An Elementary Distinction
In thinking about what it means to be pro-life, Christians must, to begin with, distinguish between protecting innocent life and protecting society against those who destroy life.
There is a 2,000 year history of saints, popes, biblical scholars, theologians and doctors and fathers of the church supporting the death penalty, a record which far overwhelms any modern day position to the contrary. It is bewildering that many priests and bishops since the 1960s have disregarded Catholic teaching on capital punishment and advocate their own new found contemporized views as if the purpose of these laws was to execute criminals, not protect the innocent.
Catholics who support capital punishment need not fear that they are not in accord with the teaching of the Catholic Faith. Many priests bishops attempt to circumvent traditional Church teaching by claiming that the teaching had been lawful in the past but today it is immoral and illicit. They substitute the politics of the moment for the tradition of the Church. Thus begins all heretical movements. When a pope or bishops claims that capital punishment is morally evil and should be banned, then either scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes were wrong— or the current priests and bishops are. There is no third alternative.
To support capital punishment is to be nothing less than authentically Catholic. The magisterium of the Catholic Church has always recognized the morality of capital punishment and its necessity for a just ordering of society. Catholic bishops who preach opposition to the death penalty are not due the allegiance of faithful Catholics. Bishops exceed their authority and competence when they promote revisions of civil laws and attempt to coerce the Faithful to follow their defective opinions. The Catholic Church has always granted that authority to elected public officials. When Pilate told Jesus that he had the power to crucify him, Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above."
A crippled masculinity has deformed many bishops and priests and a feminist mentality has greatly harmed the church. As feminist nuns were shedding their habits and protesting that they were not allowed to be priests, feminized men flooded the priesthood. Feminized judgments are based on emotion and sentiment rather than on fidelity to truth and reason, hence the newfound opposition to the death penalty. It took manliness to build the Church and it will take manliness to sustain and defend it. Manliness is in short supply in today's clergy.
The modern opposition to the death penalty has gone hand in hand with the advance of pacifism, secular humanism and the degeneration of faith and morals. It originated in the 60s and 70s with the anti-war movement and the sexual revolution. The sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice has evaporated. In past times the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches while its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. Grave harm has always come to the Church when contemporary opinions displace traditional teaching.
The "Consistent Ethic of Life" promoted by Catholic bishops has caused great harm in the struggle against abortion. Catholic are constantly exposed to the mantra, "All human life must be protected from the cradle to the grave." This statement is intended to arouse emotion and close discussion but it is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. It deceptively leaves out the one word that the Catholic Faith has always used in statements about the protection of life, "innocent". "All innocent human life must be protected." See the "Catechism" section.
Pope Pius XII summed up the historical teaching of the Faith in 1952.
"Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live".
Including capital punishment with the evils of abortion, and euthanasia has opened a loophole for duplicitous Catholics, especially politicians, allowing them to be inconsistent and unprincipled about valid pro-life issues. This leads many of the faithful to conclude that those issues also can be made situationally acceptable.
Faithful Catholics realize that contraception was the precursor to abortion but you hear next to nothing about this connection from the bishops or the pulpit. The bishops choose to include opposition to the death penalty in their mantra even though a majority of Catholics are guilty of the sin of contraception. Most bishops and priests no longer teach the reality of Mortal Sin or Hell. The terrible sexual abuse of minors is primarily discussed in relation to monetary cost and loss of church membership and not the grave Mortal Sinfulness of the clergy. Should the abuse of the innocent also be a capital offense?
The words of Jesus in the gospels:
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
Abortion would be a capital offense in a civilized society and in the United States 50/60 million abortions would not have occurred. What any women allow her child to be aborted if it was a capital offense? A vast evil principle was certainly at work in the 1970s as abortion was legalized and campaigns began to make the executions of murderers illegal.
Capital punishment laws are enacted, not to execute criminals, but to protect the lives of innocent people by making it a grave penalty for the murderer. This would cause perpetrators to have a mortal fear on the consequences and save untold lives. Laws have no meaning unless they are enforced swiftly and surely.
The Roman Catechism of Trent was issued by order of Saint Pope Pius V in 1566 and was the universal catechism in use until 1992. The section on the Execution of Criminals:
...“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.”
In 1992, we get the first new universal catechism in 430 years.
#2266 - "…The traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty."
In 1997, we get a revision on capital punishment with an ambiguous prudential statement.
#2267 - " ... the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent."
In 2018, another revision.
#2267 - "... 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."
See the "Catechism" section.
This website was created in 2007 by Donald Wachtel and updated in 2019.