Sunday, June 10, 2007


Social Justice Issues

In Vol. 18, No. 5 [4], p. 6 of the March-April (2007) issue of Christ In the World edition [], the article on Peace and Justice was interesting. The article had a timely and well-formed comment on Lenten fasting, forgiveness, and almsgiving. At the forefront of the article, a Dominican student friar’s reflection was quoted stating that the “North American Dominican Justice Promoters are too political.” The source of that statement is unknown, but it is a general concern that should be addressed. That observation should be of concern.

In the article, the authoritative “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” dated November 22, 2002, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time Pope Benedict XVI was prefect of that congregation, was quoted, which follows:

By fulfilling their civic duties, guided by a Christian conscience, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values.

Article I. 1, Para. 3. This document encourages participation in the political order, but sheds further light on the nature and priority of certain issues—and the centrality of the human person in the discussion involving key issues, where the document further explains,

The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good». This would include the promotion and defence [sic] of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity.

Article I, 1, Para. 3 (footnotes omitted). Guadiam et Spes was also quoted where the Council stated, “Since [the laity] have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.” Guadiam et Spes, No. 43 (emphasis added). This is true.

Of course, lay people involved in the formal institutes of the Order are not simply lay folk acting alone or with civil private associations, political parties, or societies. Lay people are encouraged, if not admonished, to be involved in culture, society, and politics individually and in free association with other individuals; however, the Order’s organized committees—as well as all lay members—in the lay Order of Preachers, face an entirely different issue. When speaking on behalf of lay Dominicans, we belong to a province and an institute, a lay religious institute of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic, that bears the mantle and authority of the Order itself, as well as the Church and her Magisterium—not the endeavors of private persons or private associations.

It seems reasonable that this fact alone would lead us, as lay members of a lay ecclesial institute to responsibly review each social and political issue very carefully so that it reflects the moral order, conscience, issues and efforts so dear and close to the Church--not the whim of ideology and political ideas that benefit from currency or fancy.

This is a heavy responsibility.

When certain worldly issues are confronted by members of the lay Fraternities of the Order of Preachers, certain guideposts exist outside of political agendas or social causes celebre. These guideposts include with certainty the Holy Scriptures and Tradition. Also, encyclicals and other documents are authoritative. John Paul II said, “It is the special function of the laity to seek the kingdom of God in dealing with temporal affairs and ordering them as God wishes.” John Paul II, Religious and Human Promotion, April 1978, no. 28 (emphasis here).

To amplify this point further, as taught by the Vatican Council II, “Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city….” Guadiam et Spes, No. 43 (emphasis here).

It is appropriate here to expound on the main point with clarity. Upon review of the materials from the lay, religious, and general Dominican websites, Dominican links, including other Orders, and religious and other links, as well as national websites concerning peace and justice, it cannot be ignored the prominent peace and social justice issues at both at the national and at the international level, are largely liberal in nature and often are not based upon natural law or supernatural principles.

It cannot be denied that there are legitimate issues that the promoters, religious, and others are thankfully pursuing at national and international levels. However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the social justice movement has been deeply impacted by a liberal agenda. As Dominicans we must be truthful in our review of this material.

This conclusion may shock or cause reactions of guffaws. As Dominicans who seek the Truth, it cannot be ignored. The social justice movement cannot move in a new direction whether to the right, middle, left, or with a new ideology. The real move must not be grounded in a political or social ideology. Any social justice action must be based on natural and supernatural principles, Godly in its origin and in its faith and practice and on “divine law [that] is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.” Guadiam et Spes, No. 43. As Dominicans, especially as members of the Lay Dominican Family of the Order of Preachers, we need to preach the Gospel. At home. At school. At work. In the town square. At all levels of government. At the courtrooms, the hallways of Congress, the halls of academia, at businesses, corporations, and the like, we need to preach the Gospel. It is the Church that teaches, that preaches, that is the source and fountain of eternal life through its Head, Jesus Christ.

Some examples of concern are appropriate at this point.

Before detailing any examples, among the examples below, there are legitimate issues that should be dealt with by honest men and women of good will who seek the truth who may necessarily come from opposing political views. However, one point is simple: these views often represent a political point of view, not necessarily a religious viewpoint.

Below are words and phrases gleaned from various religious and laity Dominican internet websites. These websites mention these terms. These terms were “lifted” from the websites and inserted below between quotation marks. The phrases listed here are in no particular order:

The “environmental and ecology,” “environmental sustainability,” “HIV-AIDs in Africa,” “eco-feminism,” “feminism,” “greenhouse gases,” “militarism,” “sexism,” “globalism,” “anti-racism,” “global warming,” “death penalty,” “universal health care,” “public dissent in the civic and ecclesial arenas,” “School of the Americas,” “disarmament,” “Earth Charter,” “Columbia,” “partnering with planet earth,” “reverencing the earth,” “collaborating for systemic change,” “disarmament,” “the war in Iraq,” “earth is sacred and interconnected,” “human dignity,” “the conflict in Israel and Palestine,” “human trafficking,” “heresies of local and global domination,” “ravage earth,” “ecological crisis,” “ecologically sustainable design models,” “multicultural and biological diversity,” “non-violent peacemaking,” “right relationships with Earth community,” “social service agencies,” “helping the poor,” “people of Columbia,” “Iraq,” “genetically engineered food,” “land ethic,” “heresy of dualism,” “commit to actions that safeguard Earth,” “unjust structures,” “world water day,” “UN Millennium Declaration,” “Dominican Ecology Project,” “economic globalization,” “Dominicans at the United Nations,” “pledge of non-violence,” “wrap the world in prayer for peace,” “alternative investments,” “immigration and migration,” “labor,” “fair trade,” “United Nations,” “human trafficking,” “Darfur,” “Zimbabwe,” “biodiversity,” “globalization,” “reality of limit,” “new cosmology,” “listen to Earth, and to rethink cosmology,” “human rights,” “homosexual rights,” “nuclear weapons,” “nuclear power,” “nuclear disarmament,” and on and on.[i]

Among the various Dominican websites, there were links to secular “women’s spiritualism,” “feminist theology,” “political websites,” environmental websites such as Public Citizen on the issue of socialized water, Sierra Club, and the Women’s Environmental Institute, and “peace and justice” sites and linked to a common thread of issues that are included above.

The list cited above is not exhaustive. It is simply a general sampling of what was discovered on the internet involving religious and lay Dominican sites and links listed on those sites.

It should be clarified that the purpose here is not to accuse but to expand the horizons and open the minds of many of the Dominicans when it comes to these issues. The issues listed above have a tendency to be from a liberal perspective, and there are legitimate opposing points of view from other men and women that can be expressed from a moral perspective. It is not all one sided. There are other voices that are not being expressed.

This general tendency in our Order of Preachers is alarming—and should be to any Dominican. As Catholics, we should not be controlled by any political issue from either a liberal or a conservative basis or other single political perspective. We should be concerned about social justice issues that reflect on the faith and morals of Catholic teaching.

One may argue that the liberal issues are the important issues. Of course, that cannot be from a Catholic perspective—and that is precisely the problem that is confronting the social justice movement presently.

This point requires discernment and honesty. It is for that reason that the Lay Provincial Council and each provincial chapter should seriously consider the direction these issues have taken over time and face the reality that many of the issues and actions taken have missed the true mark of a genuine religious concern. This problem cannot be ignored without causing great harm not only to the Province but to the whole Order.

Many of the issues stated above have little to do with primary Catholic moral and social teachings about domestic family life, life issues, just laws, faith and morals, and the like, but have more to do with socialist solutions to social problems as well as a liberal ideology and related political ‘doctrine’.

As Dominicans, what should we do?

We gather first as Dominicans. While many of us may be politically involved, and may respectively be socialists, Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, progressive, capitalists, and on and on, our present business together involves the Order of Preachers and not worldly politics. If we participate individually in secular social movements, it is responsible that we take good moral positions. However, as Dominican people, we should focus on vital ecclesial issues which rely upon a crucial moral and theological foundation.

To do so requires the lay Dominicans to face tough contemporary issues that will form the World in His image. Anything less, the World will form the Order in the its image.

As an illustration, let’s examine the tragic issue of abortion.

This issue is primary. The social justice issues mentioned at large often reflect on a disenfranchised, a deprived, a weak and a poor constituency. Yet, nowhere in the world is there a more weak, choice-less, poor, blind, and voiceless constituency than the preborn child. Outside a brief oblique reference at a few Dominican websites, there was no mention of this modern savagery of killing innocent children.

On the other hand, an issue widely mentioned at Dominican websites is the death penalty. Pope John Paul II voiced a growing social opposition to the death penalty. The reality is that modern social systems have an alternative to the death penalty. [ii] However, the issue is not that the death penalty is always morally wrong, but where society has an alternative to protect the public, the better option is to avoid the death penalty. See, footnote ii. Appropriately, John Paul II gave a strong admonition especially in modern societies against imposing the death penalty. However, when it comes to killing innocent life, the Commandment against murder is invoked.[iii] “In effect, the absolute inviolability of innocent human life is a moral truth clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantly upheld in the Church's Tradition and consistently proposed by her Magisterium.” Evangelium Vitae, para. 57. As Pope John Paul II taught in his famous encyclical, “I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.”

After reviewing the issue of life, it is clear that the killing of all innocent life—whether a child in the womb or not—is gravely immoral. However, the Church has long understood that the death penalty is the state’s right to defend society, but when it can provide for a just punishment without further taking of life, then the dignity of the human person requires that the death penalty be avoided.

Where Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism do not forbid the death penalty outright, this matter is a relative and secondary obligation, while in contrast defending the life of an innocent person is an absolute and therefore a prior responsibility.

There is a dearth of information on the killing of innocent persons on the Dominican websites quoted above, that includes the killing of children in the womb.

It is difficult to say that men and women of good will are able to debate in truth the moral rightness of abortion. There is no right to commit an abortion. That is a political proposition—not a religious or moral principle. Many persons believe and are full of hope, that if society can be corrected about abortion, many ills of society will be righted.

There are other issues that could be included in this discussion. These issues include married life, religious freedom, euthanasia, pornography, and moral theology.[iv]

As lay members of the Order of Preachers, what great good can be done! We can teach children about moral conduct, about sex, fulfilling promises, working, family life, and marriage. We can preach to young and old alike about a Godly life.

This includes the teaching of children by lay people and religious about moral and right conduct, about sex, fulfilling promises, working, family life, marriage, and about preaching to young and old adults alike about right living and moral conduct—a Godly life.

These are not political issues. These are moral standards that are pillars of right conduct that can change forever the hearts and minds of men and women.

The irony is that all the political and social activity in the world, if not based on Christ and on right living and morals, is only that: busy activity. This is precisely where the magnificence of the Order of Preachers steps in and is so desperately needed at the pulpit and on the streets today: we need to preach the Gospel of Truth with the power of God. The Gospel helps people to live rightly, which promotes a culture of life, and helps people to make right decisions at every level of society including the family, community, and national levels.

As lay folk in the Order of Preachers, we have a duty to uphold and preach the natural law in contra to our contemporary society that upholds the “decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law.” Often politics and its culture brings with it a legitimacy of pluralistic ethics where tolerance of wrongs and rights becomes a civic virtue, where “citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics” and yield to temporal cultural and moral trends as if every outlook was of equal value. The Participation of Catholics in the Moral Life, para. II.2., Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, (2002)(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Where people are taught right from wrong; they will do right at a personal, social, and governmental level. Critical to this mission are education and preaching that leads to changed hearts.

The final point is simply this. We are lay people in a Catholic religious order. We are not social or political leaders (unless otherwise in our private lives). As members of the Lay Fraternities of the Order of Preachers, we are to preach the Gospel in and to our various secular areas but not to proclaim the particular political and temporal ideologies themselves. To change the world, we need to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the ‘good’ news of political agendas.

The Idaho Lay Dominicans kindly ask that the Lay Provincial Council to carefully review the issues raised in this letter. We believe they are of genuine concern. Our Dominican lives need a renewal based on the documents of Vatican Council II, where we are urged to return to the original charisms of our founding father, St. Dominic, where preaching, study, and prayer are fundamental to our mission of salvation and the changing of the hearts and minds of people.

In this way, we truly speak to God and of God and reflect on Him through our preaching charism. As you know, Christ focused on humankind, not the social and governmental structures of the world. When men and women convert and change their personal lives and reform their minds, they will change the world.

Saturday, June 09, 2007, The Idaho Lay Dominicans.

[i] [i]. See, attached Bibliography. The list of websites on the bibliography is not exhaustive.

[ii][ii]. Evangelium Vitae, Para. 27. "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person". Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267.

[iii][iii]. Evangelium Vitae, Para. 57. “If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person.”

[iv] [iv]. Other vital issues include not only moral theology but the rights and wrongs involving marriage and domestic life in general; sexual mores; private property and the respect for it at a personal and social level; economic and political freedom; legal plunder; the economic and social mechanisms for helping the poor to be fed, clothed, educated, and raised in dignity, and other issues.

Additional issues involve the United Nations. The “Dominicans at the United Nations” website shows that the Order of Preachers is involved in many vital issues, including the issue of human trafficking, the war in Iraq, the war in Darfur, etc. However, at that website [], there was no reference or mention with regard to the international abortion rights movement. There are valid questions, complaints and observations about the United Nations, its legitimacy and its bureaucracy. From a review of the documents at that website, it appears that at the United Nations, the Dominicans have failed to challenge the pro-abortion structures at the United Nations as well as the UN’s and NGOs’ (nongovernmental organizations’) complicity with that issue. Most recently, in the name of women’s rights, it was noted by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) (an NGO at the United Nations) and displayed at their website, that “the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health has made a dedicated effort to show governments that reproductive and sexual rights are fundamental elements of the right to health.” As you know, “reproductive and sexual rights” are nothing less than a euphemism for abortion rights. []. While many Dominicans have focused on the nation of Columbia and the war on drugs, international groups such as the CRR have been promoting abortion rights in the United Nations and internationally, and most recently with legal success in the City of Mexico.

In a recent seminal decision, the Columbia Supreme Court quoted resolutions made under cover of the UN in legalizing limited abortions. Did the Dominicans at the United Nations help pro-life forces to confront this travesty? This is unknown. However if the website at is reviewed, it does not appear as there was any such involvement.

Another issue mentioned on the websites list on page 4 above is “universal health care.” This is socialized medicine whereby the state takes control of health care, including price controls, health care delivery, and the payment of health care through a state-sponsored tax. There is much honest and legitimate debate over the efficacy of government-sponsored medicine. Men and women of good will on all sides of this issue should debate this issue in truth and reason.

The key issue is whether universal health care is the proper vehicle for change in the health care industry and for providing health care. That is why it is improper for members on behalf of the Order within the context as lay members or religious, to promote or endorse universal health care because there are legitimate and opposing sides to this debate. For many, universal health care would be disastrous for the poor in particular and society at large. There is a wealth of economic, political, and social evidence that universal health care is a worldwide and profound failure, and that governments should deregulate the health care marketplace rather than take it over.



I. Source Material.

The Participation of Catholics in the Moral Life, para. II.2., Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, (2002)(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Conversion of Culture, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Vol. CVII, No. 9, June 2007, p. 26.

The culture of modernity and Catholicism, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Vol. CVII, No. 9, June 2007, p. 8.

Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II,

Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” dated November 22, 2002, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Religious and Human Promotion, April 1978, no. 28, John Paul II. cscrlife_doc_12081980_religious-and-human-promotion_en.html

Guadiam et Spes

John Paul II, Religious and Human Promotion, April 1978, no. 28

Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Truth (Perfectae Caritatis), Vatican Council II, October 28, 1965, Para. 2, b.

II. Websites --

The websites cited below are not exhaustive and do not necessarily include all of the list of terms found in the document on Social Justice. A ‘google’ search will reveal other cites and sources.

Grand Rapids Dominicans

Dominicans – St. Catharine

Dominican Alliance’s Eco-Justice Committee

Global Concern, Dominican Effort

School of the Americas

The Death Penalty

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

The Death Penalty

Non-cooperation with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

Legislation that protects the civil rights of homosexuals

acknowledge and seek forgiveness for the racism and ethnocentrism within and among us who are descendants of the European immigrants in the Americas

Iraq, Africa, Columbia, Immigrant and Migrant Worker Rights, Genetically Modified Organism, Trafficking in Human Persons

Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt

Social Justice

Land Ethic

promote reverence and justice for the environment

Dominican Earth Council

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

The Death Penalty

The Trafficking in Human Persons

Just treatment of the Irish in North Ireland

Promote Fair Trade

Support of the rights of homeless people, exploited workers, immigrants, people with AIDS and especially women and children through our service, prayer and political action

Heresy of dualism

rights of women and children, immigrants, unjust structures, care of the earth, human rights

help create an economic system in which the basic needs of all are met

Adrian Dominican Sisters

Ecologically Sustainable Policy

Nuclear Disarmament

Death Penalty

Human Cost of War in Iraq

Iraq Public Statement

Preaching as Peacemaking

Genetically Engineered Seeds

Chlorine-free Paper

Genetically Modified Organisms



Death Penalty


Human Rights


Peace and Justice



Corporate Responsibility

Dominican Leadership Conference;

Justice and Peace Commission of the English Dominican Province

Justice and Peace Commission

Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Dominicans at the United Nations

Dominican Central Province (United States of America)

reference to Pro-Life link.


  1. We gather first as Dominicans. While many of us may be politically involved, and may respectively be socialists, Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, progressive, capitalists,

    Er. What a statement. Confess your guilt publicly why don't you, because you just did.

    I also noticed the continuiing obfuscation about a private, prudential opinion of one Pope and based on one factor, in a Catechism that changed (despite assurances from this Pope that the CCC was a sure guide LOL) like the wind.

    Face it: he was dead wrong, and the obsession with the death penalty is wholly political.

    two pennies worth.

  2. No such admission of guilt was made. Period.

    Further, the articulation about the difference between the death penalty and the killing of innocent persons was made clear.

    No obsfucation about what may have been a prudential judgment by one pope.

    His position with regard to the taking of innocent life as murder was clear.

    The object of this small tome is to demonstrate that the liberal obsession with the death penalty as a form of murder and violence is political and contrary to Catholic teaching.

  3. It is fair to consider that the new Catholic position with regard to the death penalty is simply wrong.

    Pope John Paul II: His death penalty errors
    by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    (contact info, below)
    October 1997, with subsequent updates thru 5/07

    The new Roman Catholic position on the death penalty, introduced in 1997, is based upon the thoughts of Pope John Paul II, whose position conflicts with reason, as well as biblical, theological and traditional Catholic teachings spanning nearly 2000 years.
    Pope John Paul II's death penalty writings in Evangelium Vitae were flawed and their adoption into the Catechism was improper.

    In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the 1992 Universal Catechism to reflect Pope John Paul II's comments within his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Therein, the Pope finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required "to defend society" and that "as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent."
    This is, simply, not true.  Murderers, tragically, harm and murder, again, way too often.
    Three issues, inexplicably, escaped the Pope's consideration.
    First, in the Pope's context, "to defend society" means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives or, otherwise, prevent future harm.  
    When looking at the history of  criminal justice practices in probations, paroles and incarcerations, we observe countless examples of when judgements and procedures failed and, because of that, murderers harmed and/or murdered, again. History details that murderers murder and otherwise harm again, time and time again -- in prison, after escape, after improper release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them. 
    Reason dictates that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and/or murder again than are executed murderers. 
    Therefore,  the Pope could err, by calling for a reduction or end to execution, and thus sacrifice more innocents, or he could "err" on the side of protecting more innocents by calling for an expansion of executions.
    History, reason and the facts support an increase in executions based upon a defending society foundation. 
    Secondly, if social science concludes that executions provide enhanced deterrence for murders, then the Pope's position should call for increased executions. 
    If  we decide that the deterrent effect of executions does not exist and we, therefore, choose not to execute, and we are wrong, this will sacrifice more innocent lives and also give those murderers the opportunity to harm and murder again. 
    If we choose to execute, believing in the deterrent effect, and we are wrong, we are executing our worst human rights violators and preventing such murderers from ever harming or murdering again - again, saving more innocent lives.
    No responsible social scientist has or will say that the death penalty deters no one.  Quite a few studies, including 10 recent ones,  find that executions do deter. 
    As all prospects for negative consequence deter some,  it is a mystery why the Pope chose the option which spares murderers and sacrifices more innocent lives. 
    If the Pope's defending society position has merit, then, again, the Church must actively support executions, as it offers an enhanced defense of society and greater protection for innocent life.
    Thirdly, we know that some criminals don't murder because of their fear of execution.  This is known as the individual deterrent effect.  Unquestionably, the incapacitation effect (execution) and the individual deterrent effect both exist and they both defend society by protecting innocent life and offer enhanced protections over imprisonment. Furthermore, individual deterrence assures us that general deterrence must exist, because individual deterrence could not exist without it. 

    Executions save more innocent lives. 
    Therefore, the Pope's defending society standard should be a call for increasing executions. Instead, the Pope and other Church leadership has chosen a position that spares the lives of known murderers, resulting in more innocents put at risk and more innocents harmed and murdered --  a position which, quite clearly, contradicts the Pope's, and other's, conclusions.
    Contrary to the Church's belief, that the Pope's opinion represents a tougher stance against the death penalty, the opposite is true. When properly evaluated, the defending society position supports more executions.
    Had these issues been properly assessed, the Catechism would never have been amended  --  unless the Church endorses a position knowing that it would spare the lives of guilty murderers, at the cost of sacrificing more innocent victims. 
    When the choice is between

    1) sparing murderers, resulting in more harmed and murdered innocents, who suffer through endless moments of incredible horror, with no additional time to prepare for their salvation, or
    2) executing murderers, who are given many years on death row to prepare for their salvation, and saving more innocents from being murdered,

    the Pope and the Catholic Church have an obligation to spare the innocent, as Church tradition, the Doctors of the Church and many Saints have concluded. (see reference, below)
    Pope John Paul II's death penalty stance was his own, personal prudential judgement and does not bind any other Catholic to share his position. Any Catholic can choose to support more executions, based upon their own prudential judgement, and remain a Catholic in good standing.
    Furthermore, prudential judgement requires a foundation of reasoned and thorough review. The Pope either improperly evaluated the risk to innocents or he did not evaluate it at all.
    A defending society position supports more executions, not less. Therefore, his prudential judgement was in error on this important fact.
    Furthermore, defending society is an outcome of the death penalty, but is secondary to the foundation of justice and biblical instruction.
    Even though Romans and additional writings do reveal a "defending society" consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the proper punishment for murder, regardless of any consideration "to defend society."  Both the Noahic covenant, in Genesis 9:6 ("Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."), and the Mosaic covenant, throughout the Pentateuch (Ex.: "He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death."  Exodus 21:12), provide execution as the punishment for unjustifiable/intentional homicide, otherwise known as murder.
    These texts, and others, offer specific rebuttal to the Pope's position that if "bloodless means" for punishment are available then such should be used, to the exclusion of execution. Pope John Paul II's prudential judgement does not trump biblical instruction.
    Most telling is the fact that Roman Catholic tradition instructs four elements to be considered  with criminal sanction.
    1.  Defense of society against the criminal.
    2.  Rehabilitation of the criminal (including spiritual rehabilitation).
    3.  Retribution, which is the reparation of the disorder caused by the criminal's transgression.
    4.   Deterrence
    It is a mystery why and how the Pope could have excluded three of these important elements and wrongly evaluated the fourth. In doing so, though, we can confirm that his review was incomplete and improper. 
    At least two Saints, Paul and Dismas, faced execution and stated that it was appropriate. They were both executed.
    The Holy Ghost decided that death was the proper punishment for two devoted, early Christians,  Ananias and his wife, Saphira,  for the crime/sin of lying. Neither was given a moment to consider their earthly punishment or to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Ghost struck them dead.
    For those who erroneously contend that Jesus abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament, He states that He has come not "to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them."  Matthew 5:17-22.  While there is honest debate regarding the interpretation of Mosaic Law within a Christian context, there seems little dispute that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and that Genesis 9:6 deals directly with the sanctity of life issue in its support of execution.

    (read "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
    "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 (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000)
    Saint Pius V reaffirms this mandate, in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), stating that executions are acts of "paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment."  ("Thou shalt not murder," sometimes improperly translated as "kill" instead of "murder").  And, not only do the teachings of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine concur, but both saints also find that such punishment actually reflects charity and mercy by preventing the wrongdoer from sinning further.  The Saints position is that execution offers undeniable defense of society as well as defense of the wrongdoer.
    Such prevention also expresses the fact that execution is an enhanced defense of society, over and above all other punishments.
    The relevant question is "What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from 'paramount obedience' to God's eternal law to a civil standard reflecting 'steady improvements' . . . in the penal system?".  Such teachings hadn't changed.  The Pope's position is social and contrary to biblical, theological and traditional teachings.
    If Saint Pius V was correct, that executions represent "paramount obedience to the [Fifth] Commandments, then is it not disobedient to reduce or stop executions?
    The Church's position on the use of the death penalty has been consistent from 300 AD through 1995 AD.  The Church has always supported the use of executions, based upon biblical and theological principles.
    Until 1995, says John Grabowski, associate professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University, " . . .  Church teachings were supportive of the death penalty.  You can find example after example of Pope's, of theologians and others, who have supported the right of the state to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes and certain cases." Grabowski continues: "What he (the Pope now) says, in fact, in his encyclical, is that given the fact that we now have the ability, you know, technology and facilities to lock up someone up for the rest of their lives so they pose no future threat to society -- given that question has been answered or removed, there is no longer justification for the death penalty."  (All Things Considered, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 9/9/97.)
    The Pope's position is now based upon the state of the corrections system -- a position neither biblical nor theological in nature.  Furthermore, it is a position which conflicts with the history of prisons.  Long term incarceration of lawbreakers in Europe began in the 1500s.  Of course, long term incarceration of slaves had begun thousands of years before --  meaning that all were aware that criminal wrongdoers  could also be subject to bondage, if necessary - something that all historians and biblical scholars -- now and then --  were and are well aware of. 
    Since it's inception, the Church has issued numerous pronouncements, encyclicals and previous Universal Catechisms.  Had any biblical or theological principle called for a replacement of the death penalty by life imprisonment, it would have been revealed long before 1995. 
    There is, finally, a disturbing reality regarding the Pope's new standard.  The Pope's defending society standard requires that the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant.  The Pope's standard finds that capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to prevent future crimes. Therefore, using the Pope's standard, the moral/biblical rational -- that capital punishment is the just or required punishment for murder -- is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder. 
    If defending society is the new standard, the Pope has decided that the biblical standards of atonement, expiation, justice and required punishments have all, necessarily, been discarded, with regard to execution.
    The Pope's new position establishes that capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed.  Yet, such connection had always been, until now, the Church's historical, biblically based perspective on this sanction.  Under a defending society standard, the injury suffered by the murder victim is no longer relevant to their punishment.  Executions can be justified solely upon that punishments ability to prevent future harm by the murderer.

    Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a defending society standard renders justice irrelevant.  Yet, execution defends society to a degree unapproachable by any other punishment and, therefore, should have been fully supported by the Pope.
    "Some enlightened people would like to banish all conception of retribution or desert from our theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself.  They do not see that by doing so they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?" (quote attributed to the distinguished Christian writer C. S. Lewis)
    Again, with regard to the Pope's prudential judgement, his neglect of justice was most imprudent.
    Some Catholic scholars, properly, have questioned the appropriateness of including prudential judgement within a Catechism. Personal opinion does not belong within a Catechism and, likely, will never be allowed, again. I do not believe it had ever been allowed before.
    In fact, neither the Church nor the Pope would accept a defending society standard for use of the death penalty, unless the Church and the Pope believed that such punishment was just and deserved, as well.  The Church has never questioned the authority of the government to execute in "cases of extreme gravity," nor does it do so with these recent changes. 
    Certainly, the Church and the Pope John Paul II believe that the prevention of any and all violent crimes fulfills a defending society position.  There is no doubt that executions defend society at a level higher than incarceration. Why has the Pope and many within Church leadership chosen a path that spares murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives, when they could have chosen a stronger defense of society which spares more innocents?
    Properly, the Pope did not challenge the Catholic biblical and theological support for capital punishment.  The Pope has voiced his own, personal belief as to the appropriate application of that penalty. 
    So why has the Pope come out against executions, when his own position -- a defense of society -- which, both rationally and factually, has a foundation supportive of more executions?
    It is unfortunate that the Pope, along with some other leaders in the Church, have decided to, improperly, use a defending society position to speak against the death penalty.
    The Pope's position against the death penalty condemns more innocents and neglects justice.


    These references provide a thorough rebuke of the current Roman Catholic Church teachings against the death penalty and, particularly, deconstruct the many improper pronouncements made by the US Bishops.
    (1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, 
    in a blog     (replace dot)    domid.blogspot(DOT)com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
    titled "Amerio on capital punishment "Friday, May 25, 2007 
    NOTE: Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment by a faithful Catholic Vatican insider.

    (2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at

    (3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at

    (4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003



    (7) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty", by Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007

    (8) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002

    (9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at

    (10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.
    copyright 1997-2007 Dudley Sharp
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharp(at), 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
    Pro death penalty sites 
    www(dot)  (Sweden)

    Permission for distribution of this document is approved as long as it is distributed in its entirety, without changes, inclusive of this statement.

  4. The immediate prior post is of great interest. While I believe that Pope John Paul II made the statement on capital punishment very clearly, his position on innocent life and the taking thereof, abundantly clear: it is always and everywhere wrong. The failure of so many in the Church today, is that there is no mention of killing innocent life, especially in the commission of abortion, but much opposition boils over regarding the death penalty. The death penalty will remain the perogative of the state, and I believe there is a valid admonition against its frequent usage. However, the delay in executing justice, all the way from jail for petit theft to death for egregious murder, has aggravated the situation. The point of the foregoing article on social justice does not analyze the justice of death penalty but focuses on the abuse of this issue and so many other issues by people who care less for the Faith compared to a peculiar political and personal agendas.

    John Keenan, OPL