Fallible teachings

Fallible teachings

Diogenes analyzes the statement by Bishop Terry Stieb of Memphis on Catholics in politics and finds it confusing. Among other things, the bishop conflates the death penalty with abortion: “If someone is for the death penalty, we must reason together about why that violates the consistent ethics of life as much as abortion.”

Diogenes replies:

If that’s true, then the Church herself has not been very consistent on the ethics of life, since for 20 centuries the Church affirmed the right of the state to use capital punishment. (Care to consult St. Thomas Aquinas on that issue?) But then again, the Church is not a museum of saints.

  • Peter,

    You have a lot of nerve to talk about the Bible Belt…….Wasn’t it in Illinois that the governor suspended executions because of certain problems?

    The Church has stated that the State has a right to protect its’ self and its’ citizens and if capital punishment is the mode, so be it.

    The criminal can repent all he wants and ask for clemency, but according to Traditional Catholic Teaching, the state has a right to take a life in defense of its’ citizens.  The repentance and forgiveness is between the criminal and Almighty God, not the criminal and the State.

  • Todd:  Do YOU know why the outgoing governor of Illinois did what he did at the time…check it out…….and it’s no secret where the majority of executions come from in the US…..read Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II my friend….and finally if repentance and forgiveness is only between the condemned and God, why do states recognize the right to a clemency appeal??? And are we talking about the medieval magisterium or the Living Magisterium??

  • Todd:  my apologies for addressing that last post to you…it is addressed to Brian…from the bible belt.

  • Peter,

    Clemency is not the same as forgiveness and it does not necessarily guarantee that justice has been served.  In fact, Pope Pius XII taught that the State should not grant clemency, “except when it is morally certain that the ends of punishment have been achieved.” (Catholicism & Capital Punishment, by Avery Cardinal Dulles)

    You also keep making perjorative statements about the medieval era.  Do you have some problem with that time period and think that somehow doctrine which applied then does not apply now?

    As for executing innocent persons, why is it only now a problem and hasn’t been all along?  Improvements in forensic technology, especially in the last century, keep making convictions of innocents less and less likely.  And besides—what does that have to do with the form of punishment?  Either the State finds the defendant guilty or they don’t.  The finding of guilt is seperate from the administration of punishment.

    By the way, I live in Texas, and I am perfectly aware that my state is responsible for a third of all executions performed in the U.S. since 1976.  You may or may not know that under our current laws, we (Texas) have NO recourse to a life sentence without parole.  Either a convicted criminal is put on death row, or they have a long prison sentence with the possibility of parole.  While you may find that “medieval,” I still don’t see why that makes innocents more likely to be convicted.

    Support of the death penalty by “bible-belt” states is probably due to the fact that there are still large segments of Protestants “down here” which are motivated by religious fervor, unlike the North and West where the formerly solid Catholic communities have become mostly lax and have compromised their faith.  His Emminence Cardinal Dulles commented on a similar situation in Europe in the article mentioned above:

    The mounting 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 supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. …

    Many governments in Europe and elsewhere have eliminated the death penalty in the twentieth century, often against the protests of religious believers. While this change may be viewed as moral progress, it is probably due, in part, to the evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith. The abolition of the death penalty in formerly Christian countries may owe more to secular humanism than to deeper penetration into the gospel.


  • 1.  the point about clemency is that even the state by its own admission recognizes the legitimacy of such an appeal as does the Church.  John Paul II has acted numerous times on behalf of condemned persons…clemency does not mitigate against justice…it does recognize the realities of reformation and mercy…2. No—I think the medieval period was a golden age for the Church in many ways….but our understanding of doctrine is not exhausted by the medieval world view….maybe you’d like to have a “bleeding” at your next salon appointment?  3.Execution of the innocent is not an uncommon occurence in the history of capital punishment…as for Texas if you don’t like the capital punishment options then push for a change…4.To suggest that bible belt states have more religious fervor than others and that’s why they like to fry the guilty is a bit self-defeating don’t you think??  Their motivation often comes from good ol fashioned revenge- mindedness more than it does from religous enthusiasm….BTW isn’t this the same South that gave us the fugitive slave laws??? 5…I admire Avery Dulles and his service to the Church but I’m sorry the notion that oposition to the death penalty is directly linked to a loss of faith in eternal life is downright silly:  the reign of terror during the french revolution was mainly conducted by the heirs of the Enlightenment…..and one does NOT have to believe in the death penalty to be a catholic…or even war (see the statement on conscientious objection made at Vatican II)………please read Evangelium Vitae by our beloved Holy Father…he places all the life issues in the proper context…..I’m afraid you don’t.

  • postscript:  FYI St.Thomas Aquinas did not emrace the developing dogma of the Immaculate Conception…the theologian most responsible for this development in the western church was the franciscan Duns Scotus…..and following the apparitions at Lourdes Pius IX solomnly defined the dogma in 1854.  Aquinas could be in big trouble up there! The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. …it didn’t end with Aquinas or the middle ages or even good men like cardinal dulles…..and certainly not with me.

  • Peter,

    I do not understand how a Catholic is at liberty to be anti-war, or anti-death penalty, in all circumstances, as you have indicated.  Even the present Holy Father and Catechism not only permit, but command these as duties of the State under very specialized conditions.

    Yet, it is my contention that nothing significant has changed in society in the last fifty years to warrant the new “special” conditions which are now being interpreted to render nigh all instances of the imposition of the death penalty immoral.  What has changed?  Can you please show me in Evangelium Vitae where the Holy Father addressed that drastic a change?

    With respect to the “bible-belt,” I was referring to the religious fervor of the Protestants as being a resistance to modernist moral relativism.  Unfortunately, it appears you have also confused righteous indignation and the desire to see justice served with lynch-mob revenge.  The former seems more in line with religious enthusiasm than the latter, and I’m not sure how the “good ol fashioned revenge-mindedness” is a quality specifically attached to Bible-Belt Protestants.

    As for the Angelic Doctor, surely you don’t mean to compare his lack of embrace of the Immaculate Conception to the present situation? St. Thomas did, in fact, believe that the Blessed Mother was sinless, even before her birth, but did not explicitly commit to an immaculate conception viewpoint.  And that was primarily because of a biological and anthropological technicality on when exactly a person’s life began.  See this article by James Akin for more detail on this situation, and please don’t equate St. Thomas’s lack of explicit committment to rejection.

    Besides, Blessed Pope Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma.  The current Holy Father has done no such thing with his Evangelium Vitae encyclical.  While I respect your disagreement with Cardinal Dulles on European abolition of the death penalty, I find it interesting that you do not permit the same luxury of disagreement with the present Holy Father and the rest of the bishops who push this “rare circumstance” death penalty issue.  Catholics are only bound to obey these non-ex cathedra moral commands when they are in union with Tradition.

    Please help me discover how they are in union with Tradition!  Once again I ask, how has society since Pope Pius XII changed so much from the preceding nineteen hundred years prior to his pontificate that imposition of the death penalty in the U.S. is rarely (if ever) morally acceptable?

  • I have read the Dulles article and it strikes me as a feeble attempt to do the impossible, reconcile the pope’s teaching on capital punishment with tradition and scripture.

    The pope seems to apply principles relevant to individual self-defense to the actions of the state in a wholly inappropriate way.

    This teaching appears first in the encyclical EV, almost as an aside, and then grafted into the catechism with no attempt to reconcile it with scripture or tradition or prior teaching of the magisterium. 

    We also observe that support for legal abortion is strongest ithose regions of the country where the opposition to the death penalty is strongest.  Many of these regions are heavily “Catholic.”  Many “Catholic” politicians have used their opposition to the death penalty to counterbalance their support for legalized abortion.

    It is hard to avoid the conclusion that conflating the state acting as God’s agent in executing criminals with individuals killing others for the sake of profit and personal convenience has damaged the prolife cause.  It is precisely the innocence of the unborn child that makes abortion a heinous crime.


  • I can’t show you…..apparently Tradition stopped for you the day John XXIII called the Ecumenical Council….you traditionalists are all the same…going around pounding everyone with the truth….you didn’t get a single one of my counter-points so why even try…

  • Peter,

    I feel I have very deliberately responded to all of your points.  It seems that all you have done is dismiss me to Evangelium Vitae, as if it will completely settle all of these issues. 

    No, Tradition did not stop for me with Blessed Pope John XXIII, but it certainly did not start with him. 

  • that doesn’t give anyone the right to go around pounding the ignorant into submission……also…for anyone above so interested…..please go to tcrnews.com for today to read Archbishop Chaput’s comments on the death penalty and the culture of violence…..or is he too liberal for some of you????????