Review of Feser and Bessette’s “By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment”

One Peter Five: Review of Feser and Bessette’s By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. Also see if there are any comments at Feser’s place.

Sometime in the mid-1990s in Colombia, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos lured a 6-year-old boy into an isolated spot and sodomized and murdered him. There were bite marks and other evidence of “prolonged torture” found on the boy’s body. The boy’s head was discovered some distance from his torso; the boy’s penis was severed and stuffed into the corpse’s mouth. This act might have occurred while the boy still lived.

Cubillos, unaffectionately known as La Bestia (The Beast), confessed to the crime.

He also confessed to a second crime where he sodomized and tortured a young boy to death. And then a third. And a fourth. And fifth, sixth, seventh, …

Altogether, La Bestia admitted to sodomizing, maiming, torturing, and murdering 147 boys, but he admitted his memory was hazy, and some say the real total approaches 300.

Cubillos was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murdering (only) 138. Colombia’s constitution says “The right to life is inviolable. There will be no death penalty.” That same merciful attitude is responsible for the country forbidding lifetime imprisonments, too.

In 2006, the Superior Court of Bogotá reduced Cubillos’s sentence from 30 years to 22 because of a technicality. He is due to be released in 2021, though, if I understand correctly, with good behavior he can be out by 2018. La Bestia will be 61 in 2018.

Many Catholics would say that the mercy shown to Cubillos represents a true “pro-life” position, and that those who say Cubillo should be executed say so only because they themselves are “eager to kill” and are “bent on maximizing killing no matter what”.

The official stance of the Catholic Church, however, as reinforced by some 2,000 years of teaching, is that the death penalty can be, has been, and continues to be, a just punishment. In the case of Cubillos, it is surely his due. Scheduling his execution, offering him the sacraments, and then speedily carrying out the sentence is the best chance La Bestia has to save his soul. As it now appears (though only God knows), Cubillos is on a blood-greased slide to Hell.

I do not want to make light of this, but it is better than a good bet that unless Cubillos after his release is restrained by illness or circumstance or he is not killed or otherwise incapacitated by vigilantes, La Bestia will kill again. That blood, if God forbid it should flow, will be on the heads of those authorities who refused their Christian duty.

Why Capital Punishment?

Enter By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, a book so thorough and so relentless that it is difficult to imagine anybody reading it and coming away unconvinced by the lawfulness and usefulness of capital punishment.

Whether to hang any man is in each case a matter of prudential judgement, because the circumstances surrounding any crime always varies. Two Catholics can disagree whether Cubillos should be executed, but that execution might be a just punishment is a question long settled. Which makes you wonder why some, including members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), say things like “human life is sacred…[which] compels us as Catholics to oppose…the use of the death penalty.”

[…]

If you’ve managed to escape the hangman’s noose, click over and read the rest.

36 Comments

  1. Convicted of 147 of them and sentenced to 30 years total before reduction.

    So in Colombia, raping, torturing and murdering a child nets you… let’s see, just a shade under two and a half months of prison time per child. That’s not too shabby a price to pay for your jollies

    Of course, being there is an upper limit on prison time, you ironically get punished LESS per unspeakable crime you commit if you commit more of them. That shooter in Norway found that out too.

    Of course if you dare say that maybe 2.5 months of prison time for raping/torturing/murdering a child may not be just, I’m sure Mark Shea will be glad to explain how you are a savage acolyte of the Culture of Death and how you should learn how to be a better Catholic… like him.

  2. Here’s the Vatican’s (the Catholic Church’s) position on the 5th commandment, which includes execution for crimes: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

    – “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    – “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    – “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.””

    As anyone with half a brain and objective critical thinking skills can plainly see, the ONLY basis for capital punishment under Roman Catholic doctrine is if/when that is the only sure means of protecting innocent human lives. Which, today, in most places, practically means ‘never.’

    Feser concocts an argument asserting punishment & salvation — which have nothing whatsoever to do with Catholic doctrine. Note that Feser, per the quoted article [assuming that’s a fair quote] invokes the concept of “fair punishment” … though “punishment” is NOT an element of the official/formal Catholic doctrine.

    Briggs does encourage readers, at the outset, to review the comments to Feser’s position at Feser’s blog … and those that have will note the immediately scathing refutations of Feser’s position there as well.

    More to the point:

    Briggs, you need to do some very basic fact-checking prior to posting such rubbish. After reading, or even skimming, the quoted article you could search for the Vatican’s official position, and then do a keyword search for ‘execution’ to find the official Church position…in less than 60 seconds with a decent internet connection.

    There’s no excuse for not doing this…
    …there’s no excuse for pouncing on views one supports simply because of the illusion they’re argued well.

    When they’re wrong they’re wrong.

    And, when it comes to the Catholic Church, with its some 2000 years of teachings, when it needs or wants your rationale for a doctrinal position…they tell you what it is. After over 2000 years they’ve got the patter down pat.

  3. Sounds to me like Ken attempting a masterful refutation of a very involved argument that…. he seems not to have actually read.

  4. Ken, you do know that people in prison get murdered too, don’t you?
    So, since life in prison is no guarantee that a murder will not commit murder again, so are you willing to have such a person sentenced to solitary confinement for life, knowing that even this will not be a 100% guarantee. Such a person still costs the rest of society, too. What is a guarantee that a murderer will never repeat that act? Having that person, when duly and properly tried and found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, to pay in-kind is such a guarantee and far lest costly to the rest of us.

  5. That said, i am willing to give a murderer a chance at redemption. Once that’s blown, sorry. If a man sheds the blood of another man, that man’s blood should pay the price.

  6. Ken was arguing this post, not arguing for or against the death penalty.
    Which particular part of what Ken said was untrue? With regards to the position of the Catholic Church? They do appear to take a very liberal view towards it which was. a surprise to me. It’s all interpretation.

    As for paying with blood. The damage caused by the murderer cannot be repaid with the their life. It must be seen in terms of punishment if anything. Families express an emptiness and not a sense of justice after perpetrators have been put to death. Somewhat intuit this would be the case argue for the clemency of the murderer partly for that reason. There can be no repayment.

    I once asked a high court judge what he thought about the death penalty. He said he was against it “because I know how they get things wrong.” Evidently, or so I have heard in England if people had a vote they would vote for it’s reinstatement.

    There have been a few well known cases in the US and Canada where men were locked up for twenty, twenty-five years for dreadful murders when they were completely innocent. Nothing could repay their loss of dignity or time spent out of society and away from their families. The courts were so sure, everybody was so sure.
    DNA set them free in both cases but only after a huge fight. The justice system doesn’t like e.g. on it’s face. The men were a shell when they were let out although one became a champion boxer whilst in prison and turned into a character who I thought young black men, in particular, today, but all men should learn about in school.

    For such an important thing, the law seems to be inconsistent and this doesn’t help mere mortals to know what to think.

    The shoot to kill policy of the police against terrorists is an example of what Ken was indicating and is justified. We haven’t had the ‘outcry’ that used to be wheeled out by the media after recent events when they were shot. Drummer Lee Rigby’s killing changed that, I believe. They are still costing hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money and are taking up precious time of the courts.

  7. All,

    ‘Ken’ is a bot, as is obvious. In the very link the bot provided, it says “2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

    As discussed at length in Feser & Bessette, and even as the review is at pains to say, the Church does not exclude the death penalty.

    Say, am I the only one who misses Jersey McJones?

  8. Helpful predictive text,
    some who intuit this will be the case…’
    “egg on their faces’ “e.g” on their face might be more humiliating though.
    There was another but I’ve already forgotten it.
    It’s strange how one reads the comment through and then when it appears, it is different. Naughty speech software, naughty computer and naughty blog.

  9. Ken, since he (she?) was responding only with feels, missed the point of the article.

    A reasonable person reads the article (and Feser’s writing) and simply says ‘Yeah, the Church doesn’t totally exclude the death penalty (or life imprisonment).’ A ‘Ken’ reads it has an instant seizure while screaming like a guinea pig that Briggs et al want to totally murder every body whenever they commit a crime like OMG!!!

    That’s why I usually don’t discuss this with people. Too many take the statement ‘The Church does not totally forbid the death penalty” and seem to assume that anyone who accepts that factual statement must be lusting to fire up gas chambers for anyone who so much as gets convicted for B&E. Shea is the perfect example of this.

  10. “There have been a few well known cases in the US and Canada where men were locked up for twenty, twenty-five years for dreadful murders when they were completely innocent. Nothing could repay their loss of dignity”
    – Ken

    I’m confused about this. Is Ken saying that Luis Alfredo should have gotten an even lesser sentence, just in case it turned out that he was innocent of all the crimes he admitted to?

  11. “for the record, (briggs) is often a shame filled big bully”
    Problem is, the feeling always wears off right after he’s written it.

  12. I do so love writing it when it’s true: Ken has a point. (And, like Matt, I miss Jersey McJones, too!)

    The trouble is that a bunch of the stuff on capital punishment that John Paul II caused to be inserted into the Catechism are novelties — one might even say, sheer novelties. Hence, what the 1997 Catechism says about capital punishment is far from ‘Catholic doctrine’ as that term is traditionally understood.

    So Ken is incorrectly using the term ‘Catholic doctrine’ here. But in doing so, he brings up the important point that, regarding the issue of capital punishment, the 1997 Catechism is not very firmly based in Sacred Scripture, nor in traditional Catholic profession and practice, nor even in centuries of ordinary Catholic theological thinking on the matter.

    First, the current Catechism simply ignores, does not even mention, three of the four traditional purposes of capital punishment: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. The Catechism, nota bene, only speaks as if there were one purpose: defense against the criminal. There is not a strong basis in Catholic tradition — there is no basis — for this ‘move’, as the philosophers say.

    But people have pointed out that even ‘defense against the criminal’ is far from a given, even in ‘modern societies’. OK, maybe YOU are ‘defended’ if the murderer is locked up.

    But what about prison guards? And even other criminals? A lot goes on inside prisons that ‘modern societies’ would prefer not to think about.

    And ‘rehabilitation’ is only off the table, even for capital punishment, if and only if people do not have immortal souls and this life is all there is. As Avery Cardinal Dulles pointed out not many years ago: “The sentence of death, however, can and sometimes does move the condemned person to repentance and conversion. There is a large body of Christian literature on the value of prayers and pastoral ministry for convicts on death row or on the scaffold.”

    And so forth and so on.

    To repeat myself in conclusion: Ken is incorrectly using the term ‘Catholic doctrine’ here. But in doing so, he brings up the important point that, regarding the issue of capital punishment, the 1997 Catechism is not very firmly based in Sacred Scripture, nor in traditional Catholic profession and practice, nor even in centuries of ordinary Catholic theological thinking on the matter.

  13. @Ken

    Imagine one of those Mexican drug lords being put in prison. His gang will still be able to attack the prison in an attempt to set him free. It is possible for the Mexican government to secure the prison, but at an enormous cost to society. And then there is still the possibility that there will be an attack, which will cost the lives of many of the soldiers guarding the prison.

    Another possibility for the gang is to kipnap lots of people and murder them if the drug lord is not released. This would even be possible in very rich societies, where one would not expect a gang to have as many resources as a government.

    Clearly, you have no problem destroying an entiere society to protect the vilest kind of human.

  14. @JohnK:

    “The Catechism, nota bene, only speaks as if there were one purpose: defense against the criminal.”

    Maybe you mean only the catechism parts that were quoted, but as a whole, this is simply false. In part 3, section 2, chapter 2:

    “2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”

    The four aims of punishment are clearly laid out in 2266, starting with the primary aim of retributive justice (“the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense”) and then going to the others, and in no particular order: defense of the public order, rehabilitation and deterrence.

  15. Ken made an reasonable point. His personal view of pro or against capital punishment didn’t appear.
    Then, from chicken man: *I have along memory*

    “traditional purposes of capital punishment: rehabilitation…,”!!
    traditional purposes of the penal system or the prison system, maybe.
    Dead men can’t be rehabilitated, so one of your four is off the list, no?
    Briggs boasted about Feser’s work being all things manly and wonderful.
    If the point was that the Catholic Church doesn’t exclude capital punishment is not clear why the post was necessary in order to make that point. Which was also something Ken drew attention to in his ‘patter down pat’ remark.

    It’s a storm in a teacup.

  16. @JohnK:

    Somehow the last paragraph got cut off:

    Capital punishment is a species of punishment, therefore it has all the aims that punishment has. Although, and especially given our current climate, there is a legitimate gripe at the way the Catechism words the sections specific to capital punishment, since they do seem to speak only of defense against the criminal.

  17. As for the courts’ dismal record for accuracy, I have often said that (surprise) application of the levitical evidentiary requirements would be an instant fix. It’s an elegant system.

  18. At JohnK:

    “…incorrectly using the term ‘Catholic doctrine’ here. … regarding the issue of capital punishment, the 1997 Catechism is not very firmly based in Sacred Scripture, nor in traditional Catholic profession and practice, nor even in centuries of ordinary Catholic theological thinking on the matter.”

    Bah humbug — Consider Bishop Wilton Gregory’s essay, “The Church’s Evolving View on the Death Penalty,” http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8506 , in which every single assertion JohnK made is proven false.

    ALL: One can readily compare the Bishop’s explanation, which includes the positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and readily assess if Briggs & Feser, in applying the Catholic Church’s very limited allowance for capital punishment, have reasonably or responsibly represented that position.

    As for JohnK’s claims — I’ll start with with the repeated [nitpicky] claim that “doctrine” was incorrectly applied. Bishop Gregory states:

    “As some of you may know, the Catholic Church approved in 1992 its first universal catechism in over four centuries. In the words of Pope John Paul II, this text serves as a “full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the church professes, celebrates, lives and prays in her daily life.””

    I’m trusting the Bishop to have quoted the Pope correctly regarding “doctrine” — John, if you still think the term “doctrine” is incorrectly applied please address that with the Pope. And let us know how that goes.

    As for the claims that the “Catechism is not very firmly based in Sacred Scripture, nor in traditional Catholic profession and practice, nor even in centuries of ordinary Catholic theological thinking on the matter” please read Bishop Gregory’s article, it is both succinct and still covers the topics, each of those you assert don’t exist, do.

  19. Quelle surprise. It’s entertaining to see how many different ways Christians can interpret their God’s absolute moral standards. It’s not like killing is an obscure edge case either, and they’ve had 2,000 years to think about it.

  20. Feser concocts an argument asserting punishment & salvation — which have nothing whatsoever to do with Catholic doctrine.

    Anyone that has read Chapters 1 and 2 of Feser’s book, that makes reference to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, to Scripture, to several Popes, and to traditional natural law arguments , understands that Feser ‘concocted’ nothing of the sort. Those arguments are manifestly present. Only someone willfully ignoring them could miss them.

  21. It’s entertaining to see how many different ways Christians can interpret their God’s absolute moral standards. It’s not like killing is an obscure edge case either

    Oh, you’re persisting with this manifestly stupid argument. The fifth commandment condemns the shedding of innocent blood; it is a prohibition against murder, not against self-defense, nor against due punishment. This is obvious to anyone reading the OT now, it was obvious to the Israelites then, and it was obvious to almost everyone in between.

  22. “traditional purposes of capital punishment: rehabilitation…,”!!
    traditional purposes of the penal system or the prison system, maybe.
    Dead men can’t be rehabilitated, so one of your four is off the list, no?

    To return to grodrigues quote:

    Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation.

    That willing acceptance of guilt for wrong-doing constitutes rehabilitation. That they are executed following this does not diminish their rehabilitation in the slightest. In fact, given they accept the justice of their punishment, it completes it.

  23. Dover Beech
    I was quoting JohnK. Mr Chicken. You’ve got to back to a post which Briggs has taken away to read what that’s about. If you do perhaps you can tell me what it was about.

    Just as Mike in kc was unwittingly quoting me and thought he was quoting Ken.
    As to the term “Capital punishment”. It refers to the death penalty. It is how it is used, how Briggs used the term and there’s no escaping the claim that it is used for rehab is rather funny.

  24. “That willing acceptance of guilt for wrong-doing constitutes rehabilitation. That they are executed following this does not diminish their rehabilitation in the slightest. In fact, given they accept the justice of their punishment, it completes it.”
    This shows a complete lack of understanding or experience of the human nature.

    It’s really weak use of the word rehab.
    I don’t particularly care though, it is the least of the excuses I hear some around here come up with based on a professed but increasingly phoney faith.

    Not enough that they already have the criminal and will put him to death. He’s clearly not going to admit to the sin if he’s going to be put to death unless he decides to on his own religious on conscientious grounds…if so it still makes no difference to the individual whatsoever and so cannot be put forward as a reason for the death penalty.

    (Goodness and this is why you’re with the motion, God help them.)
    That’s it, That’s al your’e getting.

  25. This shows a complete lack of understanding or experience of the human nature.

    It’s really weak use of the word rehab.
    I don’t particularly care though, it is the least of the excuses I hear some around here come up with based on a professed but increasingly phoney faith.

    Yes, yes, this is very convincing.

    Not enough that they already have the criminal and will put him to death. He’s clearly not going to admit to the sin if he’s going to be put to death unless he decides to on his own religious on conscientious grounds…if so it still makes no difference to the individual whatsoever and so cannot be put forward as a reason for the death penalty.

    How could it make no difference to the individual to admit such a thing? Further, recognizing and acknowledging their wrongdoing is a mark of rehabilitation, whatever the punishment.

  26. In the original Hebrew, the prefix translated as “by” also means “within.” The phrase also means “Whoever sheds the blood of man within man, his blood shall be shed.” So… It might be a condemnation of abortion (shedding the blood of a human being inside another human being) instead.

  27. @ dover_beach:

    “The fifth commandment condemns the shedding of innocent blood; it is a prohibition against murder, not against self-defense, nor against due punishment. This is obvious to anyone reading the OT now, it was obvious to the Israelites then, and it was obvious to almost everyone in between.”

    Yet the Catholic Church’s official position is (currently) against capital punishment. Perhaps they’ve subjectively arrived at a different interpretation?

  28. Yet the Catholic Church’s official position is (currently) against capital punishment.

    No, the position at present is a prudential judgement made in response to contemporary conditions; it accepts that individual Catholics can arrive at a different prudential judgment. It isn’t an in principle condemnation of CP and it cannot be given the weight and number of past statements about the justice of CP.

    Perhaps they’ve subjectively arrived at a different interpretation?

    No, interpretations involve reasons and are, therefore, not subjective.

  29. “No, interpretations involve reasons and are, therefore, not subjective.”

    Subjective reasons.

  30. Subjective reasons.

    ‘Subjective’ reasons? Again, you’re only demonstrating your lack of understanding re the qualifier ‘subjective’. If someone is attempting to persuade someone by providing reasons why X or Y should be interpreted in just this way and not that way, they are providing arguments, not emoting feelings.

  31. “For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfworthycom.htm

    The judgement in the Catechism is a prudential judgement

  32. @ Dover Beach:

    “If someone is attempting to persuade someone (…), they are providing arguments, not emoting feelings.”

    Arguments based on feelings.

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