“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

October 28, 2009

Cardinal Avery Dulles on the Morality of the Death Penalty

Catholicism & Capital Punishment

Among the major nations of the Western world, the United States is singular in still having the death penalty. After a five-year moratorium, from 1972 to 1977, capital punishment was reinstated in the United States courts. Objections to the practice have come from many quarters, including the American Catholic bishops, who have rather consistently opposed the death penalty. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1980 published a predominantly negative statement on capital punishment, approved by a majority vote of those present though not by the required two-thirds majority of the entire conference.1 Pope John Paul II has at various times expressed his opposition to the practice, as have other Catholic leaders in Europe.

By Avery Cardinal Dulles, First Things —

Some Catholics, going beyond the bishops and the Pope, maintain that the death penalty, like abortion and euthanasia, is a violation of the right to life and an unauthorized usurpation by human beings of God's sole lordship over life and death. Did not the Declaration of Independence, they ask, describe the right to life as “unalienable”?

While sociological and legal questions inevitably impinge upon any such reflection, I am here addressing the subject as a theologian. At this level the question has to be answered primarily in terms of revelation, as it comes to us through Scripture and tradition, interpreted with the guidance of the ecclesiastical magisterium.

In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation. Included in the list are idolatry, magic, blasphemy, violation of the sabbath, murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty, and incest. The death penalty was considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). In many cases God is portrayed as deservedly punishing culprits with death, as happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). In other cases individuals such as Daniel and Mordecai are God's agents in bringing a just death upon guilty persons.

In the New Testament the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. Jesus himself refrains from using violence. He rebukes his disciples for wishing to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality (Luke 9:55). Later he admonishes Peter to put his sword in the scabbard rather than resist arrest (Matthew 26:52). At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die” (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate's power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).

The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to . . . (
continue reading)

Hans Kung Accuses Pope Benedict of Being (Gasp!) a Fisher of Men

Who even knew Hans Kung was still around? Like a rickety old submarine that surfaces now and then to vent the noxious fumes that have built up inside, this disgruntled Vatican II
peritus pops up every so often with a querulous screech about how the pope (JPII & BXVI) hasn't been driving the big ol' Churchbus in the leftward direction he so badly wants it to go.

Oops, he's done it again, taking another potshot at his former colleague, Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Kung's aggressive ambivalence toward the Catholic Church is almost cute now, like the part where he maunders on about how Pope Benedict engaged in "piracy" (piracy!) in his recent ecumenical gesture toward Anglicans.

Dissident theologian Father Hans Kung criticized Pope Benedict XVI for his recent opening to discontented Anglicans, charging the pope was “fishing” for the most conservative Christians to the detriment of the larger church.

Father Kung said the invitation to traditionalist Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church went against years of ecumenical work on the part of both churches, calling it instead “a nonecumenical piracy of priests.”

The pope’s basic message is: “Traditionalists of all churches, unite under the dome of St. Peter’s!” Father Kung wrote in an editorial Oct. 28 in the Rome daily La Repubblica.

“Look: The fisherman is fishing above all on the ‘right’ side of the lake. But the water is muddy,” he said.

The Vatican announced Oct. 20 that the pope was establishing a new structure to welcome Anglicans who want to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining some of their spiritual and liturgical traditions. Many of the Anglicans who have asked the Vatican for such a provision are dismayed by the ordination of women and by the blessing of homosexual unions and the ordination of openly gay bishops in some provinces of the Anglican Communion.

While emphasizing the importance of celibacy for priests, the Vatican said a dispensation would be made for former Anglican priests who are married to be ordained Catholic priests. However, they will not be able to become bishops.

Father Kung, a Swiss theologian who has taught in Germany for decades, warned that married newcomers will cause resentment on the part of celibate Catholic clergy.

In 1979 the Vatican withdrew permission for him to teach as a Catholic theologian, although it did not restrict his ministry as a Catholic priest.

In the editorial, Father Kung also lambasted Pope Benedict’s recent efforts to bring back into the fold members of the Society of St. Pius X, a group of breakaway Catholics opposed to the changes in the church following the Second Vatican Council.

“After reintegrating the anti-reformist Society of St. Pius X, now Benedict XVI wants to flesh out the thinning ranks of Roman Catholics with like-minded Anglicans,” Father Kung wrote in the editorial.

He also criticized Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Communion, who “in his desire to ingratiate himself with the Vatican apparently didn’t understand the consequences of the papal fishing trip in Anglican waters.” (source)

Is Everything Up For Grabs? A Catholic Critique of Moral Relativism

the audio of the talk on moral relativism I gave last a few weeks ago in Madison, Wisconsin, before a Catholic audience of approximately 450. It was held at the diocesan center in their super-plush auditorium. (Thanks for having me up to speak!)

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (And Oakland and San Francisco?)

I'm delighted to be reprising my earlier role as guest speaker for several Immaculate Heart Radio "Listener Appreciation" events in
San Francisco (Nov. 3), Oakland (Nov. 4), and San Jose (Nov. 5), as well as Salt Lake City (Nov. 10) and Albuquerque (Nov. 12). Click here for details.

I hope you can be there for one or more of these events. These are fun events, and I know you'll enjoy learning more about the excellent apostolate of Catholic radio that the Immaculate Heart Radio Network has been building out West.

Real Mormons Don't Want Fake Mormons to Be Called "Mormons"

The following message (though not this picture) was posted yesterday on the Mormon Church's public affairs blog. It explains the group's unhappiness with recent news reports that refer to "splinter groups" which hive off from the Salt Lake City-based "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (AKA "the Mormon Church") as "Mormons."

These splinter groups (AKA "Mormon Fundamentalists") assiduously devote themselves to the practice of the doctrine of polygamy (which was renounced by THE Mormon Church in 1890) and around whichever Viagra-addled alpha male has set himself up as the prophet, seer, and revelator for that particular harem.

Yes, it's kind of weird, especially since the real Mormon Church used to officially teach (and practice with gusto) the doctrine of "plural marriage" (c.f., D&C 132:51-52, 61-64). But when you consider this issue from the standpoint of the LDS Church, their concern makes sense. And in any case, I personally find the whole wild and wonderful world of Mormonism rather fascinating anyway.

During the past few years most journalists in the U.S. have done an excellent job in clarifying the differences between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and small, polygamist, splinter groups that often call themselves "Mormons" but have no connection with the Church. Since these groups are covered in the press frequently, we appreciate journalists' efforts to make this distinction.

However, today The Times in London ran a story about a polygamist group, not at all associated with the Church, with the headline "Mormon polygamist Raymond Jessop on trial after raid on sect's compound." Journalists who use the word "Mormon" in relation to polygamist groups unassociated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cause enormous amounts of confusion in the minds of their readers. Particularly internationally, readers do not distinguish between these groups and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which there are over 13.5 million members worldwide.

A few weeks ago I was in Korea and spoke with some of the Church's Public Affairs media representatives there. They expressed frustration with international wire services that inappropriately use the term "Mormon" in their stories in association with fringe polygamists groups. The Korean press often reruns these stories with the wire service inaccuracies. The effect of such misinformation in Korea, and other countries where the Church has fewer members and is less well known, is much greater. . . . (continue reading)

Cardinal George Pell: You Have to Fight and You Have to Fight to Win

A few years ago, the redoubtable Cardinal archbishop of Sydney wrote a letter to his flock called "The Eucharist: Heart of Our Faith." In it he touched once again on a recurring theme present in many of his articles and letters, that of the urgent need for Christians to be willing to fight against evil in all its forms. Not to fight with weapons of war and violence, of course, but with the weapons of truth, virtue and, most importantly, the Holy Eucharist.

Because the Mass is such an important event we need to work to participate properly. Mass is not an opportunity to relax and daydream, to let our minds wander wherever they might. We are called to participate, with our hearts, minds and bodies. Such participation must be internal and spiritual; it requires periods of silence and listening, but above all it requires prayer.

A Mass is only a "good Mass" when it is prayerful.

From Old Testament times marriage imagery has been used to describe the relationship between God and His chosen people. So too theologians speak of Christ as the bridegroom and the whole Catholic community as His bride.

We can accurately speak of Jesus facing death to save his bride, the Church, just as we speak of Christ as a warrior dedicated to defeating the power of evil. The Eucharist is a kind of celebration of this marriage and of this total giving unto death.

The Eucharist in particular should give us the strength and energy to take God’s love into the world. But for this to be effective every lover must be a fighter.

We cannot follow Christ without a struggle, without fighting and battling to control and purify our selfish instincts.

We are called to fight and battle against evil in its many forms. We know that evil will triumph if enough people do nothing. Good parents will battle to protect their children. People will even give their lives for great causes, to defend their country.

I don’t think a Christian can say “I’m a lover, not a fighter”. The Eucharist gives us energy for this essential struggle. . . .