Scottish Cardinal Makes Fool of Himself

The primate of Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien, today in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, decried the attempts by the United States Senate to investigate the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was convicted of the bombing on January 31, 2001, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  On August 20, 2009 al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish government to Libya, ostensibly on the compassionate grounds that he was dying of prostate cancer.

The text of the Cardinal’s article may be read here.

His argument basically consists of allegations that America has a “Culture of Vengeance” since we have the death penalty, while the Scottish justice system embraces compassion as demonstrated by the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber.

There is no polite way to put this.  The Cardinal’s article is rubbish from beginning to end.

1.  There is very good evidence that compassion actually played no role in the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber, but rather that the Brits were concerned about the fate of a then upcoming oil contract between British Petroleum and the Libyan government.  Read all about it here.

2.  The Lockerbie bomber is alive and well, as opposed to his victims who remain dead.  Last year Professor Karol Sikora, Dean of Medicine at Buckingham University, said the bomber had three months to live prior to his release.  Now the bomber could survive another ten years or more according to Sikora.  Read Sikora’s updated prognosis on the bomber here.  Of course Professor Sikora was compensated for his opinion by the Libyan government.  Three months was crucial since under Scottish law that represented the greatest life expectancy if a compassionate release was to be granted.  Go here to read the details.  Cardinal O’Brien can you say “scam” and “sucker”?

3.  Travesties like the release of the Lockerbie bomber are of course the best argument for the death penalty.  The man murders 270 men, women and children.  He is sentenced to life imprisonment.  He serves less than nine years, is released under suspicious circumstances and is now enjoying life in Libya.  That the Cardinal fails to see that none of this has anything to do with either justice or compassion is bleakly funny in a very dark sort of way.  That he condemns the US while praising the Scottish government in this matter is worthy of a Monty Python skit.

72 Responses to Scottish Cardinal Makes Fool of Himself

  1. Tito Edwards says:

    I see Cardinals Schonborn and Mahony have competition in being the most obnoxious prelates of the 21st century.

  2. While I agree that the release on “compassionate grounds” was definitely suspect and I think that al-Megrahi got substantially less than justice would have required, I do have to take issue with one of your points, and ask a question in re: another.

    I disagree with your point #3. If al-Megrahi had been executed, then his victims would still be dead. I don’t precisely see the specific moral argument to be made for killing this man in this case, nor do I see how this specific case can be extrapolated to make an argument in favor of capital punishment generally speaking.

    Which brings me to my question. The only purpose I can see being served by executing al-Megrahi would be in service of precisely the sort of “Culture of Vengeance” that the Scottish primate accuses of pervading the U.S. justice system. Since you brought it up in your post, did you have a particular comment to that point? I’d say that, while it is more obvious in some places (e.g. Texas) than others, there is an argument to be made that our criminal justice system actually is focused inordinately on retributive “justice” and not on charitable justice – the latter being definable as a process of rehabilitating individuals to function in society, or at least to allow them to function away from the temptation to criminal behavior.

    I only bring up the latter here for contrast, because I could see it being argued from a Catholic position, whereas I don’t see a lot from that vantage point to recommend retributive justice. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  3. Brad says:

    The Cardinal gets the prize for being close to the right answer by the wrong reasoning process. My question regarding the investigation is why did they wait until AFTER the gulf oil spill. I am not saying the investigation is wrong or shouldn’t happen. But the timing is very suspicious.

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “I disagree with your point #3. If al-Megrahi had been executed, then his victims would still be dead. I don’t precisely see the specific moral argument to be made for killing this man in this case, nor do I see how this specific case can be extrapolated to make an argument in favor of capital punishment generally speaking.”

    When a particularly heinous crime is committed, the argument is often made that life imprisonment is an adequate substitute for the death penalty. This case graphically demonstrates that life imprisonment, at least in a European context, often does not mean life. Nine years for the 270 victims works out to slightly more than twelve days imprisonment per victim, about what someone in my county would get for a second driving while intoxicated conviction. This mocks any concept of justice.

  5. Thomas Wingley says:

    I completely agree with the Cardinal. The American mentality of brutality, vengeance, and warmongering is out of sync with Catholic morality. It is quite questionable whether Americans who partake in these attitudes can be Catholics at all. Compassion and charity are more important than justice. The three theological virtues are love, faith, and hope, and justice is a result of love but not a virtue by itself (1 Cor 13:13). The sad fact about U.S. Catholicism is that there is no Catholic culture and practically no Catholic education. It is thoroughly Protestant. Thank God it has practically no influence on the Church Universal.

  6. M. Jordan Lichens says:

    Thomas, are you saying that Scotland is now a Catholic nation with purely papist mores? Man, Knox must be rolling in his grave!

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Compassion and charity are more important than justice.”

    What you actually had in regard to the release was greed, trickery and injustice. If that represents the Scottish interpretation of Catholic morality Thomas, you and the Cardinal are welcome to it.

  8. I think the issue we’re having here, Mr. McClarey, is less with this particular situation and more with the universal principle you seem to be espousing. Don’t think I don’t get hot under the collar thinking how Libya basically got their guy out of jail in exchange for an oil contract. I know that’s not justice. However, I don’t think that the Cardinal is wrong vis-a-vis Americans generally. I wouldn’t give a fig, honestly, if it were Scots who died rather than Americans – I just wouldn’t feel emotionally connected. It would still offend my sense of justice, but my sense of justice doesn’t raise the same stink as my desire to get even. The latter I try to ignore at all times.

    Is Card. O’Brien fundamentally wrong about why Scotland released al-Megrahi? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. Is he right to say that we’re probably only making a stink because it was our people who died and we want him to “pay” for what he did? Fairly confident on another affirmative. Does this serve in any remote way as an argument in favor of the death penalty? Don’t quite see how, unless you’re approaching justice from a “we’ll make damn sure he gets what’s coming to him” perspective. Which really isn’t justice at all.

  9. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “I wouldn’t give a fig, honestly, if it were Scots who died rather than Americans – I just wouldn’t feel emotionally connected.”

    There we differ. To me the nationality of 270 innocents being murdered by a terrorist really isn’t of importance as compared to the enormity of the crime, and the lack of adequate punishment for the person behind the murders.

    As to your other point, the very essence of criminal justice is that the penalty be in proportion to the crime committed. Nine years for 270 murders is simply not commensurate with the offense. In civilized society people give up their right to private vengeance because they assume that the law will punish the guilty for the offense against them or their loved ones. This case makes a hollow mockery of that bargain.

  10. Tito Edwards says:


    Nice to see the West Virginian anarchist make another commando appearance.

  11. Amy says:

    I tend to agree that leaving religion and the Irish troubles out of Lockerbie discussions facilitates constructive debate!

  12. Again, Mr. McClarey, I’m not particularly contesting that the punishment in this case was inadequate. I think it was. But I’m less concerned about the lack of comeuppance to al-Megrahi, and more concerned that it was so easy a capitulation for the UK to make.

    Criminal justice, to my way of thinking, has as its object not the criminal per se, but society. The criminal is, of course, the proximate object, but not the fundamental one. Society must act on the lawbreaker in one of two ways: either (1) we confine him and attempt to rehabilitate him; or (2) whether due to the magnitude of the offense or the sociopathy of the offender, we keep him incarcerated for our collective protection. Clearly al-Megrahi falls into the latter class of offenders, and it is a grave miscarriage of justice that the government on whose soil the very crime was committed turned him loose for the benefit of possible oil contracts.

    What I remain mildly alarmed by your statement that:

    “Travesties like the release of the Lockerbie bomber are of course the best argument for the death penalty.”

    That really is a vengeful and, I would even go so far as to say, an uncivilized outlook. In a day and age where we have the affluence that we have, I don’t think that there’s any but a handful of good reasons to resort to execution as a primary punishment – least of all based on the possibility that otherwise the offender may not get punished “enough.”

    I still agree that the particular occasion for the Cardinal’s comments was…chosen poorly; however, I think that there is a kernel of rather unpleasant truth in the words.

  13. Joe Hargrave says:

    Again with the Protestant bashing.

    I expected so much more from the post-councilar “we are the world” ecumenicists of liberal Catholicism.

  14. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “That really is a vengeful and, I would even go so far as to say, an uncivilized outlook.”

    Not at all. Both Church, the Catholic Church, and the State, almost all States, believed that the death penalty was an appropiate penalty under certain circumstances until the day before yesterday in historical terms. If putting someone to death is vengeful, I fail to see why locking someone up for the rest of his life is not. The papacy of course used to understand this, which is why the Vatican had the death penalty until 1969, not to mention the fact that while the popes ruled the papal states they ordered executions for capital crimes until the dissolution of the papal states in 1870.

  15. T. Shaw says:

    “Who spills man’s blood, by man shall his blood be spilled. For man is made in God’s image.” Or, something to that effect. See Genesis.

    State punishment, constrained by justice and law, is not vengeance.

    Once upon a time, every sentient person knew that if he/she killed (also rape, armed robbery, etc.) another person, he was liable to hang. Things are so much better since mercy displaced justice. Are things better for murder victms? Oh, they’re already dead . . .

  16. Art Deco says:

    I would refer you to Daniel Moloney’s piece on mercy a few years back in First Things. It offers an understanding of mercy as not opposed to justice, but a refinement of justice – the adaptation of general rules of conduct to the particulars of each situation. IIRC, one point advanced by the author was that institutions run by fallible human beings were not notably reliable in the application of mercy.

    A while back, Peter Kreeft offered some remarks on how what is called ‘compassion’ is a degenerate version of charity – charity shorn of some crucial elements. That would seem to apply here. We would rather our clergy advance the view of the Church and not the zeitgeist. We are disappointed about two-thirds of the time.

  17. @ Mr. Hargrave:

    I didn’t see any “liberal” Catholics laying about. As far as Protestants go, I don’t have much use for them.

    @ Mr. McClarey:

    I imagine the popes also had torture chambers at their disposal back in the day. I further imagine that they were put to use. Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve. I don’t think that the fact that a thing used to be done is a particularly strong case for continuing to do that thing. By such logic, the rack would still be a valid form of information gathering.

  18. Mike Petrik says:


    “Imagine” is the operative word. How easy it must be to form opinions based on imagination rather than facts.

    And re use for Protestants, just to be clear: I doubt that any reader of this blog cares who you have use for — and I doubt our Lord cares either.

  19. Mike,

    I don’t conceive of God being nonchalant, generally. A comment was made, and then responded to, which I’m pretty sure happens on blogs. Kind of like trolling, rather than actually engaging in argument.

    To that point, “imagine” is not the operative word, in fact. The mental operation undertaken was more logical than that. Given that sundry popes of the medieval and Renaissance eras were far better temporal rulers than pontiffs – see, e.g., Julius II or any given Borgia – and given that the Papal States, as a secular entity, had the same interests and goals as any other European power, it does not require any noticeable stretching to the fabric of reality to infer that the Papal States would have used the same tools to further those interests and goals. That would include the torture of prisoners for information. Since such treatment had been the norm for centuries, if not millennia, I see no strong reason suggesting that the presence of Popes in the equation at this moment would change anything. I’m certainly open to evidence to the contrary.

    I should again elaborate, as well, as I sense your sensibilities may have been rankled by the Prot comment: I see no reason to bring them to the party, because I see no purpose served by bringing incomplete truth to a place where the fullness of truth resides. Given the name of the blog, I anticipated that understanding having some commonality. I apologize if you do not share it, and if I caused you offense.

  20. Dale Price says:

    Cardinal O’Brien’s repeated references to capital punishment are particularly gamy red herrings and about the clumsiest sleight of hand I’ve seen in a while.

    The senators aren’t demanding Megrahi be executed. Though that would have been a just punishment, given the crime. What they are *actually* demanding are answers as to why this remarkably hale terrorist received “compassionate” clemency when it is clear he is going to live for years. The Cardinal’s studious determination to avoid what looks, walks and quacks like a corrupt bargain is part of the problem.

    And, really, Mr. Wingley–excoriating America for a Protestant mindset while defending Calvinist-bathed Scotland is…risible.

  21. As near as I can tell, that is *the* problem.

  22. Joe Hargrave says:

    “I didn’t see any “liberal” Catholics laying about.”

    They know who they are.

    “As far as Protestants go, I don’t have much use for them.”

    Wonderful spirit of ecumenism there. This virulent anti-Protestant bigotry emanating from the Catholic left is amusing and sad at the same time.

    I mean, you don’t have “much use” for them? What does that even mean? And here I thought people were ends, not means. Tsk tsk.

  23. Mr. Hargrave,

    Let me join you in pummeling this cadaverous filly.

    Having had no recourse, at times, but to fulfill my canonical obligations in the dens of liberal Catholicism, I can claim some familiarity with their ways and means. I think they more resemble than despise Protestants. As far as anti-Protestantism, I take that to be wrapped up in the definition of “Catholicism,” at least insofar as the latter is the fullness of truth and the former is a repository of fragments deluded into the conviction that they are all. Full truth must be against half-truth, so I suppose to be orthodoxly Catholic one might have to be anti-Protestant. But I wouldn’t call that bigotry…just being right.

    Hence, incidentally, why I do not have much use for Protestants qua Protestantism. I have seen nothing of value there that is not present in my own religion, whereas I have seen many things of no value being osmosed from them by liberal Catholicism – the adherents of which I similarly have little use for.

  24. Joe Hargrave says:


    I made an important distinction between Protestants, and Protestantism, in this post:

    It is one thing to oppose the ideas. No one is more opposed to the “Protestantization” of theology, the liturgy and aesthetics than myself.

    It is another thing to insult and degrade actual people, many of whom are sincere in their desire for a spiritual life. To even find people who take seriously the existence of God and what it means for their lives, I think, is a blessing in today’s society, which is weighed down with materialism and consumerism.

    A fair number of the Protestants I have met don’t even know what they’re missing in Catholicism. They are ripe for conversion, provided bigotry and pretension can be put aside.

  25. Gwen says:

    What a despicable character the Cardinal is. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself as should be the people of Scotland. This is a mass murderer we are talking about!

  26. John says:

    Very interesting reading through the comments here. I thought I’d add my two cents, though I almost never comment.

    The primary reason the death penalty should be allowed, at least according to the catechism, is for the protection of society: “If…[it] is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (CCC 2267)

    This actually gives us a way to reconcile the practices of the past with renewed desire to limit the death penalty. We have more advanced means of insuring that those who commit heinous crimes do not escape. There has been much talk of “punishment”; I’m not sure why Catholics should be worried about this sort of thing, particularly when it will handled most effectively in the afterlife by a most qualified judge. When used in the negative sense it can also tempt one to thoughts of vengeance. There is, of course “punishment” in a positive sense: punishment which has as its aim rehabilitation and correction. The catechism speaks of this type: It “has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” it can “assume the value of expiation”, and “it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.” (2266)

    Of course, in contrast to the Cardinal, I think it would actually be more compassionate to leave a mass murderer in prison. One who has committed such deeds needs to have a complete sense of the consequences of his actions, and life in prison could more effectively provide a context for and a desire for “expiation”.

    In the pro-life sphere, I think it is very appropriate to advocate sparing the life of such men. Not so much because of a social sense of “compassion” (a concept which can be grossly misconstrued), but because we acknowledge that everyone has the right to life, and moreover, should be afforded ample opportunity for repentance and penitence.

    I have a great respect for the work of the contributors at American Catholic, and I really appreciate the posts and the perspectives. Hope this contributes to the discussion. God bless.

  27. Mr. Hargrave,

    I can cop to the same experience, and I hope that my Protestant friends come to the realization of their situation and come back into the fold.

    I should probably have thrown the “qua” in there from the get-go. Although bigotry might be a slightly strong choice of word. I’ll definitely confess to being biased, though.

  28. Donald Johnston says:

    You prove the cardinal right. Justice has nothing to do with the victims. What you talk of is revenge.

  29. Joe Hargrave says:


    The initial comment, for clarification, was directed at a certain person who posts here under rotating identities, and who used to post for a certain blog that is well known for its undisguised contempt for Protestants and Americans in a constant game of “more-Catholic-than-thou” one-upsmanship.

  30. Marthe Lépine says:

    I am tempted to introduce a cog in the wheel of this discussion… I find it strange that Catholics, who certainly do believe in the afterlife, are still arguing “a life for a life” in the case of murder. Sending a murderer to his or her death without getting a chance to repent does not seem Christian to me. And if the murderer does get a chance to repent, he or she will eventually get the reward we all hope for, eternal life. All we would be doing with the death penalty in this case would be to allow this person to get to this goal faster (even before us in time!) A better “punishment” would then seem to be holding this person in prison for the rest of his or her human life… Just a thought.

  31. Phillip says:

    Though that seems to be part of the problem. The “compassion” that the Cardinal refers to releases a mass murderer from a life sentence. I’m not sure how much repentence one has when one if free to live as a hero in one’s home country.

  32. Dale Price says:

    “A better punishment would then seem to be holding this person in prison for the rest of his or her human life.”

    But *that’s the problem*–he was set free to a hero’s welcome and a long life. Where is there a hint of justice in that?

  33. Marthe Lepine,

    It strikes me as utterly strange to take the approach of saying that life in prison is more of a punishment because it forces the criminal to remain in prison longer before receiving his eternal reward. Seriously?

    Honestly, I think part of the problem is that many on the “compassion” side of this have come to believe only vaguely in the concept of life after death. From a traditional point of view, earthly punishment and eternal punishment are fully separate questions. From an earthly point of view, certain serious crimes simply merit death, at a basic retributive level. Nothing personal, not because it will make any feel better, not because the families of the victims will have “closure” or some such nonsesne, but simply because there is an imbalance that has been created and this is how it is to be righted in the earthly sense. One might exert mercy or clemency in certain circumstances, but this would clearly be a matter of setting aside the demands of justice, the demands of justice do not themselves change.

    We, as Christians, have the duty to forgive and to help give someone facing capital punishment every opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness. What happens when an executed criminal faces God is, clearly, something between those two. It is not something for us to know, and indeed we may very much hope that each such person embraces God and recieves salvation.

    However, in the last sixty years or so, most people have lost this balanced approach.

  34. Marthe Lépine says:

    “From an earthly point of view, certain serious crimes simply merit death…”
    But even the Pope is not that categorical… And I thought that we, as disciples of Christ, were supposed to be “in the world” but not “of the world”. Are really we supposed to be basing our judgment on “an earthly point of view”?
    On the other hand, my arguments are not directly linked to the case at hand but to the principle surrounding capital punishment. It is certainly reasonable to say that the Lockerbie bomber should have remained incarcerated, both as punishment and as a way of ensuring he does not get involved in similar crimes, which is certainly not impossible. And other prisoners around the world have been kept in prison while dying of cancer.
    And to come back to the possibility of repentance: It is unfortunate that the Lockerbie bomber has been freed for “business” reasons, but he may still meet opportunities for repentance. It is my understanding that God is tirelessly pursuing sinners to bring them to Himself (what is the expression? “the Hound of Heaven”?) and we will never know the real end of the story…

  35. John says:


    Although I very much respect your opinions, I’m afraid I too have to disagree with your line of thinking. (And my disagreement has next to nothing to do with “compassion”.)

    When I read Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 67 deals with the death penalty), JPII makes it pretty clear that execution should be avoided if at all possible. Now, clearly there are exceptions, but the exceptions should only derive from practical considerations (eg., keeping society safe).

    As I read it, punishment alone is not a valid reason to administer the death penalty.

    Perhaps you have a different interpretation…?

  36. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Mr. McClarey:

    I imagine the popes also had torture chambers at their disposal back in the day. I further imagine that they were put to use. Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve.”

    Actually the popes did have official torturers and executioners. The name of the gentleman who performed this task for Pio Nono was Giovanni Battista Bugatti. He performed 516 executions for Pio Nono and his predecessors.

    “Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve.” Considering the bloody Twentieth Century, the bloodiest by far in human history, and also considering the 44,000,000 and counting unborn children put to death by legal abortion in this country, I will assume that comment was meant humorously.

  37. Marthe Lépine says:

    Two wrongs do not make a right. Certainly, a very large part of the Twentieth Century evolution of civilization and civilized sensibilities was not positive. But abortions and bloodshed during that century do not justify maintaining capital punishment… Given that even the Pope now teaches that it has to be avoided if at all possible, I think that some of us, among Catholics and followers of Christ, would be well advised to seriously examine their positions on that matter. If they are not willing to seriously consider current Papal teachings in this matter and avoid arguing that, due to the fact that previous popes in previous centuries thought and acted differently, JP2’s teaching is only a matter of opinion and can be disregarded because “we know better”. Founders of groups that separated from the Church and are now called Protestants also did think that “they knew better”!

  38. John,

    I would agree with you that John Paul II pretty clearly thought that the death penalty should basically never be used in the modern world. A part of me would wish to contextualize that, given that he lived in a country which, through most of his adult life, far more often used the power of execution against innocent “polical criminals” than it did against actual offenders of any sort. However, contextualization is often the easy way out.

    Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t discuss the topic of capital punishment often is that it seems to me that the recent statements of our popes have been pretty directly in tension with the rest of Church tradition. And as that troubles me greatly, I tend to think it best to not express my opinion overmuch and to allow time and the Holy Spirit to sort things out in ways better than are known to me.

    That said, I think this tension in Church tradition is well summarized by the tension between the two paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church addressing the issue. On the one hand we have this:

    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.

    That seems to me to be saying exactly what I expressed above. And then in the next paragraph we have this:

    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.”

    Here the purpose of secular punishment is no longer to redress the disorder caused by the offense, but rather to hold it in check for a while. Secular “justice” now serves not actually to punish, but simply to hold people in restraint until a threat has passed.

    I don’t know how to resolve these, but it seems to me that to take only the latter and not the former is to have an unbalanced view of earthly justice, and one largely out of keeping with our history. Perhaps much of this is — being of a strongly conservative temperment — I find it next to impossible to believe that conditions now are substantially different from how they were in the past. It doesn’t seem to me that there is one justice for today and another for yesterday. Nor that we have really got much better at restraining people from committing crimes than we were in the past.

  39. John says:

    “paragraph 67 deals with the death penalty”

    Whoops. The paragraph in question is actually 56, not 67.


  40. Marthe Lépine says:

    I am afraid you may be confusing Tradition and tradition… I think that the Tradition would be indicating that the Pope has the authority to teach and guide his flock according to the needs of the times. In earlier centuries, many things were accepted that are considered questionable nowadays, an example would be slavery. Therefore, if the Church had a different attitude towards capital punishment in earlier times, there is no “rule” against a certain evolution in the Church teaching, but there seems to be a rule, even a tradition, towards doing our best to respect the Pope”s teachings, because such teachings most probably express the will of God for our present times.

  41. Within the context of John Paul II’s formulation — I guess I’d say that I disagree as to the extent to which society can be protected from certain types of crimes without recourse to the death penalty, in part because I think that protecting society goes more widely that simpy, “Making sure that particular person is not practically able to kill someone else in the future.”

    That said, this is not an issue that I’m passionate about in the US context. I think we use the death penalty so poorly, so late, and so inconsistently that there’s very little point, and certainly if there were some sort of principled trade-off available (“We’ll agree to restrictions on abortion if you’ll agree to abolishing the death penalty.”) I’d be happy to support such a compromise. I just get annoyed by some of the absolutist and a-historical rhetoric that gets rolled out by anti-death-penalty activists.

  42. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “But abortions and bloodshed during that century do not justify maintaining capital punishment… Given that even the Pope now teaches that it has to be avoided if at all possible, I think that some of us, among Catholics and followers of Christ, would be well advised to seriously examine their positions on that matter.”

    Ah, but the predecessors of John Paul II, certainly up to Pius XII, had an opposite view of capital punishment as did Saint Paul. When Popes and Saints are in conflict, I would tread cautiously, especially when a novel papal teaching happens to coincide with a secular movement against capital punishment. That is a strong indication to me that perhaps what is being pronounced is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ, but perhaps the reaction of a pope to intellectual trends of his time. Popes make many pronouncements during their reigns, most of which end up being forgotten or ignored by future popes. A good example of this is The Syallabus of Errors of Pio Nono.

  43. Marthe Lépine says:

    That is a strange argument. You mean to say that whenever the Pope happens to hear about some secular movement against something like capital punishment, and happens to express some teaching that gives it validity, we are allowed to think that his judgement – or his discernment supported by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ who said that He would be with His Church till the end of times – has been weakened?

  44. Marthe Lépine says:

    Please allow me an editorial change:
    …we are justified to think that his judgement…

  45. John says:


    Well said. I actually see it from your point of view very clearly.

    It seems to me our late Holy Father had a confidence in modern technology and political good will that that I’m not so sure a lot of conservatives share. On the one hand, there is the issue of protection of society, on the other hand the issue of taking a life when it seems as though modern society has sufficient means of otherwise protecting itself. (read: advanced prison security)

    Which brings up the interesting question (which I think Don alludes to in the article): Is practical security (bars, gates, fences) the only consideration here? I think even the strongest advocates of the death penalty might admit that there are problems with the justice system in our society. Could it be argued that the death penalty is necessary because our justice system is not perfect? I don’t know.

    I do disagree, however, that even though “the punishment should fit the crime” that that punishment by necessity has to be the death penalty. I think this is the point which JPII makes most strongly. However, I do think that this topic can be validly debated from many angles.

    On an unrelated note, I do enjoy this blog. I especially enjoy Don’s unique perspective on all things political/historical and DarwinCatholic’s cultural and philosophical perspectives.

    Let’s continue to fight the good fight and remain united in our love for the Church and the faith!

  46. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Let’s continue to fight the good fight and remain united in our love for the Church and the faith!”


  47. John says:

    “That is a strong indication to me that perhaps what is being pronounced is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ, but perhaps the reaction of a pope to intellectual trends of his time.”

    Boy, you’re a lot bolder than I am when interpreting papal documents.

    Do you mean that there is a fundamental theological contradiction (death penalty as means of punishment vs. dp as strictly a means of protection)? Or simply that different popes see different ways of applying the same principles?

  48. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “You mean to say that whenever the Pope happens to hear about some secular movement against something like capital punishment, and happens to express some teaching that gives it validity, we are allowed to think that his judgement – or his discernment supported by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ who said that He would be with His Church till the end of times – has been weakened?”

    When a Pope does an almost 180 on previous longstanding Church teaching, and the change happens to coincide with developments in the secular world, or be a reaction against developments in the secular world for that matter, it is proper I think to wonder if the Pope is giving us a valid new teaching or expressing a personal opinion. Of course, I assume that most popes must adhere to this belief, considering how many of them have ignored or reversed what previous popes taught. John Paul II did this more than most popes, but he was by no means unique in this regard. The Holy Spirit uses time to sort things out as Darwin observed earlier in this thread. That is why the Syllabus of Errors, or the papal condemnation of Magna Charta, or a thousand and one other items that could be named, are now historical curiosities rather than considered part of Church teaching. To some this fact might be considered disturbing. I do not find it so. The Church is a divine and human institution that proceeds through History with its many ups and downs. It does not surprise me that it can take a very long view to sort the wheat from the chaff, even in regard to Papal actions and teachings.

  49. Marthe Lépine says:

    Just a minute, I had another thought. Did not St-Paul also instructed slaves to respect their masters and serve them as they would serve the Lord? But slavery was abolished in the US… This contradicts Paul, no?
    Different popes have lived in different times with different sensibilities, and responded to them.
    Some of the arguments I have read here about whether the Pope’s opinions do not always have to be accepted remind me too much of a time when I was much younger and Humanae Vitae was just published. Many people argued then that the Pope did not really understand the realities of having children in our times and that therefore his teaching about contraception was not absolutely binding. I even heard it during sessions organized by my parish. Sure, this teaching was part of an Encyclical Letter, but I have been led, particularly after listening to Father Corapi’s explanations, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church also contained official teachings of the Church. Some paragraphs of that book bearing on capital punishment have been quoted in earlier posts…

  50. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Actually Saint Paul’s admonition regarding slaves to obey their masters is a good example of a very high authority indeed in the Church giving a teaching that coincides with the reality of his times. It is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ.

  51. John says:


    Fair enough. There is also, however, the distinction between popes disagreeing with each other, especially across different periods of history, and laymen taking an official current papal document with a grain of salt.

  52. John says:

    “with a grain of salt”

    I’m not accusing you of this, I’m speaking generally.

  53. Marthe Lépine says:

    It seems to me that even if the Pope is expressing his personal opinion, it has much more weight that the personal opinions of each of us, members of the Catholic Church. He has been by God the authority to teach us, and again, I would refer back to what I said before about a lot of people using exactly the same argument when Humanae Vitae was published. I clearly remember that the question was raised of whether or not Humanae Vitae was infaillible teaching, and the opinion expressed that if it was not infaillible teaching, people were still allowed to “follow their conscience” (I did hear it in those exact words!) in making their own choice about contraception. I remember wondering at the time (I was not married, therefore it was not a serious concern for me) how it could happen that some people’s consciences could be going against the Pope’s teaching. Is it not the same Holy Spirit that is supposed to inform our consciences?

  54. Donald R. McClarey says:

    True John. It can easily become an all purpose excuse to ignore Papal teaching that one finds uncongenial. Although I find anti-death penalty arguments, including those made by John Paul II, to be fairly unconvincing, the death penalty, either pro or con, has never been a hot button issue for me like abortion. If clerics wish to make anti-death penalty pronouncements, that matters little to me so long as they are not dunderheads about it, and I believe Cardinal O’Brien went way across that line on Sunday.

  55. John says:

    I do agree wholeheartedly with that. The issue of the death penalty pales in comparison to abortion. It’s a tragedy when bishops and other Catholics don’t see likewise.

  56. Art Deco says:

    What’s wrong with the Syllabus of Errors.

  57. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The embarassment that many Catholics felt at the time in regard to the Syallabus is well demonstrated in this letter of Newman linked below.

    “Here I am led to interpose a remark;—it is plain, then, that there are those near, or with access, to the Holy Father, who would, if they could, go much further in the way of assertion and command, than the divine Assistentia, which overshadows him, wills or permits; so {280} that his acts and his words on doctrinal subjects must be carefully scrutinized and weighed, before we can be sure what really he has said. Utterances which must be received as coming from an Infallible Voice are not made every day, indeed they are very rare; and those which are by some persons affirmed or assumed to be such, do not always turn out what they are said to be; nay, even such as are really dogmatic must be read by definite rules and by traditional principles of interpretation, which are as cogent and unchangeable as the Pope’s own decisions themselves. What I have to say presently will illustrate this truth; meanwhile I use the circumstance which has led to my mentioning it, for another purpose here. When intelligence which we receive from Rome startles and pains us from its seemingly harsh or extreme character, let us learn to have some little faith and patience, and not take for granted that all that is reported is the truth. There are those who wish and try to carry measures and declare they have carried, when they have not carried them. How many strong things, for instance, have been reported with a sort of triumph on one side and with irritation and despondency on the other, of what the Vatican Council has done; whereas the very next year after it, Bishop Fessler, the Secretary General of the Council, brings out his work on “True and False Infallibility,” reducing what was said to be so monstrous to its true dimensions. When I see all this going on, those grand lines in the Greek Tragedy always rise on my lips—

    [Oupote tan Dios harmonian
    thnaton parexiasi boulai],—

    {281} and still more the consolation given us by a Divine Speaker that, though the swelling sea is so threatening to look at, yet there is One who rules it and says, “Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!”

    But to return:—the Syllabus then has no dogmatic force; it addresses us, not in its separate portions, but as a whole, and is to be received from the Pope by an act of obedience, not of faith, that obedience being shown by having recourse to the original and authoritative documents, (Allocutions and the like,) to which it pointedly refers. Moreover, when we turn to those documents, which are authoritative, we find the Syllabus cannot even be called an echo of the Apostolic Voice; for, in matters in which wording is so important, it is not an exact transcript of the words of the Pope, in its account of the errors condemned,—just as is natural in what is professedly an index for reference.”

    Newman was quite wrong. From first to last the Syllabus was the project of Pio Nono, a fact that became very clear soon after Newman wrote his letter. It was the cranky blast of a Pontiff who truly hated most of the developments of the nineteenth century.

    A few samples:

    11. The Church not only ought never to pass judgment on philosophy, but ought to tolerate the errors of philosophy, leaving it to correct itself.—Ibid., Dec. 21, 1863.

    15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.—Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

    17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.—Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

    21. The Church has not the power of defining dogmatically that the religion of the Catholic Church is the only true religion.—Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

    22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.—Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

    24. The Church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect.—Apostolic Letter “Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851.

    27. The sacred ministers of the Church and the Roman pontiff are to be absolutely excluded from every charge and dominion over temporal affairs.—Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862.

    38. The Roman pontiffs have, by their too arbitrary conduct, contributed to the division of the Church into Eastern and Western.—Apostolic Letter “Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851.

    55. The Church ought to be separated from the .State, and the State from the Church.—Allocution “Acerbissimum,” Sept. 27, 1852.

    63. It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.—Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1864; Allocution “Quibusque vestrum,” Oct. 4, 1847; “Noscitis et Nobiscum,” Dec. 8, 1849; Apostolic Letter “Cum Catholica.”

    75. The children of the Christian and Catholic Church are divided amongst themselves about the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power.—”Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851

    76. The abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church.—Allocutions “Quibus quantisque,” April 20, 1849, “Si semper antea,” May 20, 1850.

    I will not debate whether Pius was right in condemning these propositions. I would argue that the position of the Church has changed from that pronounced by Pius in the Syllabus, and that this work is usually simply ignored.

  58. The difference I would see in regards Humanae Vitae is: with Humanae Vitae Paul VI put himself in agreement with the entire history of Christian teaching on the topic.

    The thing which makes me a bit uncomfortable with the absolute condemnation of the death penalty (and note, John Paul II was clearly cognizant of this, and he did not unconditionally condemn the death penalty) is that in this case the long history of Christian tradition is on the other side of the issue: holding that the death penalty is acceptable in certain grave circumstances, and is not a contradiction to (or obstruction to) God’s mercy.

  59. restrainedradical says:

    I have a different reason for supporting Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s release. I’m not convinced he did it. The evidence was flimsy. The judge later admitted that the prosecution’s main witness was unreliable. The UN observer reported that it was not a fair trial. His case was on appeal after it was ruled that a “miscarriage of justice” had occurred. His appeal was halted only by his release fueling speculation that he was released so that Scotland would not have to admit to convicting an innocent man and reimbursing the compensation that Libya paid the victims’ families.

  60. Suz says:

    “Nine years for the 270 victims works out to slightly more than twelve days imprisonment per victim…”

    A monstrous act of terrorism so lightly dealt with may not serve as a powerful disincentive towards future acts. Unless al-Megrahi spent the nine years hanging upside down over a tank of angry sea bass or something. Or am I buying into the…er… Culture of Vengeance, is it?

  61. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Well Restrained Radical here is the pertinent portion of the decision of the three judge panel that convicted him:

    “86] We now turn to the case against the first accused. We should make it clear at the outset that the entries in the second accused’s diary can form no part of any case against the first accused. The entries fall to be treated as equivalent to a statement made by a co-accused outwith the presence of the first accused. If both accused had been proved by other evidence to have been acting in concert in the commission of the crime libelled, then these entries could perhaps have been used as general evidence in the case as against any person proved to have been acting in concert. As we are of opinion however that it has not been proved that the second accused was a party to this crime, it follows that the normal rule must apply and the entries cannot be used against the first accused. We therefore put that matter entirely out of our minds.

    [87] On 15 June 1987 the first accused was issued with a passport with an expiry date of 14 June 1991 by the Libyan passport authority at the request of the ESO who supplied the details to be included. The name on the passport was Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad. Such a passport was known as a coded passport. There was no evidence as to why this passport was issued to him. It was used by the first accused on a visit to Nigeria in August 1987, returning to Tripoli via Zurich and Malta, travelling at least between Zurich and Tripoli on the same flights as Nassr Ashur who was also travelling on a coded passport. It was also used during 1987 for visits to Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus. The only use of this passport in 1988 was for an overnight visit to Malta on 20/21 December, and it was never used again. On that visit he arrived in Malta on flight KM231 about 5.30pm. He stayed overnight in the Holiday Inn, Sliema, using the name Abdusamad. He left on 21 December on flight LN147, scheduled to leave at 10.20am. The first accused travelled on his own passport in his own name on a number of occasions in 1988, particularly to Malta on 7 December where he stayed until 9 December when he departed for Prague, returning to Tripoli via Zurich and Malta on 16/17 December.

    [88] A major factor in the case against the first accused is the identification evidence of Mr Gauci. For the reasons we have already given, we accept the reliability of Mr Gauci on this matter, while recognising that this is not an unequivocal identification. From his evidence it could be inferred that the first accused was the person who bought the clothing which surrounded the explosive device. We have already accepted that the date of purchase of the clothing was 7 December 1988, and on that day the first accused arrived in Malta where he stayed until 9 December. He was staying at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, which is close to Mary’s House. If he was the purchaser of this miscellaneous collection of garments, it is not difficult to infer that he must have been aware of the purpose for which they were being bought. We accept the evidence that he was a member of the JSO, occupying posts of fairly high rank. One of these posts was head of airline security, from which it could be inferred that he would be aware at least in general terms of the nature of security precautions at airports from or to which LAA operated. He also appears to have been involved in military procurement. He was involved with Mr Bollier, albeit not specifically in connection with MST timers, and had along with Badri Hassan formed a company which leased premises from MEBO and intended to do business with MEBO. In his interview with Mr Salinger he denied any connection with MEBO, but we do not accept his denial. On 20 December 1988 he entered Malta using his passport in the name of Abdusamad. There is no apparent reason for this visit, so far as the evidence discloses. All that was revealed by acceptable evidence was that the first accused and the second accused together paid a brief visit to the house of Mr Vassallo at some time in the evening, and that the first accused made or attempted to make a phone call to the second accused at 7.11am the following morning. It is possible to infer that this visit under a false name the night before the explosive device was planted at Luqa, followed by his departure for Tripoli the following morning at or about the time the device must have been planted, was a visit connected with the planting of the device. Had there been any innocent explanation for this visit, obviously this inference could not be drawn. The only explanation that appeared in the evidence was contained in his interview with Mr Salinger, when he denied visiting Malta at that time and denied using the name Abdusamad or having had a passport in that name. Again, we do not accept his denial.


    [89] We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified. However, having considered the whole evidence in the case, including the uncertainties and qualifications, and the submissions of counsel, we are satisfied that the evidence as to the purchase of clothing in Malta, the presence of that clothing in the primary suitcase, the transmission of an item of baggage from Malta to London, the identification of the first accused (albeit not absolute), his movements under a false name at or around the material time, and the other background circumstances such as his association with Mr Bollier and with members of the JSO or Libyan military who purchased MST-13 timers, does fit together to form a real and convincing pattern. There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused, and accordingly we find him guilty of the remaining charge in the Indictment as amended.”

  62. Phillip says:

    The Syllabus of Errors certainly causes pause and helps us reflect on infallibility and the development of doctrine. Clearly point 15 appears to be directly contradicted by Dignitatis Humanae. They really are contradictory in their conclusions.

    I think Donald is right to some degree. Doctrine does develop. At the same time the Church makes statements that reflect a judgment of its time and, with changing political and social circumstances, can revise its judgment. Clearly that seems to be the case with Dignitatis Humanae and also much of the Syllabus.

    Humanae Vitae is clearly a restatement of traditional teaching whereas the teaching on the death penalty is, at a minimum, a development of doctrine as it seems to take the death penalty off the table as punisment. Even as a development of doctrine, the Church does teach that the death penalty is morally licit given the circumstances (that again) of defense.

    Under such a light one can question if the death penalty in the US is abused. One wonders however if, given the severity of the Pan Am bombing, an argument for the death penalty as defense can be made. Not that I’m making it. Too much trouble to try and more ornery sorts might make all sorts of simplistic hay out of it.

    Just saying that it may not be as simple as saying it is “vengence.” Especially since justice, human and divine, has clearly been offended in this case.

  63. Marthe Lépine says:

    To Phillip: I agree with your comments. They give a balanced argument that is very reasonable. And as to whether or not the death penalty is being abused in the US, I cannot make a judgement, since I do not live in that country and therefore am not aware of all the circumstances of all cases. However, it does not seem that the actual number of executions is unreasonable, and criminals seem to spend such a long time on death row that their cases are most probably being studied in depth on all angles before the actual execution takes place, thus mitigating the risk of errors (we have had a number of such errors in Canada, but the accused had not been executed when the errors were found, thanks to the Lord). However what I get from comments on news sites such as my favorite,, is worrying me, since it happens very often (too often for my taste) that someone (often several people) will claim for the reinstatement of the death penalty each and every time a serious crime occurs. This worries me and gives the impression of a vengeful mentality among part of the population, and I think that it would be a good idea to try to do some education in the matter, such as the value of compassion and forgiveness, for example, and try to change hearts, at least among Catholics and other Christians in general. After all, are we not taught at one time or the other of our Catholic education that the first “canonized” saint was a criminal dying on a cross besides Jesus?

  64. Dudley hSarp says:

    Compassion: An introduction for Cardinal O’Brien (and Scottish Justice Secretary Kenneth MacAskill)

    Why compassion would have kept al-Megrahi in prison.

    Scots desire justice and want justice to be tempered by compassion and mercy.

    Had compassionate heads prevailed, Scotland would have supported justice by honoring the just sentence of the court in this case, while providing the compassion and mercy so exemplified by the caring physicians, counselors and religious advisors that are part of our criminal justice system.

    When a justice system considers the important role of compassion and mercy it can never be in the sole context of the guilty criminal, as was done with this release.

    It was an insult to justice, compassion and mercy to minimize the gravity of the victims suffering – in this case, the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands who so loved them and suffer so much from the tragic, cruel taking of their cherished.

    Just because God has chosen to serve a cancerous death sentence upon this murderer, that gave no foundation for early release based upon compassion. We all die. And, accordingly, we should not judge why God has chosen cancer as that route for this murderous, unrepentant man.

    It was an insult to the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands of innocents so hurt by those deaths to condone the release of this criminal. Compassion and mercy must be upheld. And Scotland should have done so and would have, save for the decisions of an incompassionate few.

    Only a cruel cynic would give more weight to compassion and mercy for an unrepentant mass murderer than to the justice for the innocents murdered and the compassion due those 270 murdered and their loved ones left behind.

    And that is precisely what happened with al-Megrahi’s release.

    Justice, compassion and mercy were all best served by this mass murderer remaining in prison. Both justice and compassion rule in Scotland. Something failed with al-Megrahi’s release.

    May al-Megrahi repent.

    Blessings to the innocent murdered and their bereaved loved ones.

  65. Dudley Sharp says:

    I agree, the question of the death penalty is not relevant to this case.

    However, the foundation of EV’s death penalty evaluation is defense of society based upon secular prison security. That foundation is what transferred into CCC as an amendment.

    Error filled secular foundations should not replace biblical, theological, traditional and rational teachings spanning nearly 2000 years.

    A proper evaluation of secular prisons is a requirement in both EV and CCC, if we are to give any deference to the secular foundations, which are the basis for EV and 2267.

    The objective reality of the newest Church position is that more murderers will be spared, at the cost of more innocent lives.

    Just the opposite of a defense of society foundation.

    That is the “practicable” reality of this newest Church position

    I think Cardinal Avery Dulles is correct. The Church will have to reassess their position and revert back to its traditional position.

  66. BPS says:

    A point that opponents of the death penalty don’t consider is that inmates imprisoned for life overwhelmingly commit the most mahem in the prison population. They kill other inmates, kill or maim guards, rape and/or mutilate other prisoners. These folks deserve your compassion too.

  67. c matt says:

    the latter being definable as a process of rehabilitating individuals to function in society, or at least to allow them to function away from the temptation to criminal behavior.

    Easier in theory than practice. As BPS points out, many of these lifetimers commit crimes while incarcerated. But, having said that, there is a distinct impression that the dp is overused. I have no problem with severely restricting its use as outlined in the CCC.

  68. Art Deco says:

    I believe there have been over the last decade a mean of about 8,400 homicide convictions recorded per year. Around about 15 years ago, the Bureau of Justic Statistics released a report which contained some interesting data: 4.4% of all instances of homicide had multiple victims, 0.75% had more than two victims, 0.15% had more than three. (I am not sure of the time span over which these homicides were collated). If you have 8,400 resolved homicides, 0.75% thereof is 63 homicides.

    There have been about 56 executions per year over the last decade.

  69. Dudley Sharp says:

    When will O’Brien condemn God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?

    God: ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Matthew 15:4

    Jesus: “So Pilate said to (Jesus), “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

    Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

    Jesus: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.

    The Holy Spirit: God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

    Why is it that God says vengeance is Mine?

    Is it because vengeance is the province of the Most Holy?

  70. Dudley Sharp says:

    Der Wolfenwalt says:

    “Don’t quite see how, unless you’re approaching justice from a “we’ll make damn sure he gets what’s coming to him” perspective. Which really isn’t justice at all.”

    See “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, by C.S. Lewis

    “I urge a return to the traditional or Retributive theory not solely, not even primarily, in the interests of society, but in the interests of the criminal.”

    “The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of (just) Desert. But the concept of (just) Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice. There is no sense in talking about a ‘just deterrent’ or a ‘just cure’. We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter. We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds. Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’. ”

    CCC 2266: “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.”

    The Catechism states: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” 2266 This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.

    We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime of the aggressor and hold them accountable for that crime/sin/disorder by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice, retributive justice, just deserts and their like which “redress the disorder caused by the offence” or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

  71. Marthe Lépine says:

    Exactly. We His children are to leave the punishment up to God. Nobody but God has to right to end a life. This is one of the arguments constantly brought up by anti-abortion people. Pro-life is not limited to anti-abortion. Even if a person has disobeyed God by taking a life, it does not justify other humans to take that person’s life, although we may think that that person has forfeited his or her own right to life by taking another’s life. In that story in the Acts of the Apostles, it is God who struck Ananias and Saphira, not the members of the community. I think it would be quite arrogant to decide to take God’s place in this matter. Of course, it has been done in the past, but it does not justify doing so now. Jesus has also said something like: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and this way you will accumulate punishments upon their head if they do not repent. Such punishment is no longer ours to administer. Of course it may seem frustrating at times, even unfair, that God’s justice, which is infinitely higher and different that that of humans, also includes relentlessly calling sinners to repent, even the worst sinners. Did not Jesus say that there will be more rejoicing in heaven for one sinner who has repented than for 99 others who do not need repentance? I have to admit that sometimes, when thinking about someone who has done me wrong, I am tempted to feel frustrated about God’s mercy and to play the role of the older brother of the prodigal son… Are not we all sinners?

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