Capital Punishment of Canon Fodder


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Death Penalty Contradictions in the Declaration of the Pope


10 Aug 2018 – A widely noted new formulation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, regarding the death penalty (paragraph 2267), was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 2 August 2018 after Pope Francis approved it in May 2018:

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…

Pope Francis’ change to the text concludes: “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”. (Pope revises catechism to say death penalty is ‘inadmissible, Catholic News Service, 2 August 2018)

The new formulation follows a presentation by Pope Francis to members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (Death penalty is contrary to the Gospel, Catholic News Agency, 11 October 2017).

As declared by Cardinal Ladaria, the Pope “desires to give energy to a movement toward a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.”

A summary of the issue is provided by Wikipedia (Catholic Church and Capital Punishment). This notes the Vatican support for UN campaign against the death penalty from 2015. The new declaration has given rise to worldwide commentary, including:

The concern in what follows is with the highly selective focus by the Pope on the inadmissibility of capital punishment — both with respect to the fundamental complicity of the Catholic Church in enabling it and to the delayed execution of that death penalty in practice. The nature of that focus, systemically understood, could be variously deprecated in terms of blinkered tunnel vision.

In this argument, however, the criticism relates to the time frame in contrast with conventional uses of such metaphors. Using another visual metaphor in temporal terms, this could be framed as an extreme case of myopia — understood here as a focus on the short-term rather than on the longer-term for which the Catholic Church claims special insight and responsibility. This is curiously reminiscent of the overriding preoccupation of the corporate world with short-term profitability at any cost. However, rather than financial profitability, the preoccupation of the Church would appear to be with short-term accumulation of merit — irrespective of any longer-term costs. Whether such merit is to be primarily understood in terms of mundane appreciation among the faithful, rather than in some more eternal form, calls for reflection as a very particular form of so-called silo thinking.

Is there indeed a sense in which the uncritical temporal framing by the Pope ignores the authoritative role of the Catholic Church in condemning millions to death — notably the as yet unborn, and especially in the more distant future? In so doing, through a pattern of plausible deniability, is the Church skillfully disassociating itself from all responsibility — by ensuring that the “punishment” is executed through systemic “bloodless” processes and surrogates, seemingly without its direct involvement?

Rather than associating itself with the physical violence it deplores, could the Church be understood as engaging in a new form of structural violence, perhaps better named in terms of its finality as “structural mortality”. Of the former Johan Galtung famously noted that this is the preferred modality of “professionals”, Detection of any elusive Church complicity could then be compared with the fair ground confidence trick of Find the Lady.

Is this a curious echo of the manner in which governments now undertake dubious operations through private military contractors — an inglorious reframing of Ecclesia Militans through use of mercenaries? In doing so is the Catholic Church imitating and reinforcing the “dirty tricks” now readily associated with the covert operations of multinational corporations? Is there deliberate failure to address the manner in which the nature of authority is no longer any guarantee of the ability to define “criminal” with any “legitimacy” in terms of the “justice” upheld as a value? On the other hand, could the new formulation be seen as a simple response to the extreme abuse of legitimate authority in some countries with Catholic majorities and Church complicity, such as the Philippines of the present and Argentina of the Pope’s formative years?

Explicit reference to “capital” and “penalty” in the new formulation also gives cause for reflection in a period in which these terms have highly problematic global connotations — to say nothing of an authority which lays special claim to framing the relation between death and eternity, and the penalties to be incurred in the latter context. What is implied by any sense that “capital” can be used as one form of “punishment” of concern to many? What indeed is implied by the threats so frequently made by legitimate Christian authorities to penalize other regimes by death?

The argument explores the implications of the amendment for the effective condemnation of millions to death over generations to come. Elaborated with the insights of science, its validity is readily denied with the insights of theology — deprecated in turn by the insights of science. Why is it believed so naively that the insights of one should take precedence over the other — especially when both are called into question from a military perspective? This tripartite dynamic recalls only too readily and appropriately that between the Abrahamic religions.

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