On Pope Francis’s Apparent Reversal of Catholic Teaching

Pope Francis seems to want to reverse the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment.  I’m sure that plenty of my dear readers have heard about how he intends to change the current passage in the Catholic catechism.  It is important to discuss this change, because it has the chance to undermine all Catholic dogma.  If the Church was wrong about whether capital punishment is an intrinsic evil, can we ever trust the Church about anything?  Moreover, God Himself seems to strongly encourage capital punishments at certain times during the Old Testament.  Is Pope Francis then saying that God commands people to do moral wrongs or that God is completely arbitrary?  These are very troubling notions which really can completely undermine the authority of the Catholic Church.


Elijah slays a Prophet of Baal


Before I comment on the new one, let’s take a look at the old passage:

2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good.  Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime.  The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.  When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation.  Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’

So, the old statement says that the State has the right to use capital punishment in defense of society.  At the same time, it offers the opinion that First World systems of penal correction are sophisticated enough to protect society from even very violent people; hence, there is no need for Canada, the United States, Europe, and certain other countries to have recourse to the death penalty.  There are many developing countries where the prison systems are not so perfect, so that line of argument does not fit there.

Pope Benedict XVI

Still, as emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI, capital punishment is a topic over which Catholics may have legitimate disagreement.  A Catholic’s stance on whether the State may use the death penalty for grave offenses does not harm his good standing:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, 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. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. 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.

Yet, I read at least one theologian claiming that now a Catholic’s opinion regarding capital punishment will affect his good standing in the Church.  It’s not hard to believe that when passage 2267 of the catechism will be changed to read thus:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The last paragraph avers or seems to aver that the death penalty is intrinsically evil.  It does not appeal to prudence or to the possibility of mercy.  Instead, it claims that the death penalty is inadmissible in light of the Gospel.  However, the Church has enjoyed the light of the Gospel for two thousand years and not discovered that the death penalty is inherently wrong.

Pope Innocent III

Pope Innocent III made acceptance of the legitimacy of capital punishment a necessary condition for the Waldensian heretics to re-enter communion with the Church.

Shall we take a walk down memory lane?  Even the Vatican prescribed the death penalty in its code of law for the assassination of the pope as late as 1969.  Pope Pius XII, erroneously dubbed “Hitler’s pope,” sent legal counsel to the Nuremberg trials so that the Nazi war criminals might be punished to the full extent of the law–obviously including capital punishment.  The Papal states themselves had an official executioner, Giovanni Battista Bugatti, who executed 516 malefactors between 1796 and 1865.

And, what do you suppose the Trent Catechism (1566) has to say on the matter?  The Council of Trent (1545-63) was the most important Church council until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).  This is what you read on capital punishment when you pick up the Trent Catechism:

Execution Of Criminals
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.
How about that compared to the two newest versions of the catechism!  I could point to many other passages as sanguine about capital punishment in the history of the Catholic Church.  All of the Church Fathers who comment on capital punishment agree that it is licit.  Yet, I think that the most important commentary on the matter is that of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Here is his answer to the question of “Whether it is Lawful to Kill Sinners” (Summa Theologiae Second Part of the Second Part, Question 64, Article 2):’
I answer that…every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health of the whole body demands the excision of a member, through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut away. Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, [italics mine] since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump….”
Reply to Objection 2. According to the order of His wisdom, God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas sometimes He allows them time to repent, according as He knows what is expedient for His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers; for it puts to death those who are dangerous to others, while it allows time for repentance to those who sin without grievously harming others [italics mine].
Above, you can see that St. Thomas Aquinas claims that the death penalty is not intrinsically evil.  He even describes its use as praiseworthy!  At the same time, he allows for the idea that one can give malefactors time to repent as long as you can still protect other people.  Neither the supporters of capital punishment nor those who desire its abolition sin by cleaving to their opinions.  Each side supports or opposes capital punishment according to what they believe advances the common good.  That is Catholic teaching and not even the pope can change it.
Goya painting detail image Fight with Cudgels
As for myself, I believe that capital punishment should still be applied to unrepentant murderers.  Even if you separate murderers for life from civil society, other prisoners and corrections officers still have to deal with them.  If life imprisonment is the maximum penalty, then such persons have nothing to lose by committing new crimes.  You might place them in solitary confinement, but I doubt such individuals ever had a love for the society of their fellow men in the first place.  Besides, once these prisoners kill an inmate or corrections officer, retroactive punishment can’t bring the victims back to life.

32 comments on “On Pope Francis’s Apparent Reversal of Catholic Teaching

  1. One of the reasons I’ve been struggling to find someone to talk about this sort of thing is because of people who go extreme and hasty with their advocacies, whatever side they are on. So yeah, I’m glad that I found a more digestible yet still substantial thought piece on the matter, even though I’m not quite a supporter of the death penalty. Though to be honest, I’m someone who’s still on the fence regarding that and related things like war and all that. Then again, in terms of war, there are Saints who lived as soldiers when they were still here on earth, and there’s those Old Testament stories as well. I’ve also been finding myself more on the fence because of how I’ve been realizing that we need to work up rage and confrontation at times, with the concept of righteous fury being a real thing, so real that even Our Lord Jesus Christ showed such during His life here on earth. And then there’s how people can be so confusing regarding force and punishment, with them saying that they’re against the death penalty with so much violent force beneath their words against detractors. It’s like people these days who have a habit of uttering exaggerations like “Ten out of ten makes me wanna kill myself” and “I wanna die” in response to trouble, followed by saying that suicide jokes are bad, as if being mentally ill allows them to be above the rules of courtesy they advocate. And I wouldn’t really call myself any different, considering me and my use of sarcasm and satire despite my personal proclamations against them before. Still, I know I’ll be able to find the right answers to all these questions eventually with God’s help, so I guess I gotta keep on having faith and humility as I keep on learning and doing our best. Please pray for me, then, good sir. That, and I would welcome any wise words you can offer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll be sure to keep you in my prayers! There can be a wide spectrum of opinion regarding capital punishment. The Church teaches that the state *can* resort to capital punishment. But, should they? The question is mostly prudential: people want criminals to suffer a penalty for their actions. At the same time, people have intrinsic value, and some criminals repent and fully repay society for all of the harm that they have done. If one is too lenient, people lose respect for the law and suffer from lawbreakers. If one is too harsh, much good may be lost.

      Also, certain circumstances allow for more leniency than others. Imagine being trapped on a desert island with a dozen people. You have a limited supply of food, and discover that one person has been stealing more than his daily ration. Without the resources to restrain him from doing further harm to the community, you might be forced to execute him. Just for stealing food! But, the stakes here are so much higher than in everyday life that it would be justified in order to give the people on the island more time to be rescued.

      On the other hand, in the United States of America, you have maximum security, solitary confinement prisons. One can argue that you can even lock away someone like Carl Panzram (a thoroughly evil villain) until the day he dies without him harming anyone else. At the same time, Panzram’s only regret was that he did not kill and rape more; so he’d still be dangerous to the people holding him in jail. When someone is that malicious, I think that they ought to be hanged. But, other people may disagree.

      All in all, when deciding what crimes require capital punishment, one needs to look at the state of society, how hardened the perpetrator is, and the nature of the crime. Horse-theft used to be a capital offense because having a horse was necessary to remain alive in parts of the USA. Now, we have cell phones and help is never far away, so the consequences of stealing a horse are not as severe. Basically, the civil authority has a duty to maintain order in society and to protect the people: how much leniency can it show to criminals while safeguarding other people?

      You’re right that we live in a very irrational age. Part of that no doubt lies in how over-democratized we are. Western societies these days especially discourage aristocrats as they encourage conformity. When conformity becomes one of the chief virtues, its easy to attack people with other opinions. How dare they think for themselves? How dare they not conform? After all, everyone else is forced to parrot what they think the view of the majority or elite is, so why should this particular person be allowed the privilege of independent thought? If you read some conservative writers, Russell Kirk and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddhin come to mind, you’ll see that they were very worried about the age of conformity in which they believed they lived and which they thought would become worse. The anger and emotionalism you see in universities is a product of that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Judas, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul come to mind when it comes to grave sinners. Two of them only made the choice to repent and follow God Almighty, even dying martyrs’ deaths via capital punishment, while the one who didn’t just made it worse for himself and everyone else he was meant to help, and he still remains an infamous traitor despite all that. And speaking of which, today’s age would tend to hold wrath upon people who would dare blame suicidal people for doing what they did. I remember even a priest I studied under during high school telling us something about people who commit suicide basically being in a moral gray area because of their mental instability…but then again, this age is also of the growing belief that disabled people shouldn’t use their disabilities as an excuse to not become better people, considering all those feature pieces and shows of disabled people doing things people thought would be impossible for them to do, right? Same goes for impoverished and marginalized criminals, who consider themselves forced to commit crime because of their disadvantaged states, when there are people in equally bad or even worse circumstances who still managed to choose not to be unjust and merciless criminals, like Saint Martin de Porres, who suffered racism even from the local Catholic clergy but still lived a holy life.

        But meanwhile, in an age where hunting down sex offenders (particularly of the coercing and pedophilic degree) is strongly upheld as well, Saints like Saint Maria Goretti would be very strange, for she dared to forgive and even successfully converted her killer, no? It’s like thinking about how abortion is considered a great evil along with sex out of wedlock, if you ask me. It’d be easy to talk like my country’s President and say that God is stupid because of that (and man, even though I disagree with his politics, I find my country’s President a suitable representation of the self-righteous citizenry that also includes his opponents, probably much like Trump does over there in America), but then again, I think that the Ultimate Logic that is God Almighty is beyond human logic, with human logic being a shade of His Logic, so yeah, we gotta call for His help and break out of our limited box of thinking. It tends to go slow, but at least it’s going sure.

        Anyway, man, stuff like this makes me wonder even more about how more civically involved Saints like Saint John Bosco worked with their respective societies and circumstances back then, especially with their societies and circumstances being different from when and where Our Lord Jesus Christ lived as a Jewish carpenter before going out to preach and heal. And considering how great they turned out, I know that I’ll be able to find out more pieces of the right answers eventually! Praise be to God Almighty, indeed!

        And hey, right now, I think the cores beneath how Jesus and the Saints lived are pretty much the same, while how they manifest those cores are the only things that hold differences. What do you think of that, dear friend? And hey, thank you very much again for your thoughts! \(^o^)/

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Foxfier says:

    My issue with it is that you cannot be charitable with another’s purse– and I’ve lived in places where popular “mercy” is paid for by myself and my neighbors, but not by those pushing it.

    It really isn’t healthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The thought came to my mind that all talk of abolishing capital punishment would end if citizens were required to help prison staff. Say, if people had to volunteer there for one month every three or four years. It is very easy for people to be blasé about something which doesn’t really affect their everyday life.


      • Foxfier says:

        Heh, oddly enough, my immediate reaction to that is a mental catalog of how very easy it would be to lean on folks to enable the known, existing issue of making orders and hits from a prison cell.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is something I did not think about until you mentioned it. It’s true that gangsters can still influence the actions of people outside of the walls of a prison.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting how logic can be used one direction or another – it all depends on the end you want to reach. We have to ask ourselves, what sort of views/principles/basis are we trying to maintain?

    Personally, I stopped trying to look at church teaching from a perspective of “the Catechism is the Word of God” i.e. equal to the Bible. I made the mistake as a Protestant (yeah, I had those years) of believing the Bible was infallible. But the Bible is just a book with words. It needs someone else to interpret it. It needs a context. What is that context?

    Asking ourselves about the overall context of humanity – this universe, its timeless principles, the timeless relationship between God and man – perhaps can give us a better way of thinking about these practical affairs.
    Without going into a long monologue about my background (which I intend to do on my other blog ( trailsofreason.wordpress.com )… at some point), my trail of reasoning puts me on the side of being against capital punishment.

    Admittedly, there’s a difference between ideals and practicality. Yes, I might believe that giving the poor the shirt off my back is a good thing, but if someone were to ask for it from me, I’d probably just stare at them and ask why they can’t just go get their own and then maybe help them start looking for a job. (The adage goes something like “Giving someone a pole and fishing lessons is better than giving them fish for free.”)

    The real question, however, seems to revolve more around us, the individual, obeying the will of God. Joan of Arc is considered a saint, and she lopped off heads. St Theresa of the Little Flower wouldn’t kill a fly. Both were doing what they believed was in accordance with the will of God. So to say “capital punishment” is “good” or “evil” from an absolute sense seems abit presumptuous. It may be acceptable for one man to do it and not another, regardless of title or office (even if they are both in the government).

    To be fair to Pope Francis, the Catechism doesn’t specifically say “use the death penalty” – it just hints that, in practical situations, there may not be much choice (i.e. kill or be killed).

    I’ll agree that all of those wicked men you mentioned deserve to die. My thing is: who (if anyone) has been given the duty by God to bring it about? My experience tells me God usually isn’t consulted when people decide whether or not to use the Death Penalty, and therein lies the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry that it has taken me so long to respond! You’re thinking about capital punishment in the right way. Capital punishment is a reaction to the crimes of very wicked men and the necessity of protecting the community. Part of us wants the criminal to repent of his crimes and to become a good person. The other part wants justice to be done. And, your right that we need to look at the particulars of each situation. We can’t say that everyone who murders must be executed.

      The common link between justice and mercy is the demand that the criminal realize his injustice. Without this recognition, there is no point in showing mercy. Thus, much time is spent during criminal trials in describing the malice of the perpetrator and whether he shows any sign of guilt. If the criminal seems redeemable in any fashion, one might allow him a second chance after a significant period of imprisonment.

      Recently, I discovered that St. Thomas Aquinas considered Vengeance a virtue: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3108.htm. That section of the Summa makes for some very interesting reading, especially in how it might apply to capital punishment. At any rate, I thought that you would enjoy reading it.


      • I did indeed enjoy it. I only had time to read the first part, but I can follow his conclusions. The careful thing to note is his definition of “vengeance” (which is simply “responding evil for evil”/retaliation). These days, “vengeance” is often associated with the hatred that often comes with it, which Aquinas points out is most definitely evil.
        Thanks for posting that article!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Gaheret says:

    Well, I’ll admit I liked the previous formulation better, but I wouldn’t worry about the doctrine seeming less sure.

    Concerning violence and violent practices, the Church defends the same eternal moral principles, but in every age she also forbids specific practices when she thinks it may be more humane and beneficial for the souls to avoid them, not always because they’re intrinsically evil: she sometimes goes back, as when it forbade for a time our Spanish bullfighting (St. Pius V, I think) and when the Council of Arles famously forbade the use of the crossbow against Christians, also for a time. These particular prohibitions were shown to be very inconvenient and too much a burden for the faithful, so the Church tolerated them: this could never happen with abortion or euthanasia. There was too an age (after the fall of the Roman Empire) when the Church tried to moderate the constant wars by instituting the Peace of God and the Truce of God and excommunicating those who didn’t respect them. She then stopped doing this, as the fight became less barbaric. It’s a form of pastoral care: note that even the new formulation makes reference to the conditions of the present time, which wouldn’t be relevant if “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel” meant “always wrong”, as in abortion, and not ” less charitable”.

    As a lawyer, I’ll have to say that this age has certainly a better understanding than others concerning criminal justice: I tend to like medieval institutions more than contemporary ones, but in the time of St. Thomas France was so vile and barbaric that it commonly denied the sacrament of Penance to the excuted to aggravate their sufferings (until the Pope, the University of Paris and Gerson loudly protested against this demonic practice for decades, and even then the custom didn’t disappear entirely). And I remember a French town of the XIV acquiring “two captains of thieves” before the village fair… I think less violent means are preferable if possible, but I don’t think every country in the world is prepared to survive without death penalty. But if problems arise or the burden is excessive, the Church is free to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Foxfier says:

      I think your mind played a trick on you– the famous “ban on crossbows” was the Lateran Council (full text here), which said We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.

      The specific tactic was to mass-fire with an aim to maiming the opposition.

      It also basically said non-coms and food animals are to be left alone, don’t beat up the religious, and anybody who gets himself killed in a joust isn’t allowed a church burial. And a lot of dealing with Religious Behaving Badly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Luminas says:

    My stance on the death penalty is actually pretty similar to the stance of the Supreme Court numerous years back: it’s not intrinsically evil, but it is intrinsically evil as it is currently applied. What do I mean? Well, the thing is, death row inmates are called that for a reason. When you get sentenced to death in the U.S., you’re not just killed immediately. In fact, you’re actually sent to the creepiest part of the prison and confined in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day with no human contact, driving you absolutely and irredeemably insane if you weren’t already. And sometimes you’re abused by sadistic, racist prison guards who want nothing more than to watch you suffer. Only after several years, sometimes 40 years later,, do you actually get to die.


    ….I can’t believe that the Lord God would ever be okay with this kind of thing being inflicted on one of His children, without the possibility of redemption. Because there *is* very little possibility of true and heartfelt remorse in these conditions. Put any innocent man on death row, and he will probably become a cruel and psychotic monster within three years, however just, however strong his faith. The very fact that many of them retain something even passably resembling warmth and humanity is a testament to the human spirit. I wrote to them for a number of years. And they wrote back, seeking human contact. These people weren’t devils at all. They were mostly just addicts who went mad one night and are now paying for that madness with an eternity in a living Hell.

    But all of this is to a certain extent stating the death penalty is immoral as applied. If the death penalty were applied as just, y’know, actual death…it could be indeed just. In fact if it were applied by God Himself it actually seems *more* just than eternal punishment, to me. Logical, even. I’d follow Mar into the Void with greater gladness, although I would also follow him into Hell. But I am no substitute for the judgment of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The appeals system can take a pretty long time to run its course. I suppose the one benefit to that might be that exculpating evidence has a longer period of time to surface. I don’t think that we can do much to make the prison system better. Racial prejudice tends to be more common the lower you get on the economic scale. (It’s almost impossible to have a thriving career in the United States if one openly advocates racial supremacy or separatism.) Not only do the inmates belong to the bottom rungs of society, but the guards themselves tend to have no other avenue of gainful employment. Who wants to work in a prison–outside of priests and charity workers, anyway? It must be tough for the innocent that get swept up with the guilty, but the guilty deserve harsh conditions as part of the punishment for their crimes. One can’t make prisons too nice, even though one wants to provide job training and other helps to prevent the inmates returning to a life of crime when their sentence is up.

      There are problems with the system of capital punishment in the United States. But, I think that our system of justice works very well compared to other systems which have applied capital punishment. There will always be problems and mistakes, but the exceptions don’t make the entire practice illegitimate. (At very least, we would need it for people under a life sentence who commit murder while in prison. Otherwise, they can commit murder with impunity.) Though, I will say that I am against giving the death penalty to everyone who may deserve it–especially if they show repentance and there were mitigating factors. And, there is something excessively cruel about a life sentence, which essentially says that someone is irredeemable and not fit to ever re-enter society. But, there is plenty of tragedy to go around in the criminal justice system.


      • Foxfier says:

        There are a lot of guards who are idealists, in my experience.

        Basically, they want to be protector-cops, but don’t feel qualified for the physical aspects of normal police work— so they protect by watching those who are caught.


        An aspect that keeps being ignored is the death penalties inflicted by cheap “mercy.”

        I remember the four cops who were gunned down as they drank coffee and planned out their day, and my babies were held by one of the little gals who would have been a corpse next to them if their boss wasn’t a total paranoid who required active shooter drills.
        That was a career criminal who was given every chance to reform– and refused, racking up an effective life-sentence.
        And then Huckabee pardoned him. Ignoring everyone who pointed out he was an unrepentant predator who was randomly and stupidly violent, to the point of hitting his own mother with a lock when he was attempting to assault a cop in the court room.

        And four families will never be whole again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would never have guessed that many prison guards were idealists. That shows how little I know about them as a group, and I’m sorry to have misjudged them. But, there must be some who give the rest a bad public perception.

        There were so many errors made with that cop-killer you write about above. I can understand the rationale behind wanting to show mercy to a juvenile offender. But, the original Arkansas court’s judgment of making him ineligible for parole until 2015 was correct. Someone that violent needed at least that long behind bars before one can hope that he’s sufficiently reformed.

        The Washington state courts also messed up. I don’t know how you allow bail to an insane man whom court appointed psychologists judged dangerous and likely to commit future crimes. That was the final deadly error which proved deadly to those four police officers. It’s a real shame, and I’m sorry for your loss.


      • Foxfier says:

        But, there must be some who give the rest a bad public perception.

        *wry* Given that you’re not likely to do it for the pay, that is sadly how it tends to break down– kind of like the school teacher sex abuse scandals. The stress of the job doesn’t quite line up with the pay unless you get another benefit– idealism can get that, sadly so can predation. (No, doesn’t mean we need to pay more, just look out for predators and then if there aren’t enough, raise pay.)

        Washington State’s psychiatric situation is horrific. My brother’s best friend’s older brother is known insane. He has repeatedly cornered his mother and grandmother in the house, trapped them in a room as he attacks the door with a knife and they call his father in desperation, and the courts will do nothing until someone is in the hospital or the morgue.

        It just breaks my heart, because the crazy are really innocent of what they do when crazy.
        Then you go to jail, are forced into the treatment you need…and you have to live with what you did.

        They’re manufacturing werewolves and then are shocked that so many choose to go back into the mindless wolf rather than having to live with what the wolf did….

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Luminas says:

    …there’s more than one way to create a “werewolf,” though. Like I said…A lot of the people on death row didn’t commit what we’d traditionally call first-degree murder. Time and time again, I heard and saw a rather different story. Instead, they committed brutal, violent, horrific crimes while
    completely but temporarily insane, having ingested a combination of different drugs. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished for their nightmarish actions— they should. They did things that can’t be taken back, can’t be forgiven. But I really, really am against the idea that they should be left to go mad by being confined in a tiny cell alone for 23 hours a day while waiting to die. If you know anything about what solitary confinement does to the human mind, you’ll realize that’s state-sanctioned torture rather than punishment.

    My own internal and slightly morbid joke about the fictional practice of sealing Dark Lords in places alone was, “Well if the bastard wasn’t completely psychotic already, he *definitely is now.*” The Dark World’s existence has Really Disturbing Implications— it’s basically a “god’s” hallucination.

    If the state is going to kill, it should really just kill immediately.


    • Foxfier says:

      Are you volunteering to be the next corpse to keep them company, then?

      Or just going to volunteer the rest of us to pay the price for your conclusions and beliefs?


      • Luminas says:

        I did actually, for a while. : ) Oddly enough they can write letters out at least, and many of those letters reached a place I interned at, years ago. I sorted those letters and occasionally sent one back, personally. There’s things you can do to try and improve the likelihood of them communicating with another human without risking your own life, although it doesn’t always go through. : /

        Also, none of my beliefs actually put anyone’s life at risk, at least any more than the lives of people who work in prisons and the lives of prisoners are already at risk. I’m simply advocating for the death penalty to be applied immediately, without an appeals process.

        I believe torture is far worse than death. It is a moral abomination that we shouldn’t tolerate as a society. What we are doing to death row prisoners is torturing them. If one is sentenced to death, the sentence should either be executed immediately, or death row prisoners should be treated the same way as violent prisoners of other varieties. Beating around the bush the way we are is literally turning crazy people crazier and sane, innocent people on death row into the very nightmare people believe they are.

        There’s no justification, Biblical or otherwise, for inflicting decades of solitary confinement on anyone. Period.


      • Foxfier says:

        Writing letters is enough to make solitary not solitary to you?

        Does it also make it not “torture” to you?

        Executing people without appeals is putting lives at risk.
        And the approximate level of risk currently experienced being acceptable wasn’t the question– it’s still someone else paying for your mercy. As your initial response pointed out indirectly, you’re not the one usually at risk for the mercy you want.


  7. Luminas says:

    Dark World’s existence in LTTP*


  8. Luminas says:

    Foxfier, I feel like we’re talking at either cross purposes or not understanding each other, and I do not know why. I wrote a post saying “I feel like it is wrong to keep prisoners in solitary confinement.” Then you asked if I was “volunteering to be the next corpse to keep them company,” and I said something which roughly means “I *did* try to give them company, once, but letting death row prisoners out of solitary confinement doesn’t make anyone substantially more or less safe than they are with regular prisoners, so I’m not sure what you’re saying.”

    Prison in general is a place where you’re more likely to be murdered or assaulted, whether you’re a prisoner or a guard. My argument is largely that the death row prisoners, before they enter death row, are not actually all that different from anyone else in the place. They don’t represent a threat that is much greater than that posed by any other first-degree murderer in for life in prison, who regularly exist in the general max security prison population just fine. *After* they’ve been in death row 30-plus years, they might be. Because that treatment literally makes you crazy.

    It seems like from your earliest post that you’ve experienced something utterly horrific right in front of your eyes. A loss, pain, murder. But none of that has anything to do with the death penalty, or with how we treat the prisoners that are sentenced to it. (It does apparently have to do with Mike Huckabee’s incompetence.) I *am* sorry for your loss.

    As for me? Am I personally at risk? No, I would be ill-suited to. (Although, nor do I believe that the “mercy” I seek will actually increase the risk for anyone who is more directly involved). In fact I applied for the kind of job that might get me killed, and was rejected. But that does not invalidate my reasoning, any more than it evaluates the reasoning of a Justice even if he or she is not of a class at threat or issue in a case.

    As for my personal convictions, I don’t think there should be a death penalty at all. I don’t think anyone should ever be kept in solitary for years, and I don’t think the State should kill anyone. I don’t even think the way the prison system currently works for regular inmates is humane.

    But as a matter of Christian doctrine, I can’t say that God feels the same way, because He very clearly doesn’t. Most Christian religious leaders Catholic or otherwise state that the death penalty is, at least, morally permissible in some circumstances. So I have to operate out of that framework, and make a different argument. And so my argument is that if you’re going to have the State killing people for their crimes, the *way* we are doing so, the sheer arbitrariness of when we use the penalty and when we do not, and what occurs during the length of time it typically takes to execute the sentence… these things are all morally indefensible. They are tantamount to saying it is morally right to torture a murderer, and then excuse the State of the guilt.

    That said, I feel that all of this is taking up excessive space on Medieval’s post for what’s essentially an unrelated ethical argument. So Medieval, feel free to kick me out if I’m getting too cruel, insensitive, or going on too long with this. I’m a lawyer; I cannot resist and sometimes I might get ahead of myself.


    • Foxfier says:

      I wrote a post saying “I feel like it is wrong to keep prisoners in solitary confinement.”

      You declared it torture.

      That’s a rather serious charge.

      I’ve got relatives who are still maimed from torture. I live in an area where there’s a decent chance someone I meet in the store will either be tortured, or someone they know will be.

      My parish priest has repeatedly (And I’d say foolishly, not that it’s binding) risked himself to dying by torture by his choice of ministry areas in Juarez.

      You use that charge to urge choices that will result in other, innocent people dying.


      • Luminas says:

        And I just don’t think that too many people will die from us not keeping death row prisoners in solitary confinement for 23 years straight anymore. And I stand by my statement that doing that’s a form of torture.

        You still haven’t actually provided an argument as to *why* you believe not keeping people in solitary confinement for decades at a time makes anyone all that much safer, versus just keeping them in the general maximum security prison population.

        I have, and I can provide (if asked) decades of significant sociological research heavily supporting the idea that long-term solitary confinement is torture.


      • Foxfier says:

        And I just don’t think that too many people will die from us not keeping death row prisoners in solitary confinement for 23 years straight anymore.

        Got that the first time.

        You’ve made it quite clear that you are perfectly willing to have others be those “not too many” deaths, though you’re not taking the risk on yourself. Thank you for that.

        There’s lots of words for folks who are willing to set up the unjust death of innocents to relieve a third party’s suffering; moral authority isn’t one of them.


  9. Luminas says:

    So what you’re saying, in essence, is that you would allow the State to inflict torture on living human beings for no reason at all. Because you believe that torturing your fellow men will somehow prevent them from murdering innocent bystanders. You believe that regular maximum security prison, with all of the security that entails, and a death sentence hanging over these peoples’ heads, is insufficient to protect society from these individuals. Some of whom are actually innocent, and some of whom committed crimes functionally identical to that of most other murderers in maximum security (but not solitary confinement) but received their sentence due to the caprice of a judge on a particularly bad day.

    For more on the subject of the death penalty sentence being startlingly arbitrary, good starting points are the Death Penalty Information Center’s catalogued studies from 1990-now, John Donahue’s 2013 study starting with the phrase “Capital Punishment in Connecticut, 1973-2007” (finding that death row prisoners in the state were statistically indistinguishable from other violent murderous offenders), Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent here (https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/justice-breyer-calls-death-penalty-arbitrary-urges-review), and this Washington Post article from 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/04/21/the-debacle-in-arkansas-reaffirms-that-the-death-penalty-is-arbitrary-unchecked-and-unfair/?utm_term=.c9c00287b397.

    Now, it’s still statistically possible for a death row inmate to spontaneously murder somebody else in a maximum security prison. It’s just that such an incident is, based on what we know, about as likely as *any* inmate doing the same. If death row prisoners are statistically identical to other violent offenders in high-security prisons, why do we only subject them to this hideous treatment? There’s no logical justification for it.

    Unless you’re willing to say we should just torture *all* murderers, in which case I’m not so sure you’re speaking from any position of moral authority I would recognize either. The very thought of a morality in which the rightness of an action is contingent solely on its context is not only inconsistent with the Bible (with the possible exception of wartime) but also incomprehensibly alien to me. Satan cannot get out of being evil by “having a really good reason for it,” even if such a thing existed. (This is part of why Lelouch’s actions in Code Geass are still evil, no matter his intention.) So neither can the State get out of torturing people by saying they’re doing it to protect others—- especially if there’s a ton of evidence suggesting that what they’re doing is not actually protecting anyone. Christian morality as far as I know it, and morality in general, don’t work like that.


    • Well, Foxfier and Luminas, you both are having a good and lively argument. But, the argument is starting to get a little heated. So, perhaps, it’s best to end it here until another opportunity or venue pops up in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] which quotes Pope Francis saying something not in line with prior Catholic teaching.  (See my post on the topic here.)  So, I would not buy an edition of The Catechism of the Catholic Church published after […]


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