Sunday, September 15, 2019
Three problems for Catholic opponents of capital punishment
What is left to say about Pope Francis and capital punishment? Plenty, as I show in a new Catholic World Report article titled “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment.” Those who appeal to the pope’s statements on the subject in order to justify the claim that Catholics are now obligated to oppose capital punishment face three grave problems.
First, when you disambiguate the pope’s various imprecise statements, they either contradict irreformable traditional teaching, in which case Catholics should not agree with them; or they amount to a mere prudential judgment, in which case Catholics need not agree with them. Either way, Catholics need not agree with them. The supposition that the pope’s statements make opposition to capital punishment obligatory rests on a fallacy of equivocation.
Second, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the abolition of life imprisonment, and even for the abolition of long prison sentences in general. And he has claimed that such sentences are morally on a par with capital punishment, so that to oppose the latter requires opposing the former as well. So, Catholics who appeal to the pope’s statements against capital punishment must, to be consistent, oppose life imprisonment too – yet few seem to do so, and there are serious theological and practical problems with doing so.
Third, Pope Francis has expressed the view that executing a murderer is worse than what the murderer himself did, and made other rhetorically over the top statements about capital punishment which even many Catholic opponents of the death penalty could not accept. But if they minimize the significance of these extreme statements, they cannot consistently insist that all Catholics are obligated to share the pope’s view that capital punishment should be abolished.
I develop these points at length in the new article. Catholic admirers of the pope’s views on capital punishment have failed to see the dilemma that the imprecision and excesses of his remarks puts them in.