Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pope Francis Demands Abolition of Death Penalty


Pope Francis issued the most unequivocal condemnation of the death penalty that the Church has yet heard. In a speech before the members of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, he said [NON-MAGISTERIALLY - so far. CORRECTION: IT IS MAGISTERIAL, BECAUSE IT APPEARS IN AMORIS LAETITIA 83. (Thanks to Bald Eagle for pointing that out.)] the death penalty should have "a more adequate and coherent space in the Catechism of the Catholic Church" (CCC). This, according to an EWTN/CNA article dated October 11, 2017.

So, first, what does the CCC say about the death penalty and where might Pope Francis be looking to add "a more adequate and coherent space?"

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Article 5 of the CCC deals with the Fifth Commandment:
You shall not kill.
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that everyone is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.
CCC 2225-2262 begins with the recognition of the sacredness of human life because from the beginning it is intimately tied with God, its source and end. (Citing CDF instruction Donum Vitae, intro 5.) It continues with the Biblical witness beginning with Abel's murder in 2259 and 2260. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." (Citing Genesis 9:5-6.) 2263 cites St. Thomas Aquinas' famous "law of double effect" to defend legitimate self-defense. 2264 reminds us that "love toward oneself  remains a fundamental principle of morality," and cites St. Thomas Aquinas again in support. 2265 says "legitimate defense cannot be only a right but a grave duty for one responsible for the lives of others."

2267 is specifically about the death penalty. It first assumes "identity and responsibility have been fully determined."

"Identity and Responsibility Have Been Fully Determined"

1. Forget Bear is an acknowledged expert in the field. Readers will know the Bear was one of the foremost authorities on the practical end of the death penalty in the state of Illinois, as both a prosecutor (People v. Nielsen) and defense counsel (too numerous to mention; but several very high-profile cases) right up to its abolition in 2011.

Of course, he does not expect his expertise in such an esoteric matter to count for anything in argument. In fact, he has learned arguing about the death penalty is a complete waste of time. Nobody has ever changed their mind on this topic (except the Bear, the more he learned). People are strangely and emotionally devoted to a punishment that is rare, abolished in several states, is arbitrarily imposed, and, according to one study, sends innocent people to death row 4% of the time.

2. An odd conservative and orthodox Litmus Test. It is a litmus test for conservatism and, for many, for Catholic orthodoxy, although the Bear would argue it is a matter of prudence, rather than salvation, and one need not see Samson bringing down the temple in a change of prudential judgment that both reflects modern realities and highlights the mercy of Christ.

3. Thinking regarding the death penalty has steadily evolved, and do you really think that's bad?. Surely, no one will argue that the widespread use of hanging for petty offenses before 30,000 jeering spectators in Dickens' day is something to which we would wish to return. Is there anyone who will argue for a return of the "draw and quarter" method of execution? The offender would be hanged, cut down barely alive, castrated, have his intestines pulled out and burned before his glazed eyes, then cut into four pieces to send throughout the realm.

So, let us at least agree that the death penalty is something that has indeed seen welcome cultural and legal evolution. In more modern times, the death penalty for non-murder crimes like rape has been eliminated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and mentally retarded defendants have been spared. Only a tiny percentage of murderers are ever put on death row, even in the states that permit it. We are already making scores of sound exceptions.

There is an interesting overview at a link to a large site called Religious Tolerance, which the Bear does not otherwise endorse. The more specific Death Penalty Information Center has better and more up-to-date data.

If you really want to argue the death penalty should be stuck in the Middle Ages or Dickensian London, be Bear's guest. But unless you are, you are confessing that our thinking has evolved. If it has evolved, it makes sense for the Church to join in that evolution. 

4. Emotionalism makes argument impossible. But it is impossible to keep people from rolling down the emotional gutter on this topic and get them back on the logical polished hardwood alley to knock down some factual bowling pins. The proof of this is that pro-death folk will frankly lead and end with emotional appeals related to specific victims, in Bear's opinion posting photos in a blatant emotional appeal as if someone against the death penalty is callously immune to sympathy for the victim and his or her families. Understandably, perhaps, the Bear finds this argument the most irritating.

Every case he did had a victim, and he knows more about each one than you do in his cases. Do you think the Bear really doesn't care about them or their families? That he is a psychopath, such as he recently discussed? His job was to keep another person alive. No guilty murderer ever left prison, unless it was in a box, at the end of the case. The sole exception was a factually innocent man acquitted by jury.

5. In this particular highly specialized topic, the Bear's expertise should count for nothing. So what if Bear saved an innocent man from death row? (And saved a lot of guilty ones from death row, too, in return for life in prison without parole, really and truly.) Big deal if he devoted the latter part of his career to it on the state payroll as one of a handful of lawyers overseeing the validity of the process in the entire state. 

Why should any of that matter?

It shouldn't. So please ignore it. Bear speaks as just another old guy drinking coffee around the table at the Hardees with his friends, railing on the basis of what he knows from a headline and a picture of a guy doing the perp walk. Please forget the mysteries of compassion he might have personally learned and the unexpected glimpses of Christ he saw in some of the worst. None of that matters, nor does the innocent man Bear snatched from overzealous prosecutors before a jury. 

6. Illinois' problem with "identity and responsibility." One of the problems Illinois faced with the death penalty was it had great difficulty with the "identity and responsibility" element of CCC 2267. The advent of DNA created a gold standard for determining factual innocence and Illinois was embarrassed to find too many innocent people on its death row. 

Furthermore, criminal chicanery among DuPage County police and prosecutors and outright torture in Cook County blacked the other eye of the state.

Illinois took major steps to ensure the "identity and responsibility" element was satisfied. 

A large fund was established upon which lawyers could draw on in death penalty cases. A few lawyers, frankly, abused it, racking up multi-million dollar defenses and getting rich as defendants went to death row anyway. (Bear economically obtained a perfect record at the very bottom of the spreadsheet.)

State Senator Barack Obama was allowed to introduce legislation (written by someone else) requiring all homicide interrogations be videotaped, which was a massive improvement. Before, interrogators would only turn on the camera when they had elicited the "I did it statement" by means fair or foul, and the video was used solely as evidence for the prosecution. Letting the jury see "how the sausage was really made" was a breakthrough and was an important element in the Bear's winning a jury trial in a death penalty case where the defendant was factually innocent.

And had confessed on video.

Less than 0.1% of Illinois lawyers were considered to have the training and experience to handle death penalty cases at the two separate levels: second chair and first chair. The Bear was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court for the screening panel. (Getting a personal phone call from the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court caused the Bear to break out into a sweat, he can tell you, until he was kindly told of the honor.)

Bear could tell you how innocent men get convicted, if is expertise counted for anything, which it doesn't. He might say eyewitness identification has been proven to be much more unreliable than people believe, especially cross-racial.

Next is false confessions. Not many, but certainly some. And nearly impossible to overcome at trial, as you might imagine. And we know exactly why those happen, both coerced-compliant and gaslighting. The direct result of bad training for most police interrogators.

Sad to say, Bear has learned police and prosecutors who just know someone is guilty can justify a little cheating to counter imagined "sleazy defense tactics," i.e. a vigorous defense. If the Bear knew what he was talking about - which he doesn't, remember - he might toss out confirmation bias.  Bad defense lawyers fit in somewhere in other states. Texas has some nightmarish tales about those.

Bear by no means takes "identity and responsibility" for granted, especially before the death penalty reforms in Illinois, or in jurisdictions that have failed to implement similar. But why should anyone listen to just ignorant Bear on these matters.

7. Responsibility. Note that the Catechism requires a determination of "responsibility." That is because one may kill, but not be responsible. The law recognizes this, too. The difficult and rare "insanity defense," defendants who are mentally retarded, or a "failed self-defense," or perhaps the old "irresitible impulse" made famous by the legal chicanery in Anatomy of a Murder.

"The Traditional Teaching of the Church Does not Exclude Resource to the Death Penalty"

Once "identity and responsibility" have been determined, the death penalty may be used, but only if non-lethal means to protect the public (the legal term, "incapacitation") are unavailable. In reality, "the cases in which the execution of a offender is absolutely necessary, 'if not practically non-existent.'" (Citing St. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, 56.)

What this means is that modern prison systems can lock up prisoners for the rest of their lives, removing them as a threat to the public. Life in Prison Without Parole (LWOP) is necessary for this to work. Illinois has it, and it means what it says. No parole. In states that may not have LWOP, the argument from the Catechism does not hold, unless prisoners are so old when they are released that they may be presumed to be no longer threats.

So, What Does Pope Francis Mean?

So, since the death penalty was, for all practical purposes, abolished from countries with an established penal system and laws to put offender away for the rest of their lives, what does "a more adequate and coherent space in the Catechism of the Catholic Church" mean?

 Quite simply, abolition.

It must be strongly confirmed that condemning a person to the death penalty is an inhumane measure that humiliates, in any way it is pursued, human dignity.”

The death penalty, he said, “is in itself contrary to the Gospel because it is voluntarily decided to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of which God only in the final analysis is the true judge and guarantor.

According to Pope Francis, it is an historical relic from a more "legalistic" era. The article goes on to make this abundantly clear. The death penalty is an historical aberration and while admitting the papal state adopted it, it was "unfortunate" and neglected "the primacy of mercy and justice."

In his speech, Pope Francis said that in past centuries, where defense measures were poor and the maturity of society “still had not met a positive development,” the death penalty seemed like a “logical consequence of the application of justice they had to follow.”

He noted that “unfortunately” even the papal state at times adopted this “extreme and inhumane means” of punishment, “neglecting the primacy of mercy and justice.”

Francis stressed that God is a Father “who always waits for the return of the son who, knowing he has erred, asks forgiveness and begins a new life.”

“No one, therefore, can have their life taken from them, nor the possibility of a moral and existential redemption that goes back in favor of the community.”

“Let us take responsibility for the past, and let us recognize that these means were dictated by a more legalistic mentality than Christian,” he said.

Today, Pope Francis said the death penalty must be abolished. He bases his argument on the dignity of the person.

Bear-digression: Gun Control & CCC 2265

Query: in the sparsely populated areas of the United States, where law enforcement response is often slow, does the father of a family have not only the right, but "a grave duty for one responsible for the lives of others?" The Catechism speaks only of those who "legitimately hold authority." Is this necessarily limited to sworn peace officers? Or does a father (or mother) "legitimately hold authority" to defend the innocent lives of their children? And, if that defense is legitimate, is it not also legitimate to use even deadly force?

And if, as likely, an invader of the family home (especially one containing children who must place all their reliance on parents for their well-being and safety) is armed with a firearm is it unreasonable for a parent with responsibility for those innocent lives, to refuse to effectively arm himself so as to make self-defense a reality? 

In other words, does a father bear not only the legitimate right, but a grave duty, to defend the lives for which he is responsible? Is there anyone who will argue that a father or mother is not responsible for the lives of their innocent children? 

And if such an argument cannot be made, and the only adequate means of "moderate" defense of themselves and those for whom they are responsible is to meet the invader on an effective basis, i.e. similarly armed, how, then might one argue from this that guns must be possessed only by home invaders and never by householders with innocent children to protect?

In the United States, most citizens can possess firearms "legitimately" as a personal right under the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. (See Heller vs D.C.. 2002). Whatever other obstacles facing those who would confiscate firearms from the United States citizenry, there is the 2nd Amendment and controlling authority that gun ownership is a personal right. 

"Gun banning" is not only arguably impossible as a practical matter, but gun possession is a right every bit as sacred as the 1st Amendment right for the Bear to scribble his disreputable articles and novels; the 4th Amendment right that prevents police from wandering into your home at 2 a.m. without a warrant and searching for contraband; the 5th Amendment right to a speedy trial, a jury trial, and no self-incrimination; the Sixth Amendment right for a citizen accused of a crime by his government to have a lawyer to test the prosecution's case in the crucible of the adversary system; the Eighth Amendment's protection against "cruel and unusual punishment." 

Okay, the 9th and 10th Amendments may not mean anything, but the 13th abolished slavery, which is a pretty big deal, and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Point being, those who after every shooting want to "ban guns" fail to realize they would have to somehow repeal the 2nd Amendment, which is every bit as sacred as the others the Bear cited. Furthermore, if possession of guns is legitimate, and the responsibility of a father to protect his innocent, helpless children does exist (and who would argue against that?), parents in areas where police cannot be counted on for an immediate response not only have a guaranteed constitutional "right" to have guns on their freehold, but a responsibility to have them and be prepared to use them in legitimate self-defense and as an exercise of their responsibility to defend helpless, innocent members of their family.


  1. I wrote this for "The Remnant's" current edition:

  2. Ever since JPII and "Evangelum Vitae," this day was inevitable. Francis took the logical step along the abolitionist path JPII laid out more than two decades ago.

    Francis' move, like JPII's approach, not only disregards centuries of teaching from Scripture and Tradition. It basically destroys Catholicism's theological and moral credibility.

    1. So, at what point did evolution in cultural and legal norms become illegitimate with the death penalty? Would you execute all murderers? All rapists? All mentally retarded persons? All insane persons? All cattle thieves, All petty thieves? Heritics? Are you interested in the due process that was not much back in the day? Are you concerned with wrongful convictions, and do you understand the known ways those happen? Or are you satisfied with executing a few innocent persons as the cost of doing business?

      I used to be pro-death, every bit as you are. Have you prosecuted a death penalty? Once I was in the system, I learned first hand that these were persons. You don't understand and don't care. Why should you? You haven't had the benefit of actually beconing an expert of the practical and other elements without which any discussion of the death penalty is just hot air.

      In other words, you're in love with the idea of the death penalty, but I doubt you know any of the very relevant practical details that go into a very technical discussion.

    2. Bear, I counted fallacies of false dilemma, straw man, argument from authority, and possibly others whose names I don't have time to look up.

      Look, we all know that innocent men have been sent to the gallows. Innocent men have received speeding tickets too, but we don't abolish traffic laws. While justice in recourse to capital punishment is a profound concern for any decent person, the penalty's moral liceity is not conditioned upon its perfect application, unless you want to extend your argument to rule out the jailing of murderers also, since inevitably some are wrongfully convicted. If capital punishment were to be abolished do you seriously doubt that dishonest police and prosecutors will just as readily lie to send men to prison for Life Without Parole? The fact that mistakes are made and sometime lies are told does not invalidate the imperative that justice be upheld, and most certainly does not invalidate our duty to pursue it.

      What about the case of Wilbert Rideau? As a resident of Louisiana, I recall literally decades of bien pensant propaganda for leniency in his case. It was never about the facts of his case; it was always that he was a Model Rehabilitated Inmate. No parole for him, no indeed. So he was granted one retrial after another until finally a jury got the message and convicted on a lesser charge that enabled his release. Was that justice? Who knows? All we can say with assurance is that there was no justice for Julia Ferguson.

      I have never served on a jury. That said, the fact that Life Without Parole does not necessarily mean Life Without Parole is one powerful argument in favor of Capital Punishment.

    3. Osus Magnus, read the link I posted, if you haven't already. The questions you ask in your first paragraph are nothing but attempts to dodge the issue.

      The article doesn't talk about any other crime but murder. God decreed that murderers should be executed, period. God exists outside of the "evolution of cultural and legal norms." God by definition is holy and righteous, and demands similar standards from humanity. The fact that humanity cannot fulfills those demands in and of its collective strength does not mitigate those demands. That's why God sent His Son as the ultimate propitiation for sin. Read St. Paul's letter to the Romans, sometime. He spells it out.

      My statements in the second paragraph of this response are Catholic doctrine. That is, they used to be Catholic doctrine, until the Modernists got ahold of the Church.

      I left the Church because it is effectively apostate. It has rejected its Petrine patrimony for intellectual fashion, secular prestige, political influence, wealth, power and institutional arrogance. Francis is just the most obvious manifestation of the Church's rejection. There are a lot more like him in the hierarchy, far more than Catholics want to admit.

      I truly believe that Catholicism has become as theologically and morally impotent as mainline Protestantism. And, no, I'm not a Sedevacantist. I view Sedevacantism as the Catholic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. But one doesn't have to be a Sedevacantist to see that Francis, at best, is a borderline apostate. So, quite frankly is the majority of the hierarchy.

  3. Ought we not be more concerned about saving souls than about saving the lives of those who are probably recidivist violent criminals? I question the Christianity of anyone who cares more about saving lives than saving souls.

    How about we achieve baptism, confession, and last rights for everyone on death row. After that I’m willing to talk about whether or not the death penalty ought to be forbidden. Until then as far as I’m currently concerned every virtue-signaling prick who wants to whinge about the death penalty can go to Hell. If I am ever wrongfully or righteously put to death after a long and drawn out legal process with myriad opportunities for appeal I hope I shall use the opportunity to grow closer to our Lord in whose sandalled steps I would be following.

    1. "Virtue-signaling prick" - ought to moderate this comment for that, and will next time. We don't need ignorant and crude comments like that, and it says more about you than anyone else.

      So, let me get this right. Until all prisoners on death row are ready to die Catholic deaths, you're not willing to discuss the death penalty? I suspect you're not in any case. Anyway you're eager to cut off the opportunity as quickly as possible it appears. I hope you would also work on learning some other virtues.

  4. Replies
    1. Because he wants to end conservative's favorite golden cow?

    2. No, this doesn't have anything to do with politics (except maybe for Bergoglio's own brand of cultural Marxism). It's as Avery Cardinal Dulles said: "If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millenia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture...The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, and the permanence of marriage. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines."

    3. I don't dent the death penalty is retributive. Never have.

      Fact is, it exists only as a legal curiosity tucked away in a few parts of the world like Arkansas and Iraq.

      But I get you don't actually care about it as a reality, but only as a symbol of a Church that remains legitimate so long as its teachings are never changed. Tell me. Do you think the Church's well-defended and "moderate" use of torture should never have been changed because it would call into question some consistency that is the chief Mark of the Church?

    4. And curious, are you a sedevacantist? Or do you otherwise deny Francis is Pope? I am not and do not, but that is my opinion only, and I don't think he is a very good Pope. So, Bear agrees with him twice in one week.

      He's as surprised as you are.

  5. I'd feel better about the Pope's zeal for abolishing the death penalty if he hadn't publicly stated his opposition to life sentences. He completely undermined us who have opposed the DP with that foolish remark. Life in prison is death in prison, but a natural death all the same.

    I don't see how living in a rural community makes any difference wrt the speed of police response. If you live next to the cop shop they still can't respond fast enough to an immediate threat.

    Disturbinly, the people who are most vocal against the 2nd Amendment are increasingly hostile to the 1st.

    1. The most sensible comment here. incapacitation goes hand in hand with abolition. It is dumb to push for abolition without LWOP.

  6. Owl sidesteps Great Bears thoughtful and reasoned defense of the anti-death penalty position and a life devoted to that position. A position that is well deserving of being listened to and debated. Owl is also all beak and talon and doesn't have the option to "not eat ponies". Owl liked those stories, they gave Owl dreams of that which cannot be Owl's. Great Bear is lucky he has an option. Owl wants more stories about not eating ponies.

    Owl instead argues that Pope Francis' position needs to be rejected on the grounds that a desired end (anti-death penalty) cannot be justified by the means by which one gets there.

    *False notion of the dignity of the human person as something that is always sacred. The human person does not have dignity in it of itself but instead has the dignity of an image, thus in part ontological (dignity of nature) and in part relational (dignity of likeness). The degree of likeness of image to archetype is depended to conformity/participation to the archetype. Because sacredness a quality denoting fittingness for religious purpose, sacredness varies in accord with likeness and is not something that is a fixed constant of "always sacred". Further, while all are created in the image of God, sin has caused us all to be unfit for religious purpose (that is sacred) until we are made fit through baptism. Further still, though God created all with the image of God and ability to be found in the likeness of God, not all are predestined to be found, in the analysis sacred and well fitted for service in His temple. Thus, the human person on earth is not always sacred.

    *The canard of a legalistic mentality gave rise to the death penalty. St. Thomas rightly teaches that the death penalty is not primarily a punishment for a crime, a just wage for sin, but rather it is done for the purpose of protecting the common good. This is not a "legalistic" mentality but rather a "spiritual" mentality.

    *The canard of God being the sole judge, from which follows man cannot judge only accompany. Though God is the only judge of the interior man, man can correctly, and is also tasked with, exercising right judgment over his fellow man. EXERCISING JUDGEMENT IS PART OF BEING THE IMAGE OF GOD.

    *False understanding of justice and mercy. Pope Francis sees justice opposed to mercy. aka Justice requires the death penalty mercy forbids it. In the Hebrew, justice, mercy, charity, all have the same root word and are related and intertwined concepts. This carries into Christianity and into the Medieval Period until Roman Law and the Roman concept of Justice started to resurface and you get weird things in Protestantism that look as if justice is opposed to mercy.

    *The canard that the death penalty prevents/gets in the way of a sinner's repentance, the Father's chance to forgive, and/or restorative justice that benefits the community. Here Owl points out that these are all linked in the understanding that lacks a teleological/eschatological end of man and instead sees man only as a component piece of society that brings forth utopia. It is also an implicit denial of God's omnipotence.

    1. Sorry, Lurker, you are wrong on this. The human person always carries within him/her both the image and the likeness of God imprinted on the very heart of the human soul. The likeness gets broken with our sins. However, the image always remains. Even in the most hardened criminals. That is why the human person can never be considered evil, no matter the evil actions he or she may carry out during one's lifetime. Do not confuse the image with the likeness. They are separate.

    2. Owl is more educated than Bear and seldom wrong, and Bear holds him in greatt respect an affection. However, he agrees with Marcelle on the premise, and also Pope Francis. A stopped click is right twice a day abd Bear as agreed with Pope twice.

      Ask yourself (or if you don't know, look at Bear's volume of work here). When the Bear agrees with the Pope, it is pretty damned unusual, because he is not in his Amen Corner. So prick your ears, my pretties. Bear knows whereof he speaks.

    3. Marcelle ~ Owl didn't say that image or likeness is lost. Luther says that image can be lost, Catholics never say that image is lost. Catholics say that likeness fluctuates with conformity to archetype and thus the human person is not always sacred. Some Catholic writers suggest that likeness can be totally lost, but Owl didn't put forth that position. Bald Eagle is not saying anything different at all than what Owl said.

      Pope Francis is though not saying the same thing. He is arguing ontological sacredness as part of the individual's being OR he is arguing that God saves everyone. Everyone is sacred (has a place in Heaven) thus the DP is wrong as it tries to steal sacred things from God. Probably the latter.

      Great Bear -- Owl's point is that Pope Francis is not a stopped clock, and even if he was, the ends to not justify the means. The 'good' of the end needs to be rejected and proper means put in place to achieve the end.

    4. The human person is “always sacred” precisely because he/she always carries the divine image within him/her AND that image is never lost.


  7. *The canard that modern (western) society is morally more advanced / achieved "positive development" than its precursors. Please.

    *Misunderstanding of the purpose of the Catechism. The Catechism's purpose is to present the Deposit of the Faith, not prudential judgments, though this can be done so long as the two are not conflated.

    Aside: For those who are paying attention, Pope Francis as of late has been talking about wanting to rewrite Canon Law and the Catechism (or at least replacing it with regional Catechisms) because he is getting hammered by those documents. Don't get snookered into thinking "yes, let's fix that ONE section" because it will not be that one section. REMEMBER CCC originally said/implied homosexuality comes from God. The second edition removed that. That comes back if the "update the CCC" train leaves the station.

    Aside 2: Legalism is thinking that something is ethical / .moral / good because it is codified in law. The codified law is all that matters. What is going on is a codification of a bunch of nonsense because the people that are doing so are legalists and voliterists and think that they can get the sheep to follow them "because they say so" and "because it is (re)written".

    1. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that overall, the fact that slavery and lynchings don't occur in the U.S. anymore is a positive development. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that not executing thieves as sport for 30,000 people, and drawing and quartering is an improvement. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that no longer executing retarded people is progress. That torture is no longer used routinely? Positive development. I have to wonder if the pro-death people would have been saying, "But the Church permits torture! Only an antipope could possible object! If we change our mind on torture, the Church loses all moral credibility!"

      At every step, there were Holy people who objected to positive change.

      Even if you like the death penalty, I fail to see how you can possibly say it is necessary or desirable with LWOP. The whole thrust of JPII's argument was now incapacitation replaces the need to kill persons. If you disagree, the only hook you have left is retribution. Life in prison IS punishment! A severe one feared more than the death penalty.

      How can you be for the death penalty and remain utterly unconcerned for a fair and accurate application? It's always funny the most vocal couldn't name three ways a wrongful conviction could occur, and no ways at all to prevent it.

      But, as I said, the death penalty exerts a strange hold on people for something that only a handful of countries even have, few states use, and even then use on the tiniest minority of practicallly randomly chosen offenders. It is a curiosity in the modern world (except in places like Iran or ISIS territory).

      I would be very impressed were I to see good Christians educate themselves on the handful of reforms that can make it much more certain an instrument and press for their adoption. But the discussion, wholly separated from the reality of the thing, is the only thing that appeals to people.

      So, carry on, way up there, counting how many murderers and horse thiefs can dance from one noose. In the real world it presents complicated issues that impact real persons.

    2. Bear, Are you stating you are OK with the death penalty in states without LWOP?

      BTW, do you have reservations on LWOP? What kind of prison must be provided?

      My wife once on a bus ride overheard two people discussing one of the the two going back to the county jail and looking forward to it, since he didn't have air conditioning (another Francis evil) and it was a hot summer.

    3. No, Bear is abolitionist, but not a crusader. Abolition without LWOP releases convicted killers. It's a tough sell!

      State max security prisons are the closest thing to Hell on Earth Bear has ever seen. It is nearly ALWAYS harder to convince a defendant to accept LWOP than to pressure the prosecutor into offering it. The first thing you notice is an inhuman din of thousands of voices.

      But prisons are what they are. People get used to things. You would be surprised. Sometimes defense would actually build a wooden life sized mock up right in court to impress jurors on the tiny space defendant would spend rest of life. LWOP IS a severe punishment! One defendants fear worse than death. Bear had to use all his psych tricksiness to get then to accept it rather than dp.

      Bear by no means says convicted murderers should not be punished! He only says the death penalty is risky, risks can almost eliminated, but in any case he knows these persons are seldom the caricature of evil people imagine.

      Bear wagers if someone shadowed him through a whole dp case, he would be far less eager to kill "this one."

      County jails, at least where Bear practiced, were despised by real cons, who wanted to get to the real prison and its familiar culture. (I could write a book.)

    4. ~Great Bear

      Owl isn't arguing that there has been no "positive developments". Owl argues that modern Western Society is morally and spiritually LESS sound than it's predecessors.

      Owl is intentionally sidestepping the pro-con of the death penalty issue. Owl doesn't want to be combative with Great Bear for the very reasons that Great Bear stated about why debating the death penalty doesn't convince people one way or another. Owl also heartedly applauds Great Bear for his efforts in IL.

      What Owl is arguing is that Pope Francis' ends do not justify the bad theology that got him to that position.

    5. Non-magisterial in any case - so far. I do not disagree.

      But the absolutists who seem to argue that the Bible demands death for every murderer need to figure out where they're going to come up with a conservative $10 billion to turn every murder case into a full-fledged DP case with x2 specialized lawyers + mitigator & investigator + plus various experts, roughly, say, $250,000 per 15,696 murders in 2015 ((assuming all prosecuted). And the prosecution, experts, police, of course. And training all those top-shelf defenders, since there are nowhere near that many qualified. Add a few more billion for appellate lawyers, and, by the way, set every other legal matter aside until the industry is increased.

      Mass executions would be required to keep up, since nearly every defendant would probably get the DP.

      The whole thing is an unworkable fantasy. The system barely creaks along as it is with a few sacrificial lambs in a few states ever seeing a DP. A huge factor in Illinois was that during one period, it executed 13 men while 12 were exonerated from death row. DuPage Co. prosecutors were themselves prosecuted for knowingly prosecuting a innocent man and in Chicago, Commander Burge was beating confessions out of defendants. The fixes were great, but expensive.

      Illinois did a good job making the death penalty as fool-proof as anywhere in the world, but the damage to credibility had been done, it was extremely expensive, and on a level playing field, the defense was no longer a pushover, even for non-Bear lawyers. Abolition caught everyone by surprise, but after a few weeks of dithering, the governor decided the game was not worth the candle.

      Pope Francis is doing what he does. Tossing huge matters out in an offhand way. Is he testing the waters? Just happened to think about it while he was sitting there? The Catechism should REFLECT teachings. Not be the place where they are introduced! Maybe he can count on everyone assuming "well, that's what the Church teaches now!"

      The entire concept of the magisterium is itself falling into desuetude, to be replaced by whatever the Pope says. Personally, in retrospect, the defining of the dogma of Papal Infallibility has not been a huge success, as the opponents at the time feared. It's almost as if Pope Francis deliberately works in the large shadow of ignorance, tossing out his little bon mots with the assumption everybody will go along.

      Bear does not know, but wonders how many stories are "Pope: Death Penalty Not Allowed!"

  8. A public clamoring for air travel without paying any attention to or even wanting aeronautical engineers.

  9. Bear loves how all of sudden he's Mark Shea if he deviates from the odd devotion to a legal curiosity all but abandoned except in the Islamosphere. He wonders is people understand it is used only against the tiniest percent of murderers chosen at random in a handful of U.S. states, plus the Islamosphere.

    Why write about this than ponies? It's newsworthy and timely. Ponies will come when Bear is feeling better and has finished his survey of the world from the edge of the Woodlands.

    1. "... The odd devotion to a legal curiosity all but abandoned except in the Islamosphere..."

      One simple answer: Blood lust.

  10. Bear is clearly an informed and knowledgeable commentator on this subject, with his information and knowledge based on direct experience. I found his post interesting and insightful.

    Still, I disagree with the thrust of his argument, which I take to be approval of Francis's apparent wish to "improve" and "evolve" the statements of the Catechism on the topic of capital punishment.

    I have two big problems with such an "improvement." One is that it isn't remotely necessary as what the Catechism says is quite restrained, nuanced and thoughtful enough to adequately address Bear's very proper concerns.

    Secondly, the troubling record of Francis and his friends gives us ample cause for concern that their intended (and unnecessary) "improvement" and "evolving" of the Catechism with respect to the death penalty will not end with that issue. Indeed, I doubt Francis and his friends have any intention of stopping there.

    No, having improved and evolved the Catechism on the matter of the death penalty, they will next explain why it is necessary to make similar improvements in a variety of other chapters. You know, in order to tone down the "rigidity" and all that.

    One can agree with the Bear's position on capital punishment, as I think the Church as a practical matter already does, while at the same time rejecting Francis's disingenuous and dangerous notion of "updating" the Catechism.

    1. ^This. Most of the average man apologetic against what Pope Francis et. al. are doing pretty much boils down to breaking out the CCC and the occasional well known Magisterial Document.

      As much as Pope Francis hates the concept of basing one's Faith on documents, it is pretty much the only way the they can truly change things. You update the D&D manual enough in the right direction, soon everyone is playing tiddly-winks.

      IT is massively difficult to argue against "official" documents. It takes understanding the concept at a fundamental level enough to not just argue an alternative point, not just argue the document is wrong, but to argue against the legitimacy of the very document on its fundamental premises.

      Put it this way, it is one thing to use Trent to argue against Luther. Try arguing against Luther without recourse to Catholic documents against a Lutheran who has Luther's Large Catechism memorized. Not fun.

  11. Bear agrees that the CCC is already fine. He also agrees that the abolition fails without LWOP, which if the Pope's position.

    He was never an activist until the end, when he performed some minor service pushing for abolition when the bill was before the governor. His opinions owe less to Francis or JPII than the realities of a flawed and virtually random system. The Bear would have much less problem if every state adopted the protections Illinois did before abolition to make the system as fool-proof as possible.

    That part of the equation is quite technical. However, let those who are for this legal relic educate themselves on reforms and advocate with equal fervor.

    The other part of the Bear's opinion is based on the persons he met, his long experience in the field on both sides, and his conviction that an expression of the inherent dignity of man through abolition is consistent with Christianity.

    It seems ironic that Christians would be so emotionally attached to a death penalty without hearing "Crucify him!" Every time they thought of it. But the bottom line is, we're talking about something only ISIS pursues with any vigor, and in the U.S., those few states that use it should institute simple reforms until it is abolished as a expensive, uncertain and disrespectful curiosity that serves only retribution.

    1. Honestly, Bear, I see no conflict between my above comment at 9:58 and yours at 10:23. Thank you for the follow-up.

      If the point of your excellent original post is to underscore concerns about the death penalty, then you succeeded. As a person who considers himself a conservative Cathoic, I share those concerns, in part because I'm heard stories and am aware of information similar to that which you recount from direct experience.

      We also appear to agree that the Catechism is "already fine" on the topic.

      That takes us back to Francis, who disagrees with the both of us in that he claims a need to change the wording of the Catechism.

      I find Francis's "reasoning," if one can call it that, unclear and unconvincing. Beyond that, I have ZERO trust in his motives or sincerity.

      Finally, Bear, no, you are most definitely NOT Mark Shea. And thank heavens for that. ;-)

  12. First time contributor to the comment section. I'll go with the alias, "Sloth". Let's say I was released into the woodlands by an irresponsible exotic animal owner.

    As an unserious Sloth, I'd first say that what struck me most in your essay is the revelation that there is a Hardee's somewhere that has customers.

    I don't give the death penalty much thought because it seemingly affects such a tiny number of people compared to other issues. I don't understand why people are emotional about this issue unless it affects them directly.

    Nevertheless, I did read all your essay and all your thoughts in the comment section. A few sincere questions:

    1) Once upon a time I thought you said that defendants were almost always guilty, but you didn't elaborate. Am I misremembering? Would you elaborate now?

    2) Is it just a coincidence that those bygone cultures that drew and quartered, etc. seemed to be far more in line with Jesus on the whole than our own? Also, is it just a coincidence that today's most famous exponent of never-execution, Bergolio, seems to be Satan's best friend?

    3) Does the seemingly crazy, over-the-top punishments of bygone cultures parallel the seemingly crazy, over-the-top punishments of Hell.

    I accept Hell because Jesus seems to talk about it on most every page of the gospels and the only Church He founded, has always taught it -- and because it is so horrible that it seems to me that the overriding purpose in life should to avoid Hell -- and because at bottom the only thing that motivates this Sloth is the fear of Hell.

    I don't understand the justification for Hell. It seems to me it would be better to have never have been created, than to run the big risk of Hell. But I am a creature who just needs to accept a lot of things as true even if I don't understand them. Who else can we turn to besides Jesus, and what he said and the only Church he founded?

  13. 1. Bear's stablemate Angelo Stagnaro has an interesting comment on Hell , Bread will share when he at last finishes his review of Pursuing Holiness in Today's World.

    2. The vast majority of defendants are indeed guilty. The Bear would say he only ever had one innocent murder defendant, and Bear won his jury trial. All other death penalty defendants were plead out to LWOP, except Chris Coleman who lost at a trial Bear did not directly take part in. Percent of innocence depends on type of case. College date rapes are usually so mixed up Bear always got a dismissal without exception. Feds went after a dentist who was clearly "optimizing his revenue" from Medicare, but not doing anything illegal unless you think the Feds know dentistry better than the dentist. His patients did great with a minimal procedure Feds thought he coded wrong. Two innocent at jury trial (there was another hit and fun I won, big deal) with one loss to the Feds. Feds have so much in terms of resources to throw into a case it is crazy hard to beat them, but I came close. Murder cases are the very class where the latent ugliness of the adversary system is most likely to assert itself.

    3. Hell is for Hell. I see no reason to go out of our way to try to create it here.

    4. Not sure Elizabethan or Dickensian England were more "Christian." Bear thinks that is a debatable point.

    5. Bear has made a career of criticizing the Pope. "Satan's best friend?" This week Bear has agreed with him on underpopulation and the death penalty. The Bear has never declared Pope Francis an antipope and never will (unless he goes balls to the wall 666). Bear prefers to highlight specific issues and let others find their own place. Bear is not a "traditionalist." He is just a Bear, and a bad Catholic. He's never claimed to be anything else.

    Although he does happen to one of the foremost experts on the death penalty, having worked with many of the world's best-known experts in their field and handled many death-eligible cases.

    1. Sloth is experiencing deja vu:

      Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury, I'm just a Bear, given immortality and speech by one of your saints. Your world frightens me. Sometimes when I hear the awesome, evil non-sense of your Pope, I want to get out of my BMW and run into the woods. My 498g, ursine mind can't grasp these concepts, but what I do know is that my client doesn't deserve the death penalty.

    2. No, his red MIni Cooper S convertible.

      In a death penalty case, the smart lawyer spends 80% of his time, resources, blood, sweat and tears on mitigation. Guilt-Innocence and Eligibility are hopeless. But a good (and expensive) mitigation case is a multidisciplinary masterpiece right down to professionally-produced films).

      So the Bear and his 500 gm brain were far busier than that. (And NEVER argue the merits of dp! You WILL LOSE. Always keep it personal: this is a human. "Mercy" is a surprisingly fertile theme.)

      But Bear never put himself in that horrible position of maybe losing.

      He tried one case to aquittal after an epic "for cause" tour de force made a change of venue possible.

      Every other case he crushed the prosecutor's will to live and wring out an LWOP - including his Patrick Henry client.

    3. "The Bear has never declared Pope Francis an antipope and never will (unless he goes balls to the wall 666)."

      The Sloth is of the opinion that Bergolio has literally been going balls to the wall 666 since the coup. Not sure where he has hit the brakes or even let up on the gass. Any isolated, apparent nods to orthodoxy just seem to be in the service of trying to destroy the Church in the long run.

      Eg: "Look at me, Pope Holy Inspiration I, I proclaim that every murderer is a child of God who must not be executed. Please focus on this, while I try to destroy all the billions of souls on earth."

  14. Replies
    1. Ok, so we can agree that Autocorrect is in Hell, but really isn't it probable that no one else is now that Pope Humble I has pontificated?

  15. Pray tell us, is there a solution to the slaughter in Cook County with the Black on Black killings? Despite being in the worst Gun Control city in the Union, the killing by shooting is a crime. (See what I did there?)

    Do you know what the murder rate was in the 20s -50s when the death penalty was fairly swift and inexpensive?

    I argue that the people in those neighborhoods, no matter what their skin color or financial background deserve justice and that their lives are worth protecting. The death penalty, as you so rightly noted is a terrible and final thing and using proper precautions as you also noted is necessary, but it is indeed justified due to the dignity of those murdered.

    1. I just do not agree that we now best uphold the dignity of persons by killing persons, even though it rolls trippingly off the tongue.

      Consider the industrialization of the death penalty industry an absolutist position on murder would entail. A death penalty case takes two lawyers minimum, years to prepare and a lot of money. We have learned this is the standard we must hold ourselves to.

      Acquainted with these realities, theological questions aside, as a practical matter, while Bear could name his price and would come out of retirement to train up the death penalty defense bar x100,000 at least, it would break states, founder the appellate courts, and require mass executions on a scale not seen since WWII.

      Believe me or not, but it would be literally impossible to give death penalty jury trials to everyone charged with murder. And would prosecutors retain the ability to plea bargain? If so, they will 99% of the cases anyway, so what have you accomplished, besides making many well-off defense lawyers? If the absolutist position forbids plea bargains, then the scenery is utterly impossible to imagine.

  16. I am going to pass one single comment on all this. Here is it:

    Many Catholics and Christians seem to have very conveniently forgotten Genesis 4:15.

    1. Murder, killing and executions are not the same thing. Don't pretend that you don't know that.

    2. Many have also forgotten Genesis 9:5-6.

  17. I really don't know what to say to someone who compares a traffic ticket witth the death penalty.

    I don't know you well, but I know you're capable of better arguments than that, Joseph. I do respect you. It reinforces my sense that there is a fundamental reality gap with some pro-death folk. And, obviously, it is never too late to release an innocent LWOP prisoner. Illinois has made of that a cottage industry.

    A dead guy is just a "whoops."

    Bear has always thought that people should respect his witness if not his expertise. But, again, there's that fundamental gap between reality that Bear thinks people should be interested in on an important manner and the head-in-the-sky theorists who don't care.

    Bear is not familiar with the name, but might remember the case.

    Sure, murder cases especially will always carry risks because they're headlines and a lot lot pressure is on the State (or People). Sloppy defense, cops shading the truth, Reid technique & false confession, faulty eyewitness ID, over- zealous prosecution and so forth. There's never been a perfect system. All the more reason to avoid killing someone.

    Again, the Church justified torture. Logically, if the soul is nore important than the body, and repentence is key, torture is defensible. Yet, it was a long time ago that it stopped that. A change. Something more humane.

    Who do you think should be executed? If your're going to come here and argue, it's a fair question. Only murderers? Every murderer? How would YOU draw the line? We're already mostly abolished. Why should the Church be the biggest cheerleader for death for mostly an Islamic practice?

    When you think of it as a reality, it is a lot more complex. But I doubt you have done that.

    And that is why we will forever talk past one another.

    I don't have a problem with anyone when they visit the Woodlands. Sedevacantists and traditionalists make up the bulk of Bear's readership, he wagers.

    But on this, he wagers if you shadowed Bear through a whole case and found yourself defebding a human, with the human image if God, your theoretical arguments might be informed by insights you cannot imagine.

  18. "I really don't know what to say to someone who compares a traffic ticket with the death penalty."


    You are deliberately mischaracterizing my argument. That is beneath you.

    So is bringing in outside issues such as torture.

    If the justice system is as flawed concerning capital cases as you say it is, is the fault in the way due process is executed or in the punishment itself? You are conflating two separate things.

    Let me ask you this:

    If American due process were absolutely perfect, would you still oppose capital punishment?

    If somebody has been convicted for first-degree murder in a fair trial in which the evidence is clear and the prosecution acted without malfeasance (such as Timothy McVeigh), would you support the execution of the convicted party? If not, why not?

  19. No, Bear believes you cannot dodge reality. He must suppose that you are in favor of executing all murderers, based on your statement.

    We will have to develop much more efficient methods of determining guilt and execution to satisfy what (in the absence ony qualification of your proof texting) seems to be absolutist. Clearly, traditional concepts of due process cannot survive. 5th, 6th and 8th amendments at least will have to go.

    So, is Bear clowning? No. Picking out ONE OT Biblical injunction to enforce (what's wrong with the others?) would demand executing every murderer without fail and you know it, my friend.

    Please correct with you list of exceptions. Perhaps mentally retarded defendants? Only a recent exception in U.S. But Bible doesn't make exceptions. Legit self-defense that doesn't quite meet the legal syandards?

    But, wait, you say. I don't mean we have to go CRAZY with the whiole must execute every murderer thing!

    Of course, I would HOPE you would admit as much. So, who? Now you're dealing with persons in reality. You can't avoid it, sir, in, dare I say, your "legalism?"

    BTW, Bear is happy to engage commenters, especially quality ones like you, but it's tough to traipse off out of the Woodlands to read links.

    Bear has heard most arguments again and again. Credit for not playing the emotional victim card. But what was that one case you mentioned? The Atlanta guy?

  20. I don't deny that reality is complex. So what? As far as eliminating the Fifth. Sixth and Eighth Amendments are concerned, those amendments were written during a time when capital punishment for murder was morally acceptable by people who agreed with it.

    There's a difference between legal self-defense and murder. You know that being a lawyer. As far as the mentally retarded go, that should be on a case-by-case basis. Did the retarded defendant know that murder was wrong but went ahead, anyway? That's the key for this non-legal mind.

    As you well know, Francis' views on capital punishment -- like John Paul II's -- do not take into consideration mitigating factors. In their minds, even the most vicious murderer who knew full well what he was doing should not be executed! Otherwise, why would JPII argue on behalf of clemency for Timothy McVeigh.

    That is the reality in the Church, today. Francis, JPII and their ideological confederates want nobody executed. Had these Popes lived during the Nuremberg Trials, they would have not wanted Nazi war criminals executed. That is how badly Catholicism's moral compass has been damaged -- irrevocably, I might add.

    Now that I've answered your question, let me ask you whether McVeigh should have been executed for murdering more than 100 innocent people.

    1. The retarded person would indeed know what he was doing and it was wrong. But you are confusing the test for insanity. Should we execute someone with an IQ of 75, at all, as policy? Are all defendants equally responsible? I can tell you the answer: no. Very few ever face the death penalty now. I take it you would change that.

      And, yes, if you want the cheap shot, an abolitionist is against the execution of Tim McVeigh, Adolph Hitler, and anyone you care to mention except a hypothetical killer of my wife, who Bear would probably take care of on his own. But that's vengeance, and a sin, however natural, wrong. In any case we take these decisions out iPod interested hands for good reasons.

  21. I have already said I am an abolitionist.

    I have already observed that LWOP is a very serious punishment, and offenders leave prison in a box either way.

    I am hapoy to see you are not an absolutist.

    The 8th Amendment was also from a time when skitting people's nose was an acceptable punishment.

    Now, we would have to process murderers and executions on an industrial scale given the much larger popultaion. That is why we would have to cut corners. I would not care to live in a country where execution of all murderers was an industry. And, yes. I am a lawyer and you are not, which is why I know an imperfect self-defense might or might not be murder, would be charged as such and up to the defense to make the self-defense case. How about felony murder? Charged as murder even if you're the wheel man and never saw the victim.

    Nothing is simple, my friend, not in the law, especially not in murder and definitely not in death penalty cases.

    1. Something the Bear and Bald Eagle actually agree on: We are both abolitionists. That and, oh yes, icons and The Rubricatae Chronicles. And films.

  22. "We take these decisions out of interested hands."

    Is this magisterial. No. But if he keeps it up, it will become part of his ordinary magisterium, and binding upon Catholics. But "magisterium" isn't what it used to be.

    1. It is magisterial because (1) it is also in Amoris Laetitia, which is a magisterial document. And (2) at one point, when defining, he actually shifted and used the royal “we” to proclaim.

  23. And what? Nobody likes Bear's defense of guns (although doesn't touch the things himself).

    No it is URSUS CONTRA MUNDUM. :-)

    1. Liked your defense when I read it, just didn't get around to commenting. Two questions and a comment:

      1) Surprised you don't use one since you said country people had a duty to arm themselves to protect those under their protection.

      2) Police can't be counted on to show up on time in the big city. My SUV was turned over in the middle of the main highway which runs by downtown Chicago and it took paramedics 20 minutes to arrive, and the Illinois police came only minutes before that.

      3) I don't consider touching guns either, but I feel safer knowing that a lot of my fellow, non-criminal citizens do.

    2. Um, Bears don't need guns. In a home defense situation, the Bear can easy take a couple slugs befote ripping the jawbone from an attacker and beating him to death with it. And just because Bear doesn't touch them doesn't mean the rest of the freehold can not lay down an impressive amount of firepower.

  24. Every person on the planet will eventually die from a built-in death penalty acquired at the first moment of life. The Crucifixion of Christ at the hands of the state is another death penalty that is intimately related to each and every one of us. While one penalty is just, and the other unjust, both are mysterious necessities for the eternal life of every person. Man killing man is as old as Cain and Abel and so engrained in our being that we killed God on earth. Somehow death from sin is erased and transformed into eternal life by one Man who was murdered for all of us. The death penalty will never be abolished so long as man inhabits the earth. That's a bad thing. That's a good thing. Fixate on just one of those things ... and you're lost.

  25. Here is the progression of the Catholic Church on the death penalty from JPII onward:

  26. Maybe somebody already said this in the comments. This is a chess move. It's not really about the death penalty. It's about what comes after. If the CCC can be changed to reflect "evolved society" for the death penalty, then it can be changed for anything. Including what the real goal is. Think know what that goal is.


Moderation is On.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...