Catholic Church and the Death Penalty Thesis

Pages: 6 (1546 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Catholic Church and the Death Penalty

The objective of this work is to provide a historical account of the Catholic Church in regards to its position on the death penalty and how that position has changed over time. The work of Norko (2008) entitled: "The Death Penalty in Catholic Teaching and Medicine: Intersections and Places for Dialogue" that the Catholic Church has "...held tensions in its views of the death penalty for centuries. While there have been recent developments in position statements in the Church, they are also not without their disagreements and differences of interpretation, as well as underlying values. " (Norko, 2008, p.1)

Catholics and the Death Penalty

According to Norko the history of the Catholic Church and its teachings on the death penalty is "long and complex and composed of many subtle nuances and not so subtle contradictions and conflicts." (Norko, 2008, p.1) There is stated to be a "virtually unanimous agreement" among Catholic Church members, that "civil authority as guardian of the public good, has been given by God the right to inflict punishments on evildoers, including the punishment of death" (in Norko, 2008, p.1)

II. Five Principles for Consideration

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Norko relates that that the work of E. Christian Brugger summarizes five principles for consideration among "the cumulative consensus of writers throughout the Church's history:

(1) Lawful public authority alone is authorized by God to inflict the death penalty;

(2) This truth is witnessed to in sacred scripture;

(3) The death penalty serves:

(a) To redress disorder caused by an offense by imposing on offenders proportionate and due punishment; and (b) To protect society by removing a harmful influence and to deter other members of the community from committing serious crimes;

TOPIC: Thesis on Catholic Church and the Death Penalty Assignment

(4) Clerics are forbidden from participating in the sentencing and infliction of capital punishments; and (5) The death penalty's lawful infliction requires an upright intention." (Norko, 2008)

III. Early Teachings of the Catholic Church

Norko writes that the earlier writings of the church were of the nature that "generally accept[ed] the legitimacy of civil authority to punish criminals, even with death; the relevant issue is usually the commission of serious crime or sin deserving the punishment." (2008) Norko states that the idea of civil authority is stated to have derived from Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans in which he states as follows:

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them -- taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due [Ref. 6, Romans 13:1 -- 7]. (Norko, 2008, p.1)

IV. The Natural Law Principle

Anthony Gonzales writes that the Church has

"...firmly held to the natural law principle that the state has the right to execute criminals who are a threat both to the innocent and to the harmony of society. One of the principal duties of the state is to protect the rights of its citizens from the unjust taking of those rights. The state itself is supposed to be subordinate to this same principle so that its citizens can feel secure that their individual, God given, rights are protected in every circumstance. When the rights of the innocent person are violated by those who transgress the law the state has the right to use whatever means are necessary and appropriate to secure the rights of its individual citizens and its society as a whole. Without the protection of the state, exercised according to the natural law, the innocent suffer and unjust aggressors prosper, order and harmony break down and freedom for law-abiding citizens is lost.

." (nd, p.2)

V. Survey Findings

James D. Davidson (2005) states in the work entitled: "What Catholics Believe About Abortion and the Death Penalty" that a 2005 survey "shows that there continues to be a sizable gap between official church teachings about abortion and the death penalty and the way American Catholics view these life issues." (p.1) Davidson reports that the gap appears to be narrowing on the views of the death penalty and stated specifically is that the survey finds "little of or no evidence of a consistent life ethic in Catholics' views about these life and death issues." (2005, p.2)

Davidson additionally states that Catholics do not agree with the teachings of the church about the death penalty as "a majority of Catholics support stiffer enforcement of the death penalty" and that 54% stated disagreement with the church in 1999 and 57% stated disagreement with the church in 2005.

The 2005 survey is stated to suggest "...that the gap between church teachings and Catholics' attitudes on this issue might be narrowing. The largest generational difference on this question is between the three older generations (54 to 61% of whom approve of stiffer enforcement) and Millennials (only 41% of whom approve)." (Davidson, 2005, p.2) Davidson states additionally "Catholics who have a college education and are Democrats or Independents are most likely to be pro-life on the death penalty." (2005, p.2)

It was reported in the Journal of Religion & Society work entitled: "The Death Penalty -- Another Threat to a Culture of Life" written by Fleming (2008) states that the following cited from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia

"...probably reflects what most older Catholics were taught regarding the Church's view of the death penalty: "The infliction of capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, and the power of the State to visit upon culprits the penalty of death derives much authority from revelation and from the writings of theologians" (Fleming, 2008, p.1)

Fleming writes that the new approach of the Evangelium Vitae to capital punishment came as a surprise not only to many Catholics but as well to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (2008, paraphrased) Fleming reports that

"...the teaching of the encyclical itself has been subject to varied interpretations. What precisely does it mean to assert that cases "of absolute necessity . . . when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society" except through capital punishment, are "very rare, if not practically non-existent" (John Paul II: no. 56)? The new teaching on the death penalty is complex, nuanced, and not easily expressed in a "sound-bite." One might logically have expected its reception among U.S. Catholics to be a very long, challenging process." (Fleming, 2008, p.1)

Support for the death penalty among Catholics is reported in a 2007 Pew Research Center Survey to have "declined to 62%." (Fleming, 2008, p.1) However, data cited in 'A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death' is stated to indicate that "...among Roman Catholics has dropped even more dramatically, standing at 48% in 2005 (USCCB 2005:10)." (Fleming, 2008, p.l) The 2007 survey also reports a decline of support for the death penalty among Catholics, although a smaller one than A Culture of Life describes (Pew Research Center)." (Fleming, 2008, p.1)… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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