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Cross-posted from Bold Faith Type
By John Gehring

Over 100 Catholic theologians and scholars who just released a statement laying out clear moral arguments for opposing the death penalty should set up a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Just days after the unconscionable execution of Troy Davis, the justice delivered a speech at Duquesne University School of Law in which he offered to resign if he ever decides that his unyielding support for the death penalty conflicts with Catholic teaching. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

The justice's appearance, however, was not without its controversy as nine people outside the Palumbo Center carried signs and handed out material opposed to the death penalty. The Rev. Gregory C. Swiderski, who organized the group, said he did not expect to influence Justice Scalia; he hoped to reach some of those who came to hear him. But Justice Scalia said he did see them and told the audience that he was aware of their position. Still, he said, he found no contradiction between his religious views and his support of the death penalty. "If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign," he said. "I could not be a part of a system that imposes it."

Really? Scalia clearly needs some religious education as it relates to Church teaching about a consistent ethic of life and human dignity. Earlier this month, the Catholic bishops in Georgia joined other religious and human rights leaders including Pope Benedict XVI to urge the state of Georgia to pardon Davis. This didn't stop Catholics on the high court (Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor ) from rejecting last-minute appeals to spare Davis' life.

The Church has been a longtime and vocal opponent of state-sanctioned executions for similar reasons Catholic moral teaching also rejects abortion and torture as unacceptable assaults on the sanctity of human life (see the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Faithful Citizenship" statement). As the Catholic theologians and scholars write:

In calling for the abolition of the "cruel and unnecessary" death penalty, Blessed Pope John Paul II argued that "[t]he new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil"... Therefore, in concert with our recent popes and bishops, we oppose the death penalty, whether a person on death row is guilty or innocent, on both theological and practical grounds.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Vatican's Justice and Peace office, has this to say about the death penalty:

Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitely denying them the chance to reform. Whereas, presuming the full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the guilty party, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude the death penalty when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. Bloodless methods of deterrence and punishment are preferred as they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Justice Scalia and other Catholic members of the Supreme Court frequently attend the Red Mass in Washington held every first Sunday in October at the Cathedral of St. Matthew. This Sunday, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington will again preach to an influential audience. Perhaps his homily could include some helpful reminders for the Justice?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Maybe I Am Wrong Here (9+ / 0-)

    But didn't Jesus get put to death by a government? I'd kind of think those to the far right that is so ain't government and pro death plenty might get this.

    As for the death penalty. I am against it. I see it as an easy way out. Put them in a 8x8 cell. Let them live there for their entire life.

    I can only speak for myself but I'd rather die then live in a 8x8 cell.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:35:08 PM PDT

  •  He's right, as a matter of Catholic Doctorine (9+ / 0-)

    According to Wikipedia, The Church allows for capital punishment.  

    While John Paul II "suggested that capital punishment should be avoided unless it is the only way to defend society from the offender in question," Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote,

    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.

    Ratzinger distinguished the Death Penalty from Abortion in this respect.

    All this is reason number 2,537 why I am not Catholic.

    Numbers are like people . . . Torture them enough and they'll tell you anything.

    by Actuary4Change on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:35:49 PM PDT

    •  I'm not Catholic either (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      irishwitch

      But I married into a vast Polish Catholic family and know many, many Catholics.  Ratzinger is not doing the church any favors.  It's very hard for many otherwise devout Catholics to look at him and listen to what he says, and see anything other than a frail, anachronistic old man who denied his sexuality his whole life but still likes Prada, and who builds elaborate theological constructs that manage to miss the central point of Catholicism: Mercy is the heart of everything good in the church.  

      There won't be any tears when he passes.  

      “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

      by ivorybill on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 04:00:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Much good in the church. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ivorybill

        I do hope that no one takes my comment as anti-Catholic.  If people want to stay in the church for the good they see there and work change the bad, then more power to them.  (Reason # 1 why I am not a Catholic is that I was not born into a Catholic family, although I married someone who was)

        Numbers are like people . . . Torture them enough and they'll tell you anything.

        by Actuary4Change on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 09:32:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  In other words, the ONLY sin that's really (0+ / 0-)

      truly bad is abortion or voting pro-choice if you are a politician.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 09:11:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Church doctrine should have no say on what is (6+ / 0-)

    constitutional or not.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:39:57 PM PDT

  •  Then he should resign (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Josiah Bartlett, devtob, irishwitch

    In the Catholic church, the Pope is seen as a direct line of communication with God, leading to the infallibility doctrine. Thus, when the Pope comes out and says that the death penalty is unacceptable, that is the official belief of the church, no questions asked. So regardless of what defense Justice Scalia uses for the death penalty, he is wrong because the Pope is right.

    What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole.- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

    by Southpaw Atl on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:40:45 PM PDT

    •  Not exactly... (6+ / 0-)

      As I recently learned, some edicts are binding, others are not.... and apparently, this is one of Vatican views that is not considered 'binding', whereas they apparently are in regards to abortion.

      ...and yet it's hardliners like Benedict that ceaselessly bemoan 'cafeteria Catholics' in the US.

      Full Disclosure: I am an unpaid shill for every paranoid delusion that lurks under your bed - but more than willing to cash any checks sent my way

      by zonk on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:58:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Pope is only infalliable (10+ / 0-)

      when speaking "ex cathedra," and it's not clear he's done so on capital punishment.  

      "This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind[.]" -- Robert F. Kennedy

      by Loge on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:58:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The current pope has said, on this issue (9+ / 0-)
      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.

      Scalia is entirely within the proscribed bounds of Catholic doctrine here.  It's morally wishy-washy of the Church to hold a stance like this, but that's not Scalia's problem.

      Ditto to what Loge says above about 'ex cathedra'.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:00:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Its true that these issues are split (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        devtob, California06, irishwitch

        By discussion of whether something is "intrinsically evil" (abortion, euthanasia) in Catholic theology or just evil in most/certain circumstances (war, death penalty).

        But by that the Church is talking about an action's a priori morality. What's been made clear by the Church is that the conditions in which the death penalty could be acceptable (there is no way to guarantee someone's removal from society and the safety of the community) have been left way in the past.

        Today with the security of prisons and the opportunity for life in prison sentences, there is basically no acceptable situation to use the death penalty.

        The rest of the second quote in the blog includes this line:

        The growing number of countries adopting provisions to abolish the death penalty or suspend its application is also proof of the fact that cases in which it is absolutely necessary to execute the offender “are very rare, if not practically non-existent”.

        •  JPII was something of anomaly in the Church's (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          devtob, ivorybill, irishwitch

          teaching on the death penalty, and it's worth checking out this excellent analysis of how he pushed the doctrine toward a more widespread rejection of capital punishment, except under increasingly narrow circumstances.  Benedict has continued this line, but where it stands now Scalia is well within the doctrine for supporting the institution in itself.  Besides, he's probably rejecting JPII and Benedict in favor of an originalist reading of the scripture.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:26:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hah hah (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pico, irishwitch

            An originalist reading of scripture...

            Which one?  The scriptures that made it to the present day are the ones that had utility in terms of supporting and expanding state power.  Scalia is a rigid tool - if he cared to learn more about his religion, he might want to read more about all the gospels that were considered heretical and purged when his forebears were imposing control over the known world.

            “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

            by ivorybill on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 04:03:34 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Shows no understanding of Catholic Church (5+ / 0-)

      The pope is not infallible on everything -- just on a very very very limited number of topics where he is speaking "ex cathedra."  

      The death penalty is not one of those very very very limited areas.  

      The pope is human -- and the Catholic Church does not teach that he is free from error, or free from sin.  

  •  Edited (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, DaleA, ivorybill, BeeDeeS

    Justice Scalia offered to resign if he determines that a Republican is elected President.

    "This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind[.]" -- Robert F. Kennedy

    by Loge on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:56:47 PM PDT

  •  Catechism of the Catholic Church does not exclude (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, DaleA, California06

    recourse to the death penalty under cases of absolute necessity for the protection of human life from the aggressor.  I think Scalia feels it is not immoral under the requirement that "the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined."

    2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
    If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    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 definitely 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 non-existent."

    http://www.scborromeo.org/...

    Some...spoke with strong and powerful voices, which proclaimed in accents trumpet-tongued,"I am beautiful, and I rule". Others murmured in tones scarcely audible, but exquisetly soft and sweet, "I am little, and I am beloved"." Armandine A.L. Dupin

    by Kvetchnrelease on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:05:05 PM PDT

  •  Quid pro quo: withhold communion from Scalia (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, DaleA, California06, irishwitch

    A number of Catholic bishops have said they would not offer communion to Pro-Choice politicians. In order to be consistent w/ Church doctrine, they should do the same on all pro death penalty politicians and SCOTUS members.

  •  Scalia is not the only Catholic on the Court, (5+ / 0-)

    so is every other member of the five-justice conservative majority.

    With the exception of abortion, these justices' rulings generally do not comport with Catholic social teaching.

    But so what -- they are cafeteria Catholics like most, and, more importantly, they should not be allowing the Pope and/or the nation's bishops to influence their decisions on any case.

    A public option for health insurance is a national priority.

    by devtob on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 02:59:31 PM PDT

  •  Unfortunately, the ONLY sin for which (0+ / 0-)

    the church refuses communion to or excommunicates politicians is being pro0chocie. Or in the case of a nun, voting to allow a therapeutic abortion to save a woman's life.

    Scalia is safe. Too bad the bishops and the Pope won't pout their money where their mouths are.

    Ex-Catholic. This sort of hypocrisy is why I left, along with the treatment of women's roles and sexuality in general.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 09:09:43 PM PDT

  •  Without state execution (0+ / 0-)

    how would Jesus die for our sins?

  •  Scalia should be against the death penalty as (0+ / 0-)

    a Catholic, on the other hand, Church and state should be separate.

    I am against the death penalty. It is wrong.

  •  He is not dissenting... (0+ / 0-)

    As the diarist himself quoted:

    ...the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude the death penalty when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

    People like Justice Scalia and those who disagree with him can have a discussion in good faith on both sides concerning when and where the death penalty ought to be employed, but the fact of the matter remains that it is not against the teaching of the Catholic Church to support the use of the death penalty. Thus, Justice Scalia is not a dissenter and the whole point of this diary is null.

    •  Well, I always was taught the death penalty was (0+ / 0-)

      wrong and I went to Catholic Schools. I have never heard this idea, that it is ok, before. Never, ever. Maybe it is a regional thing.

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