Incoming USCCB doctrine chair: Death penalty is part of ‘throwaway culture’

CNA Staff, Jan 9, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- In an online panel Friday, the incoming chair of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee discussed the Church’s opposition to the death penalty as a matter of fighting the “throwaway culture.”

“[B]asically the Church is stating the state cannot and should not exercise this power [to execute],” Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville said.

Bishop Flores, who was elected in November to be the new chair of the doctrine committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke at an online panel “Killing in Our Name: Federal Executions and Pro-Life Witness,” hosted by Georgetown University. He will begin serving on the USCCB’s doctrine committee after the conference’s Fall, 2021 assembly.

The panel was held amid a spate of federal executions; after a nearly-two-decade moratorium on the federal use of the death penalty, the Justice Department announced in 2019 that executions would resume.

Since July, the federal government has executed 10 inmates on death row, with three more executions scheduled next week before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20.

Lisa Montgomery, convicted for murdering a pregnant woman and stealing her unborn child, is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 12. Her lawyer told CNA that she asked President Trump to commute Montgomery’s sentence to life imprisonment based on her conditions of severe mental illness, brain damage, and previous trauma.

In addition, Cory Johnson—convicted for the murder of seven people—is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 14, and Dustin John Higgs—convicted for the kidnapping and murder of three women—is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15.

The U.S. bishops’ conference, during Advent, asked the administration to stop its executions.

In 2018, Pope Francis ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The Catechism previously taught 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.”

The new text cites the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion as reasons for the revision.

On Friday, Bishop Flores said that the death penalty is part of the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis, which “kills people to solve problems.”

“And we do that from the unborn all the way to the elderly. We let people die—or we kill people, in the death penalty’s case—to solve problems. And the Church is simply saying ‘Enough blood. Stop,’” he said.

Flores admitted that sometimes it is not “convenient” to love a person, especially “when so many forces kind of want to erase the faces and the names and to erase that dignity.” However, he maintained, the Church teaches that it is still necessary to love as a “consistent” witness to the dignity of life.

“You have to look at the person,” he insisted. “Otherwise it’s just a statistic,” he added, and people believe that a condemned criminal is the government’s “problem.”

“The government is us, in the end. And we’re responsible,” he said of the executions.

The recent popes, he added, have taught on the death penalty as a “development in the articulation of the Church’s mind.”

“Although the Church didn’t dispute that the state may have that right to do for the sake of the common good, it’s simply the conditions were evaporating by which it was in any way necessary,” Flores said of Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching.

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  1. How about in Los Angeles where a couple days ago an ex-boyfriend shot and killed his ex-girlfriend in cold blood in a driveway right in front of her three year-old daughter? He doesn’t deserve the death penalty for snuffing out that woman’s life and scarring that little girl forever besides depriving her of her mother? Get real. Executing murderers shows respect for life: for the lives of innocent victims snuffed out by the criminals. Not to execute such murderers is to disrespect life.

  2. [“The government is us, in the end. And we’re responsible,” he said of the executions.]

    Infallibility is not given to bishops for judgments of particulars and on this point he is wrong. (As he is wrong on capital punishment.)

  3. Somewhere in his earlier and voluminous writings, the theologian von Balthasar observed that the death penalty is partly an expression of belief in eternity. That things don’t end here. That no one is extinguished. To see with lesser eyes is to settle for a flat universe with no redemption or salvation beyond history and the curvature of the earth.

    Without pretending to parse “inadmissible” or how this teaching applies to particular cases, are we challenged with a much broader QUESTION? Here, a quote and a speculation:

    FIRST, as a condition of membership, states of the secularist European Union do not permit the death penalty. Reading Pope St. John Paul II in this context, we find that “such cases [the need for the death penalty] are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Gospel of Life, 1995, n. 56); AND that this teaching segues into and prefaces the next: “If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, [THEN] the commandment “You shall not kill” has absolute [!] value when it refers to the innocent person [italics]. And all the more so in the case of weak and defenseless human beings….” (n. 57). And yet, abortion is legal and more-or-less routine across all of the secularist European Union and beyond…
    SECOND, where current history records the past “Age of Faith,” will future history give us the “Age of Oblique Evangelization?”

    Features might be: (a) now “inadmissible” capital punishment, partly to reform—from within—secularist contradictions (the above nn. 56 and 57, together), (b) the Abu Dhabi Declaration’s “pluralism of religions” and human “fraternity” to co-exist with Islam as a (an equivalent?) syncretic artifact of natural religion, (c) “synodality,” even the “binding synodal path” of centripetal Germania, to euphemize the anti-apostolic “tyranny of relativism,” (d) the “provisional” China Accord to avoid a disinterred 12th-century Investiture Crisis, (e) inconclusive “dialog” with president-elect Biden (his cafeteria-Catholic “congruence” with the perennial Eucharistic Church) to muffle any evolving Pact with the World, and (f) in curial reform, speculated eclipse of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by a more “accompanying” Secretariat of State.

    How can the Church still evangelize—from within?—a world which has forgotten, despises and no longer even comprehends the proposed (not imposed) language and vocabulary of the Faith? Can evangelization be done obliquely?

  4. You argument dismantles itself by attempting to set the revelation of the Evangelists in opposition to the revelation of St. Paul the Apostle.

    • No.

      Am too tied up and do not have time on my hands to present my viewpoint in detail (hoping to do so sometime in the future).

      But for now, sufficeth to say: St. Paul in Rom. 13 is looking at and speaking about governing authorities of the world who, with all their shortcomings, can only impart imperfect / partial justice. And neither the Old Testament nor St. Paul are wrong in their perspective.

      But those perspectives do not mean that they are the be-all and end-all of all perspectives.

      Perfect justice and mercy as perceived from the lens of the Gospel and which the Gospel points to can only be found in the Authority who Governs from the Cross.

      (Segue to 1 Cor. 13)

      • Move over, Saints Paul, Augustine, Thomas, Augustine, Alphonse Liguori, Robert Bellarmine, etc. and every pope at least through Pius XII (and probably Benedict XVI) – JN and Francis are here to set the record straight.

        • Very droll.

          Presuming we will be alive for a bit, we can always wait for the next Popes after Francis to see if they or an ecumenical council revoke or affirm the revision to CCC 2267.

          Of course, if we are going to talk about the ´St. Gallen mafia´ and how Francis has decked the cards for the next conclave, perhaps we should also have a discussion about the magisterium of the SSPX or the magisterium of the folks at who get to certify the false popes.

  5. It is unpersuasive for bishops to appeal to the opinions of the pontiff who orchestrated idolatry, and who bases “his fiats” on the assumption that he and his like-minded cohort are morally advanced as compared to the millions of people who disagree with him, and the millions-upon-millions who preceded him, including popes and apostles.

  6. 2nd try…

    It is unpersuasive for bishops to appeal to the opinions of the pontiff who orchestrated idolatry, and who bases “his fiats” on the assumption that he and his like-minded cohort are morally advanced as compared to the millions of people who disagree with him, and the millions-upon-millions who preceded him, including popes and apostles.

  7. We have another bishop who misrepresents the history of Church teaching on capital punishment. As he must know the truth, we can assume it is deliberate. Protection of society was never the main justification for the death penalty, as Edward Feser and others have documented amply. Furthermore, any bishop who speaks about whether modern prisons are sufficient to secure the population from the threat posed by murderers is offering a personal opinion (and not a well-informed one at that). Besides, the top guy at the Vatican also has told us that life sentences are impermissible.

  8. The death penalty opinion of the idolator-pontiff is devoid of any reason other than his high opinion of himself.

    Here is the statement published ob behalf of the idolator-pontiff, by the Congregation for the Faith, inserting his personal opnion in no. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 (in brackets I add letters to mark the main points – these leters in brackets are not in the original text):

    The death penalty

    2267. 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.

    [A] Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. [B] In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. [C] 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.

    [D] 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”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

    Point A is an arrogant claim to enlightenment by the authors, and at best a foolishly presumptuous (and at worst an intentionally malicious) strawman asserted against any and all who don’t cotton to their flimsy opnion.

    Point B seems on its face to be a statement devoid of any meaning, but may be a leftist dog-whistle blown to send a signal to those seeking sanction from the co-traveller now presiding in Rome. (Perhaps reading the pontiff’s associated letter to Bishops about his opnion may shed some light?)

    Point C ventures the pontiff’s sweeping opinion that murderers can simply be effectively imprisoned everywhere on earth, which proposal from the pontiff we know to be “disingenuous” coming from his lips, since he has already condemned life sentences for murder.

    Which empty premambles bring us to Point D, where the idolator-pontiff references no one but his idolatrous self, and regurgitates his flimsy strawman propped up in Point A, and shows no conviction, since he cannot call what he opposes immoral, because he is prevented from making any statement on morality, as he is bereft of moral authority, and enjoys nothing more than juridical authority, having been elected by sociopath-party run by Danneels and McCarrick.

  9. Either the Catholic Church was wrong for two thousand years for upholding the licitness of Capital Punishment, after a fair trial and when necessary to safeguard society, or Francis is wrong now for stating it is always wrong regardless of circumstances. The former is impossible, as the Church is infallible and cannot err on such a subject for such a long period of time. The latter is possible, as Popes can and do err when Papal Infallibility is not applicable. Especially with Pope Francis’s record on being wrong on so many other issues (just war, private property, communion for those living in adultery, Idolatry, etc).

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