The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“The Church does not exist to affirm our ideological preferences”

posted by jmcgee

“Sorry, but the Church does not exist to affirm us in our ideological preferences. It exists to teach us (among other things) and challenge us with the truth of the gospel. Our posture is to be one of docility to the voice of the Magisterium, not to be blogospheric popinjays who glance at the teaching, declare it nonsense, and return to our comfy ideological holes. We are not, as Catholics, to play the game of Simon Peter Says, in which the Faith is reduced to nothing but a few dogmas, while all the rest of the Church’s wisdom is to be reflexively spat out if it does not comport with our cramped tribal pieties. Only thus and not otherwise will our Catholic faith fulfill the truth Chesterton spoke when he said, ‘The Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.’

– Mark Shea, telling people what they don’t want to hear
about the Church teaching on death penalty.
Read the rest.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 9:50 am

What happened to the other comments?

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posted August 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Sorry I got my blogs crossed! I agree with Mr. Shea that we should follow the Church’s teaching and guidance. But while Abortion is always wrong, the death penalty is not on the same moral plane.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 10:15 am

A brief quote:
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Blogs » Mark Shea
This will bring out a lot of DIY bishops
by Mark Shea Monday, August 30, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (8)
Jack Smith over at the Catholic Key tells us that when the US Conference of Catholic Bishops launches Respect Life Month in October, one of the seven major articles made available in their Respect Life Program will concern the Church’s teaching on the Death Penalty. Here is the article, penned by Bp. Robert W. Finn:
Divine Mercy and the death penalty
By Most Rev. Robert W. Finn
“The greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy. . . . On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls—no one have I excluded!” (Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, p.1182)
“Help us O God of our salvation; . . . according to thy great power, preserve those doomed to die!” (Psalm 79:9, 11)
In January of 1999, Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to St. Louis. When he met with Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri, the Holy Father asked him to commute the death sentence of Darrell Mease, who was scheduled to be executed in the next weeks. Carnahan granted the Pope’s wish, saying he was moved by the Pope’s appeal for mercy.
The Pope did not request a reevaluation of the merits of the condemned man’s case. Rather, he presented a simple and straightforward petition for mercy. The sentence was changed from death by lethal injection to life imprisonment without parole. The common good of society remained protected from the perpetrator. Justice was not confounded, but a higher purpose was served in putting aside the irreversible remedy of death.
The Church’s stance on capital punishment has always been based on the responsibility to protect society. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the legitimate civil authority is obliged to defend people from a dangerous criminal. At the same time, he cautions, “The execution of the wicked is forbidden wherever . . . the wicked are not clearly distinguished from the good.” (Summa Contra Gentiles V., Book III, c.146). Besides reminding us of well-known cases where innocent people were condemned to die, this should remind us that as Christians we are urged not to see anyone as irredeemably wicked.
An alternative to the death penalty
Prior to his intervention in St. Louis, Pope John Paul had laid out his case for the limitation of the use of the death penalty in his encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) (1995) and in his extraordinary 1997 modification of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). He still allowed for the application of the death penalty as a just choice that authority may make in its responsibility to safeguard society from the unjust aggressor. Yet the revised text goes on to say: “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.’”
The sworn responsibility of authority to secure the common good is not easily laid aside. But here the Church, convinced that society can be protected without executing dangerous criminals, charges us to look to a less violent, less final remedy. The Catechism directs us to a solution that preserves the common good without definitively curtailing the individual good of the perpetrator, offering him the opportunity for redemption. Each man, no matter how sinful and flawed, has a final purpose and call to salvation, one that we ought not too easily or unnecessarily preempt.
The above is the “ought” for laying aside the death penalty: legitimate authority can fulfill its responsibility using lesser but sufficient means for protecting the common good. But we should add that the argument of Divine Mercy, while never violating justice, transcends the human “ought.”
Mercy surpasses justice and heals hurts
The correct dispensing of justice always seeks to provide something which is well suited to the person and the circumstance. Justice is giving each person his “due.” (CCC, no. 1807) When Jesus freely submitted to human “justice,” He provided by means of His Cross an act of justification that, because He was divine, satisfied all our sins.
God did not abolish justice. Rather, He intended by the offering of His Son to purge human justice of any sense of wrath or revenge. Time and again we see that violence begets violence in a seeming unending spiral. God told St. Faustina that “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.” (Diary, p.300)
In the Divine Mercy, God receives and quenches human vengeance in Jesus’ own wounded Heart. In this Heart, which is an abyss of love, mercy overcomes hatred. Mercy brings healing that is impossible on a merely human level. Divine Mercy can restore hope, because it flows from the heart of the Risen Christ who, once and for all, has vanquished the finality of death. The deep truth that faith teaches is that only in the context of mercy—God’s mercy and our own forgiveness and mercy—can we, as wounded human men and women, find healing and hope. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7).
A prayer of reparation
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which God gave to the world through St. Faustina, is a beautiful prayer that has a powerful efficacy to repair the hurt wrought by sin. As we respond to God’s call to continuing conversion, the invocations of the Chaplet may be offered as a litany of reparation. With our hearts turned to the Father, we use the Chaplet to profess and invoke God’s mercy accomplished in Christ’s sorrowful Passion. We unite ourselves with the sacrifice of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
When human efforts seem futile and human solutions leave us empty, we pray the Chaplet to beg for a new beginning: the healing of the damage done by our sins and those of others. Our plea for mercy will not fail to reach the Father.
Christ’s execution and the gift of Divine Mercy
The Church’s annual novena to the Divine Mercy begins on Good Friday, the day of the execution of Jesus. The hour of mercy is the hour of His saving sacrifice. This is when blood and water gushed out for our salvation. “On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened by the lance for all souls—no one have I excluded.” (Diary, p.1182) This is the moment that shook the world and stirred the faith of the pagan centurion to say, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” (Mt 27:54)
As we seek a reason to put aside the practice of the death penalty, perhaps the best motive is our desire to imitate God in His mercy toward those for whom Jesus died. Mary, Mother of mercy, pray for us and teach us to show mercy to others.
Most Rev. Robert W. Finn has been bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (Missouri) since 2005. A former chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Task Force on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, he is currently a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The accompanying article is a component of the 2010-2011 Respect Life Program of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
The Cafeteria being as wide open on the right as on the left in America, the normal way this will be treated by prolifers who like the death penalty will be with the standard insistence that “non-dogmatic” means “disposable”. This, strangely, is not the attitude that prolife Catholics take with Humanae Vitae (which also defines no dogma), but it is the attitude they often tend to take with Evangelium Vitae, at least when it comes to the Church’s counsel that the death penalty should only be imposed as a last resort.
I really think Shea has hit the nail on the head.
Thank you, Deacon Kandra.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

Arg – my cut and paste was one sentences…I got the whole text!
Deacon, I do apologize. Please remove that last post.
Here, what I intended:
As we seek a reason to put aside the practice of the death penalty, perhaps the best motive is our desire to imitate God in His mercy toward those for whom Jesus died.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 10:29 am

For some years now, the argument against the death penalty that makes the most sense to me is the idea that we are giving this person so much time to get his or her soul right with God.
“You will be executed at midnight on July 22, 2012. You have until that time to get your soul right with God. If you don’t, too bad. We’re going to kill you.”
This always struck me as an attempt to limit God’s mercy. It surely limits the opportunity for the criminal to embrace God’s mercy.
I’m with JPII. It seems to me that the criminal justice system has the technology and know how to keep dangerous criminals incarcerated for life without parole. The death penalty, while once justified as a means to protect society, is no longer justifiable.
Of course, part of the reform of our criminal justice system that would make it easier to incarcerate dangerous criminals for life is to limit incarceration only to violent criminals. There are plenty of other creative ways to exact punishment from non-violent criminals. They don’t belong in prison, taking up space and resources that ought to be reserved for incarcerating the violent.
Just my two cents…

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Mike L

posted August 30, 2010 at 11:01 am

I have very mixed feelings about the current Church’s change on the death penalty. As I was growing up the Church was very busy defending the death penalty. Even in high school the moral theology classes were making a strong defense of it. So I was rather surprised to see the sudden shift in teaching.
One should be careful of how their conscience is formed, for that training is hard to change when the teaching changes. Besides I have other problems with the current teaching. One problem is the belief that the government can protect society by lifetime imprisonment. Maybe it can, but the recent events in Arizona show that it doesn’t. My own belief is that it really can’t without measures that would be inhumane.
Protecting society, in my mind, also includes protecting those members of society that are also in prison for various reasons. I think that this is much more difficult than protecting the general population, which the government seems incapable of doing.
I do believe that many cases of capitol punishment are not justified. I think that we need to take a hard look at our entire judicial system.
Mike L

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posted August 30, 2010 at 11:32 am

It may be because my first education was conducted by teachers who had grown up under the Nazi regime, perhaps it was the endless patience and willingness to forgive of my parents – whatever the reason, I was taught that vengeance is not mine.
Realistically, it is not under dispute, not even among conservatives in the US, that people are put to death every year who are innocent.
The argument that this is just an unavoidable by-product of ‘justice’ is, to my mind, as far from Christian as one might get.
We need to focus our energies on crime prevention. When, indeed, a crime has been committed, we need to focus on restitution to the victim, where possible. The criminal must be reformed, should this be within our technology, if not, then they must be sequestered from society.
The Arizona escapes of the last years were exclusively from private, profit driven prisons. Justice must never be a profit making enterprise.
This is, I think, a clear, bright line between conservative and liberal Christians. I see the Pope’s words to clearly mean: Nope, you don’t get to kill anybody, no matter how much you want to (see: Torture, pesky Catholic church forbids that, absolutely, too. Drat.) Conservative Christians see the Pope’s words as saying: Go right ahead, kill as you like.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 11:51 am

Another homerun from Mark Shea!
It was only after my study of Sister Faustina that I did a complete 360 on the death penalty, now with a better understanding that God’s great mercy can reach even the most hardened hearts.
That said, I still think the CC is wise to keep the “in extreme circumstances” open, especially as we get more and more activist judges on the benches. For example, if the “Tim McVeigh’s” of the world get released via activist judges, which I think is more and more likely, then I believe a case could righfully be made for using it. By the same token, I would have no problem killing a terrorist on an airplane if he/she was about to take out the whole plane.
Bottom line, providing there is no threat to society or other lives, the death penalty is hard to justify.
Even so, I always pray for people before their executions. I suspect many Catholics do. Tim McVeigh was a great example. Even though he was an admitted athiest/Nazi his entire life (albeit baptised Catholic), he did ask for a Catholic Priest minutes before his lethal injection. Tim McVeigh made a sacramental confession, and based on the teachings of the CC, should be saved by the great mercy of God. I trust God works out the “justice” as in temporal punishment, purgatory, the emotial suffering of the victims’ families, or whatever, but the point is, a soul is saved.
I remember reading about Tim’s dad, who from all accounts, was/is a devout Catholic. God never denies spiritual gifts, and I have little doubt that McVeigh’s father prayed a liftime for the grace for his son to respond to God’s mercy, probably never in a million years imagining his prayer would be granted minutes before the curtain opened on death row! I also think this is when prayers of the contemplatives really take hold too. My monk nephew once explained to me that “the daily news” really doesn’t matter much, because they always know that many souls are in great need of God’s mercy, and THAT is what they pray for, 24/7.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The Church has not changed her fundamental teachings on the death penalty. The death penalty is not considered an intrinsic evil. It can be just.
But the world has changed. And the circumstances that make the death penalty just are not as wide-spread as they once were. We are now to the point where one can make a reasonable argument that the circumstances that make the death penalty just are practically non-existent in some places .. such as the US.
Additionally, I think we have to understand that even when the death penalty is just, its application can be unjust. Considering how frequently convicts on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence and considering how lopsided the death row population is in favor of the poor, I think it is hard to make the argument that the US system applies the death penalty justly.
Justice is not a new Catholic teaching.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I apologize. I assumed you would stand for the death penalty.
You are capable of a spiritual growth I shall never attain.

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted August 30, 2010 at 7:59 pm

But we against capital punishment have a duty to find a way to make prisons safe for the prison guards we expect to keep murderers in cells instead of executing them. But I never see anyone against capital punishment evince the slightest interest in the risks prison guards take to keep violent prisoners incarcerated. It is almost callous the way their lives and the sanctity of their lives and their families are just never mentioned in the debate. In one recent year 8 prison guards were murdered in prison. Try to find this data on any internet site debating this issue. Not easy.
However, there is a federal prison somewhere in the midwest where there have been no guards murdered. The prisoners rarely or never have contact with the guards–it is like permanent solitary confinement.
But, naturally, those against capital punishment have been the first to call this prison guilty of cruel and unusual punishment.
It really bothers me at how expendable the lives of prison guards seem to be in resolving this hot issue.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm

That’s a very interesting point you brought up Dcn. John and yet another “inconsistency” of the “selective” life rights of the left.
Now why would the left want a criminal to live free as a bird and at the same time, have little to no regard for the safety of the employees, OR, innocent life in the womb?
In that question remains all we need to know.
Thank you for you apology Panthera. It’s almost midnight and I only now had time to log back in. I do have to take issue with your kind (and most hopeful), words:
You are capable of a spiritual growth I shall never attain.
To that Panthera I say, “Only by the grace of God.” Just know that it’s there for you too! It’s all about grace.

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Your Name

posted August 31, 2010 at 11:15 am

Group Hug!!
I love it when we all get along…

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