Martino wrong to protest Saddam’s sentence

Martino wrong to protest Saddam’s sentence

I wonder sometimes if some folks at the Vatican realize that Church teaching does not completely forbid the death penalty. I wonder because of the reaction from Cardinal Renato Martino to Saddam Hussein’s sentence of death.

Martino is the head of the Council for Justice and Peace. He accused the Iraqi court of demanding “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and simply seeking revenge.

Cardinal Martino said that it is unfortunate that Saddam Hussein was tried in Iraq, rather than before the International Criminal Court. In that legal forum, he observed, “he would not have been condemned to the death sentence,” since the international tribunal does not allow capital punishment. Iraq, the cardinal continued, is “one of those countries that have not yet made the civilized choice to abolish the death penalty.”

Civilized? Here are some “civilized” numbers. At least 290,000 Iraqis disappeared during Saddam’s regime and probably interred in the thousands of mass graves all over the country. A million people died in the Iran-Iraq war that Saddam started. At least 182,000 Kurds died in the Anfal campaign when Saddam used WMD—chemical weapons—on them. His regime ran rape rooms and put people in giant schredders. Another million people died of disease and malnutrition under the UN sanctions while he diverted the money meant for food and medicine to building palaces for himself. These are monstrous crimes, literally crimes against humanity.

The Catechism on the death penalty applies here

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
8 comments
  • .”  While the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the death penalty can be just, Pope John Paul the Great consistently spoke against it, saying it was not necessary in our modern age.

    As a amateur philosopher, the question of morality is important.  When would the death penalty be just?  In my opinion, it was just when the possibility of a maximum security prison did not exist, and consequently, a person remained a threat to be imprisoned.  Today, it would only be just if to let the person live was a threat, such as if the person had a cult following.  Hussein does not have a cult following; he is not Osama bin Laden.  To execute Hussein is not necessary and therefore unjust and immoral.

    Those who say that it would boost the morale of our troops (may God protect them) rely upon the assumption that our troops are malicious.  I think that our troops would be much more satisfied with Hussein remaining in prison the rest of his life; hopefully he will see how he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy, and ask God for forgiveness.  While it is understandable to have anger towards this evil murderer and a release of this anger would be good, it is never moral to intentionally do wrong to bring about such a good.

  • Infanted: Go to Tikrit or any Baathist outpost and then tell me Saddam doesn’t have a cult following. He didn’t remain in power for decade after decade on his own. Anger is not the motivation and I never said it was. Justice and self-defense of the state is. Be careful not to introduce a straw man here.

    Even a maximum security prison would not be enough if his followers re-took control of Iraq. As long as he is alive, whether in Iraq or in a US prison, he is a threat to the people of Iraq. He would just as much a danger by inspiring violence and terrorism in the US as in Iraq.

    Also, John Paul said the need for the death penalty was “nearly” extinct. This is just the sort of instance that he left space for.

    I’m one of those who think we don’t need a death penalty in the US, but in this case, I agree with the sentence.

  • Few people have noticed the latest version of the magisterium’s teaching on captial punishment, the Compendium of Social Doctrine, paragraph 405.

    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”.

    The key word here is “preferred”, indicating that the magisterium wishes to discourage capital punishment on prudential grounds. Clearly, this is not a matter of justice.

  • Since Church teaching does recognize the right of the State to execute a criminal for just reasons, shouldn’t the Church’s role now be to express concern for the soul of Saddam? If Saddam could be persuaded to repent of his past and accept his punishment as God’s justice, then like the good thief, St. Dismas, he too could be in paradise. Yes, Jesus died for Saddam’s sins and the Church should be asking that someone be allowed to tell him that. It is less important that he escape the death penalty than that he is saved from hell. That is what the Church should be proclaiming because that is what the world needs to hear.

  • Bishop have a duty to speak out on matters of faith and morals in society. The application of the death penalty is clearly a matter of morality.

    Martino has every right to speak out. I just think he’s wrong on this.

  • Ed: First, as I said above, the Church’s teaching allows for the use of the death penalty in particular circumstances. Many well-meaning and orthodox people believe that this fits that circumstance. I think Martino is wrong.

    Second, not everything everyone says in Rome has the same weight. Cardinal Arinze, shockingly enough, is not correct on everything he says about the liturgy, in my opinion. However, when he’s upholding the Church’s liturgical law, he should be obeyed, or rather the law should be obeyed. Likewise I agree with many of his opinions, but insofar as they are his opinions and not liturgical law, not everyone has to agree.

    Finally, I’m not sure what Rumsfeld or the deaths of British or American soldiers have to do with this. I think these are red herrings.

  • The Bishops have a right and obligation to speak out in truth.  Did Martino undermine official Catholic teaching and mislead the faithful in opposing this sentence?  That is my concern.

    Isabelle

  • Cardinal Martino says that executing Saddam would be wrong, as it would only answer a crime with another crime. Presumably, then, he should be opposed to fining people for property crime, as it would be wrong to punish a thief with another act of theft.

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