Hijacking his legacy

Hijacking his legacy

In the coming weeks, months, and years, we’re going to see many people trying to hijack the legacy of Pope John Paul II for the own uses, just as they have done with Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (“In the spirit of Vatican II”). The process has already begun.

In today’s New York Times, Sister Helen Prejean, of “Dead Man Walking Fame,” is misleading at best and lying outright at worst. It leads with the following statement.

Of the many great legacies of Pope John Paul II, the one I prize the most is this: he was instrumental in helping the Catholic Church reach a position of principled opposition to the death penalty – an opposition that brooks no exceptions.

That’s just not true. While the Holy Father did not believe that the death penalty was required in most circumstances, especially in the First World, he never taught that no exceptions were possible to his opposition. Prejean gets worse.

But that’s precisely what the pope did: he removed from the Catholic catechism the criterion “in cases of extreme gravity.” The omission changes everything, because Catholic teaching now says that no matter how grave the crime, the death penalty is not to be imposed.

This is patently untrue. Go to the Vatican’s web site, look up the Catechism and read #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.

How does Prejean think she can get away with this blatant untruth. Didn’t the Times do any fact-checking before it published this?

Obviously this won’t be the end. Before you accept whatever you see printed, double check it first.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
25 comments
  • “DidnTA[

    The passage does go on to say, however: “If, however, nonlethal 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 nonexistent.”
    I’ll agree that “Very rare if not practically non-existent” is not the same thing as “no exceptions” but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Catechism implies that there shold be no room for it in the US.
    This is not to say I agree at all with those who would close their eyes to the horrors of abortion, electing pro-choice officials in favor of abolishing against the death penalty. But wouldn’t an ideal candidate not be either/or, but against both abortion AND the death penalty. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by watering down our stance that being pro-life includes even the lives of murders.
    I know that’s not what you are saying, Dom, but I think a person less educated in this matter might conclude that there are no possible objections to the death penalty, which is also a misrepresentation of Church teaching.

  • <objections to the death penalty, which is also a misrepresentation of Church teaching.</i>

    Which is exactly what Prejean is counting on. She is certainly educated enough on Church teaching that she should know better.

    You know I, too, am opposed to the general use of the death penalty in the US, but this isn’t about that issue per se, but about blatant misrepresentation of the truth in order to advance an agenda.

    Prejean is using a bad means to a good end.

  • Like I said, I know it, and most people here know it too.  But your entry, if it were the only thing I’d read by you on the subject, did not clarify enough that it was the means rather than the end that you were objecting to.

  • Everyone is saying how irritating it is that the coverage is all being hijacked by the anti-Catholics. It would be great to see the bloggers giving their personal encounters with the Pope. Even if it was only something you read of his that changed you, altered your views of the Church, or her teachings. What real impact has he had on you.

    We can’t let the heathens at CBS or the CBC get hold of the internet forum.

    It’s time for all the people who have the privilege of being able to post onto the internet to tell everyone about their personal encounters with him, how his teaching changed their lives.

    He has led so many of us into the Faith or deeper into it. I’m going around all my usual blogger spots and saying this. Get in there and tell everyone why you think he was a good pope, or even a Great pope.

  • Actually, anyone who follows correctional issues and international terrorism knows that incarcerated felons may continually pose a threat to society through criminal gangs. If the Crips/Bloods/Al Queda is after you…putting their hitmen in a jail cell is useless.  What we are talking about is the case where non-lethal means are in-sufficient to protect society.

    Murderers also pose a grave threat to fellow inmates who might be doing time for other offenses.

    St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that if the good citizens “are protected and saved by the slaying of the wicked, the latter may be lawfully put to death.”

    The perverted idea of equating the innocent in the womb with Osama Bin Laden represents a drift of Catholicism away from St Thomas, away from the Bible and toward U.N./Sister Prejan/Cardinal Bernadin …. I’ll stick with St Thomas.

    In the Philippines, Catholic country par-excellence, they have the death penalty for only two crimes: drug dealing and rape. I think they just about got it right.

  • Personally, I’d be willing to trade the death penalty for abortion, but found precious few liberals who’ll take me up on the offer.

  • Actually this is one instance of a general attitude I have noticed: “The Pope was great when he promoted things I like, but he was a disaster when he promoted, no pushed for thing I don’t like.  In that case he showed his ignorance, intansigence and backwardness”.

    In other words, “I am the arbiter of what is good and bad and the Pope should have served me, not the Big Guy upstairs”

    I also smiled at the repeated mentions of his attitude being a remnant of 13th century.  I found myself saying out loud: “Actually first century, really…”

  • Dom, Prejean “gets away with it” because she is emblematic of the American Catholic Church – Unitarian in outlook, Marxist in economics and loony liberal in dogma.  Though it pains me to say it about a nun, Prejean is a fool.

    She recently did an interview for “Newsweek” for her new book.  Along with the required hatred of conservatives and the Pope, her interviewer asked her to expand on her contention that the majority of prisoners on death row are innocent.  “I never said that,” Prejean shot back.  “Yes, you did,” the interviewer responded, and quoted the page where the accusation was made.  Prejean figuratively shrugged, said it didn’t matter anyway and went back to bashing the President for the execution of Karla Faye Tucker (somehow Clinton rushing back to throw the switch on Ricky Ray Rector went down the good sister’s memory hole, though).

    I’ll dig through my magazines and try to find the exact issue.

  • Adoration of the Pope on a personal level was main part of the cafeteria Catholic diet.  In no way does it mean any adherence to anything. Massive numbers at World Youth days should not fool anyone.

    Watch the manuevering for married priests, female deacons, condom use (under the pretext of preventing AIDS), allowance for abortion (in some cases) : everything the Pope opposed.

    It has already begun.

  • “While the Holy Father did not believe that the death penalty was required in most circumstances, especially in the First World, he never taught that no exceptions were possible to his opposition.”

    Speaking in St. Louis on January 27, 1999, the Holy Father said:

    “The 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. (emphasis mine)  Modern society has the means of protecting itself without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.  I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”

    The quote is from the printed transcript, but I remember it quite distinctively because 1) Iwas there and 2) because I went into the Trans World dome that morning in favor of the death penalty and left opposed to it.

  • Going to the New York Times for an opinion on anything Catholic is like taking your history from Mad Magazine.  If they quote anyone approvingly, that]]>
    isabelkilian@hotmail.com

    69.73.61.33
    2005-04-04 12:56:42
    2005-04-04 16:56:42
    I wonder what sister had to say about the state sanctioned murder of Theresa Schiavo.  Most liberals I have heard, think it is alright to sentence the innocent to death (providing their quality of life is determined to be unworthy) but morally repugnant for the state impose the death sentence on criminals to death to protect the common good.

  • I think the Holy Father’s opposition to the death penalty in all but “special” cases (totally unqualified, to my knowledge) is an area where he has nigh abandoned his mandate to uphold Catholic tradition.

    Countless predecessors, catechisms, saints, and teachings approve and even recommend its use, sometimes vehemently, even as recently as the pontificate of Pius XII.  The fact that the Vatican had to quash a heretical group in the Middle Ages who held to total anti-death penalty concepts and called out the error specifically should be witness enough to the validity of the punishment.

    The Holy Father’s vacillation on this issue has undermined general respect for authority and the entire discussion on life issues, in my opinion.  When he is held in judgement by Our Lord, my fervent prayer is that his confusion and contradiction with tradition was unintended and that he will be judged lightly for it.

  • Dom,

    You’re right, he didn’t change the Catechism.  But his words were very plain and a echoed earlier statements that he made.  He wasn’t talking about war or self-defense.  He was talking about capital punishment.  I believe he meant exactly what he said.  He had six years to clarify his position, and to my knowledge he never issued a retraction.

    Out of respect to the Holy Father, I would suggest a moritorium on debating what his positions were and what his ultimate destination might be.  Personally, I have no doubt.

  • Deacon Mike:

    As I’m sure you know, in St. Louis the Pope didn’t intend to take steps beyond, or in contradiction to, the doctrinal orbit of the Catechism and his own formal teaching in Evangelium Vitae

    It seems to me that the Holy Father’s opposition to the *application* of the death penalty was (I started to write “is”—it’s hard to refer to him the past tense…) based not so much on the death penalty itself but on us who administer it, ie our inability as a death-worshipping culture to determine its applicability, along with, of course, improvements in the modern penal systems.  While I support the death penalty under certain conditions, I also see the Holy Father’s reticence to be prophetic.  Witness his successful last-minute-at-the-airport persuasion of the Missouri Governor, a practicicng Baptist, to spare the life of a killer.

  • Read carefully, it is clear that 2267 does not change the traditional teaching that capital punishment can be justly imposed for the sake of retribution.  The catechism’s argument against the death penalty is prudential in nature.  No where is it stated that the death penalty is intrinsicly unjust when not necessary to defend society.  The magisterium believes that except to defend against an unjust aggressor(which traditional teaching permits) the death penalty is damaging to society.  The fact that traditional teaching permits the death penalty for purposes of retribution is simply not mentioned because, in the context, it is irrelevant.

    Judgments of this sort are not binding on the faithful unless the magisterium explicitly makes them binding.  The Ratzinger letter prior to the 2004 election makes it very clear that these prudential judgments are not binding in that way.

    A catholic may then support the death penalty.  A catholic may serve as an executioner in good conscience.

    I am not a supporter of the death penalty but I believe the distinctions I am makiing are very important.

    I believe that 2267 was recently revised to clarify how recent teaching on capital punishment can be squared with tradition and at the same time reassert most emphatically the magisterium’s judgment that it has negative consequences on modern society.

  • I have never heard so many so-called Catholics lie so much on tv than I have since before the Holy Father passed away.I wish I could count the times I have said, “liar”. What is up with that. They are truly ignorant if they think only their “crowd” is watching.

    Last night on one of the news channels Card. Mahony told the reporter he was right by the Holy Father’s bedside when he died. I wonder what he smoked? A list of all the persons that were with the Pope was sent out and Mahony’s name sure was not on there.

    Then you have all the “we want women priests” mentality from laity and priests. I also saw a Sr. Karen such and such who is the President of the Canon Law Society of America. She was wearing earrings, makeup and street clothes. Have mercy!

    At least I can say I know now how many agendas there are out there just by monitoring the tv at this time. Unbelievable!

  • It would be much easier to become upset with the mendacity of the liberal media and progressive Catholics if there was a standard of general integrity and honesty to which they adhered.  But there isn’t.

    We constantly catch them in lies or distortions of the truth and become upset?  Why?

    During the Cold War, no sane persons ever took the babblling propaganda of Pravda seriously.  We all knew that it concocted facts, lied, deceived, and generally was a mouthpiece for an evil and mendacious regime.

    But yet we expect the NYT and its ilk, or Srs. Prejean and her like to follow a standard that they have always avoided.  They are consummate propagandists.

    I expect that when I pick up the Chicago Tribune or read online the NYT, or on occasion, turn on the television, that I have to filter out at least half of what is being reported.  The same holds true for most homilies by progressive Catholic priests.  Half of what they say is usually bunk that they read in a liberal Catholic or secular publication and is shot through with mistakes and mischief.

  • What has the Church Traditionally taught.
    A personal opinion by the Pope does not abrogate Church teaching on this matter.
    The Holy Father did not change Church teaching on this matter.

    The is what you get when Catholics do not know their Faith, due to the stinko   catechists the past 44 post conciliar years which include the reign of this Pope.

  • What was worse were her indirect comments in support of abortion on Larry King Live.  It is interesting how she was to abolish capital punishment in all circumstances but she refuses to support the sanctity of human life in all situations.

  • “A personal opinion by the Pope does not abrogate Church teaching on this matter.
    The Holy Father did not change Church teaching on this matter.”

    The Holy Father’s opinion IS church teaching.  Read “Lumen Gentium” http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html 
    Specically number 25, which says, in part: “His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

    “The is what you get when Catholics do not know their Faith”

    Very true.

  • Mike,

    This document speaks of the authentic magesterium of the pope.  Can it be authentic or is it novel if past tradition and past popes have never stated that the state can not impose the death penalty but instead have ratified the idea?

    JP2 did not, by the way abrogate the death penalty.

    Now a question for you, what would your feeling be if a future Pope abrogated Lumen Gentium?

  • Section 25 of Lumen Gentium is actually a clarification of Canon Law, specifically canons 331 and 749.  There is nothing new, so it’s very unlikely that a future Pope would abrogate it. 

    If, as we believe, the Holy Father is infallible in matters of faith, then it would be impossible for him to repudiate the teachings of the magisterium.  It hasn’t happened in 2,000+ years.

    John Paul’s opposition to the death penalty isn’t new either.  The Church has always been opposed to it, except when it was neccessary to protect the innocent.  Modern prisons make it possible to lock up the bad guys with little fear of their escaping.

  • Are you a penologist?  What do you know of modern prisons?  What about the inmates who are at a killer’s mercy?

    Lumen Gentium came before the code of canon law of 1983.  As you well know, there was a Code of Canon Law in 1917.
    It may be unlikely that a future Pope would abrogate Lumen Gentium, but 40 years ago, many thought that altar girls would be an unlikely sight.

    The Church has not always opposed the death penalty when used to protect society. 

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