends Old Testament Law, per se, and mirrors ethical legislation that is binding for all cultures and eras. The sanctity of human life is rooted in the universal creation ethic and thus retains its force in society. The Christian community is called upon to articulate standards of biblical justice, even when this may be unpopular. Capital justice is part of that non-negotiable standard. Society should execute capital offenders to balance the scales of moral judgement.” From “Capital Punishment: A Personal Statement”, by Charles W. Colson., a former opponent of capital punishment. He is spiritual advisor and friend to numerous death row inmates and the Founder of Prison Fellowship, the largest Christian ministry serving incarcerated prisoners. Ph.703-478-0100.

    22) The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God. Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not fully truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never. Truly, just as St. Aquinas predicted, it was his pending execution which finally led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation. And, for that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made. A real life example of this may be the case of Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the highly premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham. During his final statement, Gentry said, “I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus.” As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, “Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord.” (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97). We cannot know if Gentry or the fictitious Poncelet or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation. But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again. Indeed, as Dr. W.H. Baker confirms in his On Capital Punishment (Moody Press, 1985), biblical text finds that it is a violation of God’s mandate not to execute premeditated murderers – and nowhere does the text contradict this finding.

    23) Biblical Scholar Dr. Carl F.H.Henry: Christians who speak out against capital punishment in deserving cases ” . . . tend to subordinate the justice of God to the love of God. . . . Peter, by cutting off Malchu’s ear,. . . was most likely trying to kill the soldier (John 18:10)”, prompting ” . . . Christ’s statement that those who kill by the sword are subject to die by the sword (Matthew 26:51-52).” This ” implicitly recognizes the government’s right to exercise the death penalty.” “A Matter of Life and Death”, p 52 Christianity Today, 8/4/95.

    24) Sister Helen Prejean: “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical proof text in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition “Let him without sin cast the first stone”, when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context. This passage is an entrapment story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment . Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.

    Misuse and misunderstanding of John 8:7 is quite common. See Forgery in the Gospel of John
    www(dot)religioustolerance.org/john_8(dot)htm

    25) Catholic biblical scholar Father Richard Roach, S.J. argues that it is not a contradiction for religious people to oppose abortion and . . . to support capital punishment. “Abortion is absolutely prohibited. It is always evil. No one can ever abort a guilty baby, so the act can never be right. This is not the case, however, with either capital punishment or a just and defensive war. It is only murder, along with its subdivisions suicide and abortion, which God’s law absolutely prohibits. The upshot of all this is that trying to put abortion, capital punishment and war in one package makes chaos of Catholic morals and can lead one to misinterpret God’s Law . . . ” Princeton. University scholar Dr. Paul Ramsey fully concurs: “abortion and capital punishment are two different questions. There is no inconsistency between moral disapproval of unnecessarily killing the innocent and the judicial execution of the guilty.” (Haven Bradford Gow, “Religious Views Support The Death Penalty”, The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints, Greenhaven Press, 1986, p. 81- 82 & 84). Some churches are now espousing a pro-life continuum, a philosophy whereby the taking of any life, under any circumstances, must be condemned – such as the taking of lives through war, self defense, suicide, abortion and the death penalty. This is an interesting social philosophy which directly conflicts with the Word of God.

    26) Scholar Dr. Jacob J. Vellenga, former Associate Executive of the United Presbyterian Church (USA): “The opposition to capital punishment is not based on Scripture but on a vague philosophical idea that the taking of a life is wrong, under every circumstance, and fails to distinguish adequately between killing and murder, between punishment and crime. The argument that capital punishment rules out the possibility of repentance for crime is unrealistic. If a wanton killer does not repent when the sentence of death is upon him, he certainly will not repent if he has 20-50 years of life imprisonment. The sentence of death on a killer is more redemptive than the tendency to excuse his crime as no worse than grand larceny. Mercy always infers a tacit recognition that justice and rightness are to be expected. The Holy God does not show mercy contrary to his righteousness but in harmony with it. That is why the awful Cross was necessary and a righteous Christ had to hang on it. That is why God’s redemption is always conditioned by one’s heart attitude. The Church and individual Christians should be active in their witness to the Gospel of love and forgiveness; but meanwhile wherever and whenever God’s love and mercy are rejected, as in crime, natural law and order must prevail, not as extraneous to redemption but as part of the whole scope of God’s dealings with man. No matter how often a jury recommends mercy, the law of capital punishment must stand as the silent but powerful witness to the sacredness of God-given life. Active justice must be administered when the sacredness of life is violated. Life is sacred, and he who violates the sacredness of life through murder must pay the supreme penalty. It is significant that when Jesus voluntarily went the way of the Cross He chose the capital punishment of His day as His instrument to save the world. And when He gave redemption to the repentant thief He did not save Him from capital punishment but gave him paradise instead. We see again that mercy and forgiveness are something different from being excused from wrongdoing. A synopsis of “Is Capital Punishment Wrong”, p. 63-72, Essays on the Death Penalty, ed. T. Robert Ingram, Houston, 1963, 1992.

    27) The leadership councils of some Christian denominations in the U.S. have released statements in opposition to the death penalty. These statements reflect social positions that have questionable biblical foundation and, often, they reflect positions which selectively only discuss the mercy of God and improperly avoid the justice of God. For example, some believe that it would be hypocritical for Christians to support capital punishment, because that would suggest that some peoples sins are not forgivable. They argue that capital punishment conflicts with Jesus’ teachings – that, if we are not willing to forgive, then we place ourselves outside of God’s forgiveness. Such pronouncements are hardly convincing and are biblically inaccurate. All death row inmates, no matter how vile and numerous their misdeeds, are subject to the forgiveness of men and of God and, more importantly, they are subject to redemption and eternal salvation. Indeed, God compels us, individually, to forgive those who have harmed us. This, in no way, conflicts with the biblical mandate that the government authority impose the death penalty in deserving cases. Social positions cannot and do not replace biblical instruction. Furthermore, the murder victim is hardly capable of forgiving the murderer. The biblical requirement to forgive those who injure us is an individual requirement. Therefore, no one, other than God, has the moral authority to forgive the crime of murder.

    28) “While the thief on the cross found pardon in the sight of God. ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise – that pardon did not extend to eliminating the consequences of his crime. ‘We are being justly punished, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds’. (Luke 23:39-43)”. Neither God nor Jesus nor the Holy Spirit nor the prophets nor the apostles ever spoke out against the civil authorities use of executions in deserving cases – not even at the very time of Jesus’ own execution when He pardoned the sins of the thief, who was being crucified along side Him. Indeed, quite the opposite. Their biblical support for capital punishment is consistent and overwhelming. Furthermore, Jesus never confuses the requirements of civil justice with those of either eternal justice or personal relations. Charles Colson accurately recognizes this fact in stating that” it leads to a perversion of legal justice to confuse the sphere of private relations with that of civil law.” All quotations from Charles Colson’s “Capital Punishment: A Personal Statement”.

    29) Protestant scholar and journalist Rev. G. Aiken Taylor states, “Most Christians tend to confuse the Christian personal ethic with the requirements of social order. In other words, we tend to apply what the Bible teaches us about how we – personally – should behave toward our neighbors with what the Bible teaches about how to preserve order in society. And there is a big difference. Capital punishment is specifically enjoined in the Bible. ‘Who ever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ (Genesis 9-6). This command is fully agreeable to the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ (Exodus 20:13), because the two appear in the same context. Exactly 25 verses after saying ‘Thou shalt not kill’, the Law says, ‘He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death’ (Ex 21:12).” See also Leviticus 24:17 and Numbers 35:30-31.(TDP:OVS, pg. 84,1986) Biblical teachings regarding personal conduct, civil government and eternal judgement and relations are often taken out of context, thereby replacing one duty or instruction improperly with another.

    30) Biblical scholar Lloyd R. Bailey. The Bible clearly asserts, from beginning to end, without any reservation, that righteous judgement includes the execution of a murderer. In the case of murder, the biblical materials offer the clearest and most sustained justification for the death penalty. The purpose of capital punishment is justice – deterrence is irrelevant. A person who takes a human life, without proper sanction, forfeits any right to life – no alternative is allowed and the community must not be swayed by values to the contrary.

    Listen carefully to the Bible as the Word of God rather than seek to improve upon it by means of human values. However meritorious mercy may be, however abundantly evident it may be in God’s own dealings, murder was an offense for which mercy and pity were not allowed and for which monetary compensation was strictly forbidden. The sentence is set by God’s torah and a judge cannot have discretion in this matter. Murder is something utterly on its own, nothing can be compared to it.

    It should not be overlooked, in seeking to discover the ‘mind of Jesus Christ’ on the issue of murder and its punishments, that He goes beyond torah to the statement that even verbal abuse makes one deserving of ‘the hell of fire’. Far from releasing believers from prior law, Jesus was a ‘hard liner’ who made things even tougher, stating that He has come not ‘to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them.’, offering even stronger interpretations than in the original (Matthew 5:17-22). Indeed, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees not to misuse torah for their own ends, but to honor God and torah. And of all the text in the Bible, which one does Jesus select to emphasize that crucial point? ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, LET HIM BE PUT TO DEATH’ (Matthew 15:1-9).

    All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible’s own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.’ (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.). Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says, Abingdon Press, 1987: An approved synopsis.

    This book is mandatory reading for those who wish to undertake a thorough and accurate look at this often misused and misunderstood area of concern and debate.

    copyright 2001-2007

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites
    www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
    www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
    www(dot)dpinfo.com
    www(dot)homicidesurvivors.com
    joshmarquis(dot)blogspot.com/
    www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
    www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
    www(dot)prodeathpenalty.org/
    www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_contents.htm (Sweden)
    www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

  2. Pope John Paul II & the Death Penalty: His obvious errors
    by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    (contact info, below)
    October 1997, with subsequent updates thru 8/06

    SEE ADDITIONAL REFERENCES AT THE END OF THIS DOCUMENT

    Pope John Paul II made significant errors within his Evangelium Vitae, with regard to the death penalty and, as a result, those teachings should not have been entered into the Catechism. Please review.

    In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the 1992 Universal Catechism to reflect Pope John Paul II’s comments within his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Therein, the Pope finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required “to defend society” and that “as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent.”

    This is, simply, not true. Murderers, tragically, harm and murder, again, way too often.

    Three issues, inexplicably, escaped the Pope’s consideration.

    First, in the Pope’s context, “to defend society” means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives or, otherwise, prevent future harm.

    When looking at the history of criminal justice practices in probations, paroles and incarcerations, we observe countless examples of when judgements and procedures failed and, because of that, murderers harmed and/or murdered, again. History details that murderers murder and otherwise harm again, time and time again — in prison, after escape, after improper release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them.

    Reason dictates that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and/or murder again than are executed murderers.

    Therefore, the Pope could err, by calling for a reduction or end to execution, and thus sacrifice more innocents, or he could “err” on the side of protecting more innocents by calling for an expansion of executions.

    History, reason and the facts support an increase in executions based upon a defending society foundation.

    Secondly, if social science concludes that executions provide enhanced deterrence for murders, then the Pope’s position should call for increased executions.

    If we decide that the deterrent effect of executions does not exist and we, therefore, choose not to execute, and we are wrong, this will sacrifice innocent lives and also give those murderers the opportunity to harm and murder again.

    If we choose to execute, believing in the deterrent effect, and we are wrong, we are executing our worst human rights violators and preventing such murderers from ever harming or murdering again – again, saving more innocent lives.

    No responsible social scientist has or will say that the death penalty deters no one. Quite a few studies, including 8 recent ones, find that executions do deter.

    As all prospects for negative consequence deter some, it is a mystery why the Pope chose the option which spares murderers and sacrifices more innocent lives.

    If the Pope’s defending society position has merit, then the Church must actively support executions, as it offers an enhanced defense of society and greater protection for innocent life.

    Thirdly, we know that some criminals don’t murder because of their fear of execution. This is known as the individual deterrent effect. Unquestionably, the incapacitation effect (execution) and the individual deterrent effect both exist and they both defend society by protecting innocent life and offer enhanced protections over imprisonment. Furthermore, individual deterrence assures us that general deterrence must exist, because individual deterrence could not exist without it. Executions save lives.

    Therefore, the Pope’s defending society standard should be a call for increasing executions. Instead, the Pope and other Church leadership has chosen a position that spares the lives of known murderers, resulting in more innocents put at risk and more innocents harmed and murdered — a position which, quite clearly, contradicts the Pope’s, and other’s, emphasis on defending society.

    Contrary to the Church’s belief, that the Pope’s opinion represents a tougher stance against the death penalty, the opposite is true. When properly evaluated, the defending society position supports more executions.

    Had these issues been properly assessed, the Catechism would never have been amended — unless the Church endorses a position knowing that it would spare the lives of guilty murderers, at the cost of sacrificing more innocent victims.

    When the choice is 1) sparing murderers, resulting in more harmed and murdered innocents, who suffer through endless moments of incredible horror, with no additional time to prepare for their salvation, or 2) executing murderers, who have on average, an additional 10 years on death row to prepare for their salvation, and saving more innocents from being murdered, the Pope and the Catholic Church have an obligation to spare the innocent, as Church tradition, the Doctors of the Church and many Saints have concluded. (see reference, below)

    Pope John Paul II’s death penalty stance is his own, personal prudential judgement and does not bind any other Catholic to share his position. Any Catholic can choose to support more executions, based upon their own prudential judgement, and remain a Catholic in good standing.

    Furthermore, prudential judgement requires a foundation of reasoned and thorough review. The Pope either improperly evaluated the risk to innocents or he did not evaluate it at all.

    A defending society position supports more executions, not less. Therefore, his prudential judgement was in error on this important point of fact.

    Furthermore, defending society is an outcome of the death penalty, but is secondary to the foundation of justice and biblical instruction.

    Even though Romans and additional writings do reveal a “defending society” consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the proper punishment for murder, regardless of any consideration “to defend society.” Both the Noahic covenant, in Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”), and the Mosaic covenant, throughout the Pentateuch (Ex.: “He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death.” Exodus 21:12), provide execution as the punishment for unjustifiable/intentional homicide, otherwise known as murder.

    These texts, and others, offer specific rebuttal to the Pope’s position that if “bloodless means” for punishment are available then such should be used, to the exclusion of execution. The Pope’s prudential judgement does not trump biblical instruction.

    Most telling is the fact that Roman Catholic tradition instructs four elements to be considered with criminal sanction.
    1. Defense of society against the criminal.
    2. Rehabilitation of the criminal (including spiritual rehabilitation).
    3. Retribution, which is the reparation of the disorder caused by the criminal’s transgression.
    4. Deterrence

    It is a mystery why and how the Pope could have excluded three of these important elements. In doing so, though, we can confirm that his review was very incomplete and, thus, improper.

    At least two Saints, Paul and Dismas, faced execution and stated that it was appropriate. They were both executed.

    The Holy Ghost decided that execution was the proper punishment for two devoted, early Christians, Ananias and his wife, Saphira, for the crime/sin of lying. Neither was given a moment to consider their earthly punishment or to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Ghost struck them dead.

    For those who erroneously contend that Jesus abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament, He states that He has come not “to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17-22. While there is honest debate regarding the interpretation of Mosaic Law within a Christian context, there seems little dispute that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and that Genesis 9:6 deals directly with the sanctity of life issue in its support of execution. (read “A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World” by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).

    “In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000)

    Saint Pius V reaffirms this mandate, in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), stating that executions are acts of “paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment.” (“Thou shalt not murder,” sometimes improperly translated as “kill” instead of “murder”). And, not only do the teachings of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine concur, but both saints also find that such punishment actually reflects charity and mercy by preventing the wrongdoer from sinning further. The Saints position is that execution offers undeniable defense of society as well as defense of the wrongdoer.

    Such prevention also expresses the fact that execution is an enhanced defense of society, over and above all other punishments.

    The relevant question is “What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from ‘paramount obedience’ to God’s eternal law to a civil standard reflecting ‘steady improvements’ . . . in the penal system?”. Such teachings hadn’t changed. The Pope’s position is social, not biblical nor theological.

    If Saint Pius V was correct, that executions represent “paramount obedience to the [Fifth] Commandments, then is it not disobedient to reduce or stop executions?

    The Church’s position on the use of the death penalty has been consistent from 300 AD through 1995 AD. The Church has always supported the use of executions, based upon biblical and theological principles.

    Until 1995, says John Grabowski, associate professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University, ” . . . Church teachings were supportive of the death penalty. You can find example after example of Pope’s, of theologians and others, who have supported the right of the state to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes and certain cases.” Grabowski continues: “What he (the Pope now) says, in fact, in his encyclical, is that given the fact that we now have the ability, you know, technology and facilities to lock up someone up for the rest of their lives so they pose no future threat to society — given that question has been answered or removed, there is no longer justification for the death penalty.” (All Things Considered, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 9/9/97.)

    The Pope’s position is now based upon the state of the corrections system — a position neither biblical nor theological in nature. Furthermore, it is a position which conflicts with the history of prisons. Long term incarceration of lawbreakers in Europe began in the 1500s. Of course, long term incarceration of slaves had begun thousands of years before — meaning that all were aware that criminal wrongdoers could also be subject to bondage, if necessary – something that all historians and biblical scholars — now and then and in between — were and are well aware of.

    Since it’s inception, the Church has issued numerous pronouncements, encyclicals and previous Universal Catechisms. Had any biblical or theological principle called for a replacement of the death penalty by life imprisonment, it could have been revealed long before 1995.

    There is, finally, a disturbing reality regarding the Pope’s new standard. The Pope’s defending society standard requires that the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant. The Pope’s standard finds that capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to prevent future crimes. Therefore, using the Pope’s standard, the moral/biblical rational — that capital punishment is the just or required punishment for murder — is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder.

    If defending society is the new standard, the Pope has decided that the biblical standards of atonement, expiation, justice and required punishments have all, necessarily, been discarded, with regard to execution.

    The Pope’s new position establishes that capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed. Yet, such connection had always been, until now, the Church’s historical, biblically based perspective on this sanction. Under a defending society standard, the injury suffered by the murder victim is no longer relevant to their punishment. Executions can be justified solely upon that punishments ability to prevent future harm by the murderer.

    Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a defending society standard renders justice irrelevant. Yet, execution defends society to a degree unapproachable by any other punishment and, therefore, should have been fully supported by the Pope.

    “Some enlightened people would like to banish all conception of retribution or desert from our theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by doing so they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?” (quote attributed to the distinguished Christian writer C. S. Lewis)

    Again, with regard to the Pope’s prudential judgement, his neglect of justice was most imprudent.

    Some Catholic scholars, properly, have questioned the appropriateness of including prudential judgement within a Catechism. Personal opinion does not belong within a Catechism and, likely, will never be allowed, again. I do not believe it had ever been allowed before.

    In fact, neither the Church nor the Pope would accept a defending society standard for use of the death penalty, unless the Church and the Pope believed that such punishment was just and deserved, as well. The Church has never questioned the authority of the government to execute in “cases of extreme gravity,” nor does it do so with these recent changes.

    Certainly, the Church and the Pope John Paul II believe that the prevention of any and all violent crimes fulfills a defending society position. And there is no doubt that executions defend society at a level higher than incarceration. Why has the Pope and many within Church leadership chosen a path that spares murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives, when they could have chosen a stronger defense of society which spares more innocents?

    Properly, the Pope did not challenge the Catholic biblical and theological support for capital punishment. The Pope has voiced his own, personal belief as to the appropriate application of that penalty.

    So why has the Pope come out against executions, when his own position — a defense of society — which, both rationally and factually, has a foundation supportive of more executions?

    It is unfortunate that the Pope, along with some other leaders in the Church, have decided to, improperly, use a defending society position to speak against the death penalty.

    The Pope’s position against the death penalty condemns more innocents and neglects justice.

    ——————————————-
    Please also refer to:

    (1) “Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty”, at
    homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

    (2) “Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective” at
    www(DOT)sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/capital_punishment.htm

    (3) “The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)”, by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
    www(dot)st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2003/21-4

    (4) “MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?”, KARL KEATING’S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004
    www(dot)catholic.com/newsletters/kke_040302.asp

    (5) “THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS’ MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS” , KARL KEATING’S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers,, Nov. 22, 2005
    www(dot)catholic.com/newsletters/kke_051122.asp

    copyright 1997-2007 Dudley Sharp

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharp(at)aol.com, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites
    www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
    www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
    www(dot)dpinfo.com
    joshmarquis(dot)blogspot.com/
    www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
    www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
    www(dot)prodeathpenalty.org/
    www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_contents.htm (Sweden)
    www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

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