Debate: The issue of death penalty and the Catholic Church stand by Echica and Bañoc
For those who want to be enlightened on the issue of death penalty and the Catholic Church stand…
By Ramon Echica · INQUIRER.net
A column on the Catholic teaching on death penalty, written by Atty. Ruphil Banoc, elicited more than my cursory glance. After all, state-sponsored killing, whether it is extra judicial or within the bounds of law, has always been an emotional issue for me. Secondly, the writer is not just expressing his thoughts on death penalty but on what the Church teaches about it. I happen to be a teacher and friends are asking me to write my comments which I have verbally expressed to them. Thirdly, the writer is neither a pesky troll nor an unschooled commentator like Manny Pacquiao. For all these reasons, I decide to treat it seriously and write a full length reply.
His main contention is that the Church approves of death penalty and Catholics who disapprove of it should not carry the name of the whole Church.
But the way this point is argued is full of theological inaccuracies.
First, he argues that there can be exceptions to commandment “Thou shall not kill.” However, whether the commandment is absolute is never an issue. The Church has never taught that killing is immoral under any circumstance. For instance, the Church has always accepted that, in some situations, self-defense justifies killing. The columnist himself points this out. Rather, the bone of contention is whether execution of criminals by the State is morally justified and would constitute an exception to the fifth commandment.
If we frame the question this way, then many of the examples he cites are extremely off tangent. Pray, tell me, what has the killing of Goliath by David got to do with the death penalty? Remember, David was not yet a king then. Another irrelevant example he gives is the killing of an Egyptian by Moses. It may have been murder, but not a state-approved killing. Besides, nowhere is it written that society then approved of what Moses did. One case from the New Testament that is cited in the article is the case of Ananias and Saphira. But a more careful reading of the text reveals that, as Atty Banoc correctly writes, “they ended up dead.” It is not written that they were killed. It may have been Luke’s way of saying that their deaths show that God did not approve of their lies. Furthermore, some biblical scholars like John McKenzie opines that the story is a midrash which means that it is not a factual account but a literature aimed at teaching a lesson. In this particular story, the lesson is honesty.
In fairness, it is necessary to reiterate that Atty. Banoc never writes that these biblical examples are cases of the death penalty. Yet, these examples may mislead since they do not refer to the death penalty, which is the issue at hand.
It is undeniable of course that in the Old Testament, God seems to have approved of killing an individual or groups of people. The columnist mentions Moses’ order for the Levites to kill idolaters which resulted in the deaths of three thousand people. The story he cites does not mention that God approved of the killing and so I will help the good attorney by citing more problematic passages wherein God himself is written to have approved of the use of violence. There are stories like the plagues that hit Egypt, or the stories where God fought for Israel under the command of Joshua, where every person was destroyed as the Lord the God of Israel commanded. (Josh 10).
How do these stories reconcile with numerous passages about love of enemies and that God wills all to be saved? This question leads me to the more serious flaw in the logic of Atty. Banoc.
The columnist does not take into account the evolution of Jewish thought on God. I am referring to the evolution of the Jewish subjective interpretation of who God is, and not the evolution of God in the divine self. If we cite a biblical passage, let us take into account from which stage of the evolution of biblical thought is the verse cited. Vatican II itself says that the Old Testament, while showing us true divine pedagogy, contains some things which are incomplete and transitory (Dei Verbum 15).
To illustrate this point, let me give some examples. Even if Judaism is now strictly monotheist, such basic idea that Yahweh is the only God did not come to the Jews all at once. At first they believed that Yahweh is a God among other gods. Then they came to think that Yahweh is stronger than other Gods. It was only much later in their history that they came to the faith in Yahweh as the only God. Another example is the notion of reward and punishment. There was a time when the Jews thought that good deeds would be rewarded and evil punished ON EARTH. The interlocutors of Job who insisted that he must have done something wrong since he experienced numerous tragedies were actually representatives of orthodoxy AT THAT TIME.
If we do not take into account this evolution of thought, we can cite the bible to support ethnic cleansing, homophobia, and misogyny. The bible must be read in its historical context. If not, we are no different from fundamentalists like Manny Pacquiao.
This evolutionary understanding applies not only to the bible but to Church teachings as well. The good lawyer cites the Catechism on the Council of Trent on death penalty and then approvingly quotes a statement from a Catholic encyclopedia which states that the doctrinal decrees (of Trent) are official and authoritative teaching and cannot be revised.
The statement is wrong on at least two counts. First of all, the Catechism on the Council of Trent is not part of the official decrees approved by the conciliar fathers. There is a disconnect between the quote and the point that the Atty. Banoc wants to stress. The catechism on the council does not have the same binding effect as the decrees of the same Council. In fact, Trent dealt principally with the teachings of Luther and other reformers and any statement on death penalty in its catechism is peripheral. Secondly, it is an historical fact that there have been many revisions on the teaching of Trent. Lack of space prevents me from elaborating on any of the revisions. Just compare the Vatican II and the Council of Trent and you get what I mean. No longer burdened by polemics against the Protestants, Vatican II deepened the Church’s understanding on the Eucharist, the priesthood, the Bible, among others.
The passage of time, broader knowledge now available, and her continuing prayerful reflection on the issue, enable the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit to revise some of her past teachings. A good example is it is the teaching that outside the Church, there is no salvation which is no longer held today.
Atty. Banoc cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267. But the problem is he does cite only the first paragraph which says that the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty. I am sure that Atty. Banoc is intellectually honest and so I guess he simply inadvertently missed the succeeding two paragraphs. The first of the two paragraphs missed asserts that if non-lethal means are sufficient to protect people’s safety, authority will limit itself to such means as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. The second missed paragraph is in fact more telling. It says that today it is possible to render an offender incapable of doing harm without definitively taking from him the possibility of redeeming himself. Furthermore, it says that currently, the cases in which execution of the offender is absolute necessity “ARE VERY RARE, IF NOT PRACTICALLY NON-EXISTENT” (my emphasis).
Atty. Banoc advises us to read the catechism. The advice must be heeded. But let me add that we should not skip some paragraphs which are not to our liking.
Recent Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and the current Pope Francis have all spoken against death penalty. Consistent with Canon 2267, Pope John Paul II says that modern society has the chance of protecting itself without denying criminals the chance to reform. Pope Francis has described death penalty as contrary to God’s plan for individuals and for society and God’s merciful justice.
No one can read the statements of these Popes and still think that the current teaching of the Catholic Church approves of death penalty.
One common thread in the current teaching is that we must never give up hope on the criminal. Almost 2000 years ago, our Lord Jesus himself scandalized the self-righteous when he ate with public sinners. He asked us to leave the 99 sheep behind to search for a solitary lost sheep.
Today, many still refuse to give hope…
Catholic teaching conforms to death penalty
With all due respect to other Christian sects that consider the Bible as the sole authority (sola scriptura), Catholics believe that aside from the Bible, the official teaching and pronouncement of the Church being infallible on matters of faith and morals. So let me discuss both the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter.
First, let me tackle the Bible on the basic and elementary doctrine by memorizing the Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment says, “Thou shall not kill.” (Exodus 20: 13). Such order is very clear to everyone, without a need for one to enroll in higher subjects in theology.
But we know that like the law of the land, every general rule there is an exception or there are exceptions. So the question is, are there exceptions to the fifth commandment? I do not want to answer that question but rather let us let the Bible give the answer.
There are many Bible verses as regards to killings that can make us pause and meditate. To mention a few, Moses, the very person who directly talked to God at Mount Sinai and received the two tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them, killed a person (Exodus 2: 11-15). He also commanded the Levites to kill that resulted to the death of about three thousand people.(Exodus 32:1-35).
In another Bible story, a justifiable case of killing, the young David killed the giant Goliath who caused fear to the people of Israel. Such killing was brutal because when David slung a stone at Goliath that hit his forehead and broke his skull, the giant fell face downward on the ground. (1 Samuel 17:1-50)
In the New Testament, Peter confronted spouses Ananias and Sapphira who lied and did not turn over the whole amount of money to the apostles. The couple ended up dead just for that mistake (Acts 5:1-11).
Second, let me proceed to the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 2267 says, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, Definitive Edition, page 606).
Also, my friend Atty. Marcelo Bacalso, former President of the Catholic Faith Defenders, shared to me the book on the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which enumerates the exceptions to the fifth commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” The following are: the killing of animals, killing in a just war, execution of criminals, killing in self-defense and killing by accident.
“The Council of Trent was an ecumenical council, that is, a general council of the whole Church. Its doctrinal decrees, therefore, are official and authoritative teaching and cannot be revised. (Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home Vol. II page 62)
So what happened to some Catholics who insist that death penalty is against the church teachings? Are they not aware of the exceptions? It will not do them any harm if they will read the books on Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and much more so if they read and familiarize themselves with the Bible. Or, are they just opposed to anything that President Rodrigo Duterte want to implement?
In view of the foregoing, I can say that the Roman Catholic Church is not against the death penalty. Only some of its leaders in the Philippines are expressing their opposition to the pending bill in Congress. Although they are entitled to their own opinion, but for them to invoke the name of the church is misleading and unfair to the church as a whole, even if said leaders underwent “advanced theology.”
Bert Lizares Let us read CCC.
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68
The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if these two conditions are met:
1. The guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined
2. The Death Penalty is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If these two conditions are not met, the Church excludes recourse to the Death Penalty.
I believe these two conditions do not exist in the Philippines, therefore Archbishop Villegas is correct in opposing the implementation of the death penalty.
Bert Lizares Death Penalty, Capital Punishment – The Pope’s Position
It fact, it would be contrary to Church teaching to say that capital punishment is per se immoral, as some do. Rather, the Pope states that the conditions of modern society argue against it’s use in all but rare cases. It is simply becoming harder and harder to argue that a particular act of capital punishment is circumstantially necessary (the third element of a good moral act). The Pope is NOT substituting his judgment for the political prudence of those who must make decisions about when to use capital punishment. He is teaching principles and making a general evaluation about modern circumstances. Ultimately, the laity who are responsible for these judgments in political society must make them in the individual cases. In doing so, however, they have a grave obligation to apply all the principles taught by the Church to the cases before them, as taking a human life is always grave matter if done unjustly.
I also believe that Pope Francis is correct in opposing the death penalty.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW click this link: http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/12/28/the-ten-commandments-what-you-should-know/
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‘SACRILEGE COMMUNION’ – “If they continue to support candidates who espouse violence as a means to resolve conflicts” http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/07/sacrilege-communion-if-they-continue-to-support-candidates-who-espouse-violence-as-a-means-to-resolve-conflicts/
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal back call to examine conscience… if they agree with the candidate’s platform of violence http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/12/cebu-archbishop-jose-palma-and-emeritus-ricardo-cardinal-vidal-back-call-to-examine-conscience-if-they-agree-with-the-candidates-platform-of-violence/
Press Statement of Archbishop Socrates Villegas contrary to the misleading if not deceptive post of GMA News Online http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/19/press-statement-of-archbishop-socrates-villegas-contrary-to-the-misleading-if-not-deceptive-post-of-gma-news-online/
Mayor Duterte? by Archbishop Socrates Villegas http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/15/mayor-duterte-by-archbishop-socrates-villegas/
Prospects under a Duterte Presidency: Scenario Analysis
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma in Mindanao slams Duterte over killings http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/05/archbishop-antonio-ledesma-in-mindanao-slams-duterte-over-killings/
Catholics and women against Duterte http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/05/catholics-and-women-against-duterte/
Archdiocese of Cotabato: Circular Letter on the 2016 Elections – Cardinal Orlando Quevedo http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/07/archdiocese-of-cotabato-circular-letter-on-the-2016-elections-cardinal-orlando-quevedo/
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo warns voters about promises of ‘change’ http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/05/03/cardinal-orlando-quevedo-warns-voters-about-promises-of-change/
Archbishop Socrates Villegas: Discerning for whom to vote in the National and Local Elections – Lord guide us with your grace http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/13/archbishop-socrates-villegas-discerning-for-whom-to-vote-in-the-national-and-local-elections-lord-guide-us-with-your-grace/
Archbishop Socrates Villegas urges voters to use 10 commandments in choosing their candidates http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/07/archbishop-socrates-villegas-urges-voters-to-use-10-commandments-in-choosing-their-candidates/
Archbishop Socrates Villegas to voters: Don’t be swayed by surveys http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/06/archbishop-socrates-villegas-to-voters-dont-be-swayed-by-surveys/
Bishop Arturo M. Bastes: A Testimony during Martial Law (1973-1986) of the Marcos Regime of the Philippines http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/15/bishop-arturo-m-bastes-a-testimony-during-martial-law-1973-1986-of-the-marcos-regime-of-the-philippines/
Irish Bishops Provide Pastoral Reflection in Lead-up to Elections: Ten questions based on Catholic Social Teaching for Catholics to ask candidates http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/04/29/irish-bishops-provide-pastoral-reflection-in-lead-up-to-elections-ten-questions-based-on-catholic-social-teaching-for-catholics-to-ask-candidates/
An Assessment of the New USCCB Document Faithful Citizenship: FCFC (#34) lists “intrinsically evil acts,” and says that Catholics cannot vote for a political candidate “who favors a policy promoting” them http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/01/06/an-assessment-of-the-new-usccb-document-faithful-citizenship-fcfc-34-lists-intrinsically-evil-acts-and-says-that-catholics-cannot-vote-for-a-political-candidate-who-fav/
US Bishops release latest version of ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ Catholic guide to voting http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/08/12/us-bishops-release-latest-version-of-forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-catholic-guide-to-voting/
Kansas bishops offer election year guidance http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/09/28/kansas-bishops-offer-election-year-guidance/
Here’s one clear and uncomplicated principle for voting: Don’t vote for pro-abortion politicians http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/08/16/heres-one-clear-and-uncomplicated-principle-for-voting-dont-vote-for-pro-abortion-politicians/
THE DOWNLOAD—YOUR VOTE COUNTS – But it’s your own soul that’ll do the counting http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/09/20527/
THE VORTEX: A TIE IS A LOSS – Maybe Catholics should concentrate more on the Faith than on politics http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/03/15/the-vortex-a-tie-is-a-loss-maybe-catholics-should-concentrate-more-on-the-faith-than-on-politics/
Should Pope Francis get involved in politics? Of course he should http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/19/should-pope-francis-get-involved-in-politics-of-course-he-should/
Is Health Care a Pro Life Issue? http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/14/is-health-care-a-pro-life-issue/
BISHOP ROBERT MCELROY GOES SOFT ON INTRINSIC EVIL: San Diego bishop says intrinsic evils don’t automatically prioritize issues for voters http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/12/bishop-robert-mcelroy-goes-soft-on-intrinsic-evil-san-diego-bishop-says-intrinsic-evils-dont-automatically-prioritize-issues-for-voters/
WATCH: Fr. Pavone on why Catholics can’t sit out the election http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/09/28/watch-fr-pavone-on-why-catholics-cant-sit-out-the-election/
Is Socialism Making a Comeback? – Despite Bernie Sanders’s best efforts, socialism is still as bad an idea as it ever was http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/02/10/is-socialism-making-a-comeback-despite-bernie-sanderss-best-efforts-socialism-is-still-as-bad-an-idea-as-it-ever-was/