By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed
A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty
Written by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette
Street date: May 2017
The Catholic Church has in recent decades been associated with opposition to the death penalty. It was not always so. This timely work recovers, and calls for a revival of, the Catholic tradition of support for capital punishment. Drawing upon a wealth of philosophical, scriptural, theological, and social scientific arguments, the authors show that it is the perennial and irreformable teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate -not only to protect society from immediate physical danger, but also for purposes such as retributive justice and deterrence. They show that the recent statements of churchmen in opposition to the death penalty are merely “prudential judgments” with which faithful Catholics are not obliged to agree. They also show that the prudential grounds for opposition to capital punishment offered by Catholics and others in recent years are without force.
The extreme statements made by some Catholics in opposition to the death penalty do grave harm to the Church by falsely suggesting a rupture in her traditional teaching, thereby inadvertently casting doubt on the reliability of the Magisterium. And they do grave harm to society by removing a key component of any system of criminal justice which can protect the lives of the innocent, inculcate a horror of murder, and affirm the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures who must be held responsible for their actions.
By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed is a challenge to contemporary Catholics to move beyond simple-minded sloganeering to a serious engagement with scripture, tradition, natural law, and the actual social scientific evidence, and a faithful exercise of the “hermeneutic of continuity” called for by Pope Benedict XVI.
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