On March 24, the eve of the Annunciation, when God entered the world to begin the work of destroying death, the veil that covers all the nations, the State of Virginia joined the civilized world by outlawing the death penalty, to the delight of the Holy Spirit and the intense consternation of the Greatest Catholics of All Time, who lead the charge against Holy Church in the struggle to unnecessarily kill as many people as possible while bragging about being “prolife”. This is an even bigger deal because Virginia was the second biggest killer of prisoners in the United States.
There are two ways for Catholics to look at it. The first way–the sane way–is to rejoice that a stupid, barbaric practice has been abolished. It is a barbaric practice which
- offers four completely innocent human beings out of a hundred as human sacrifices to …
- the bloodlust of vengeful MAGA conservatives consumed with lust for the blood of people who do not need to be killed …
- (all while turning those MAGA conservatives into sworn enemies of the Church in obedience to a false Magisterium of social media mini-popes…
- and turning executioners into murderers of the innocent and unnecessarily brutal butchers of the guilty.
The second way is to babble “Something something St. Thomas! Let’s keep killing because somethingsomething tradition!”
Here’s the deal. The Magisterium, not some jackanapes in a paper mitre on Twitter, interprets the Tradition. The Church’s Magisterium has definitively called for the abolition of the death penalty and your favorite Folk Hero preferring bloodlust and murder to mercy has absolutely no authority in the matter, even if he has a nice website and published his plea for death with Ignatius Press. It’s over. Roma locuta, causa finita est. More than this, St. Thomas would absolutely have your guts for garters if you ever pitted him against the developed teaching of the Church. St. Thomas also (like a typical Dominican of his day) rejected the Immaculate Conception (as did Third Order Dominican St Catherine of Siena).
Guess what? They were wrong, proving nothing more than the fact that even Michael Jordan misses layups sometimes. Invoking Thomas to attack the Magisterium over the death penalty is typical MAGA cafeteria Catholicism. It is not “prudential judgement” for the simple reason that it absolutely lacks Prudence. Prudential judgment is about how best, not whether, to obey the Church’s teaching. The Church says to abolish the death penalty. Our task is not to ask, “Really though?” It is to ask what part we need to play to accomplish that mission.
The real approach of the Church to killing is simple: Don’t kill people if you don’t have to–and we don’t have to. That is, despite the ignorance of the kill-crazies, ancient Catholic tradition. It’s why the early Church prescribed penances, not death, for murderers.
Three kinds of penance are to be distinguished: canonical, prescribed by councils or bishops in the form of “canons” for graver offenses. This might be either private, i.e., performed secretly, or public, i.e., performed in the presence of bishop, clergy, and people. When accompanied by certain rites as prescribed in the Canons, it was solemn penance. The public penance was not necessarily canonical; it might be undertaken by the penitent of his own accord. Solemn penance, the most severe of all, was inflicted for the worst offenses only, notably for adultery, murder, and idolatry, the “capital sins”. The name of penitent was applied especially to those who performed public canonical penance. “There is a harder and more grievous penance, the doers of which are properly called in the Church penitents; they are excluded from participation in the sacraments of the altar, lest by unworthily receiving they eat and drink judgment unto themselves” (St. Augustine, “De utilitate agendae poenit.”, ser. cccxxxii, c. iii).
As Christians increasingly assumed responsibility for the state instead of fleeing its attempts to kill them, they adopted the mores of the culture. Death became permissible, but never something the Church dogmatically declared to be absolutely necessary. It was to be expected in a violent era. But the Tradition still was ambiguous and resisted it. And in the 20th century, the horrors of state systems which deployed it against the human person to the tune of millions of slaughters–and the irrevocable development of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person at Vatican II–set the Church on a course that has now permanently ratcheted her teaching to the point where the death penalty can no longer be squared with it.
Therefore, “Don’t kill people if you don’t have to–and you don’t have to,” is the Church’s basic position. Those who cry out for death with pleas like “But they have it coming!” seem to be absolutely deaf to the entire meaning of Easter and the conception of grace. Use each man according to his desserts and who shall scape whipping? The Son of God, undergoing unjust capital punishment, forgave his murderers. Who among us, guilty of his innocent blood, has standing to shout “Crucify him!” at another? Standing there blubbering that the undeserving are given grace and mercy and pining for punishment unto death for all who “have it coming” is barbarous. A Catholic who longs to make war on the gospel in order to put himself on a list with Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and the Communist Chinese needs to rethink his life.
Well done, Virginia! May the rest of America follow you soon and end this barbarism once and for all!