Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Capital Punishment Abolition Movement

Its latest manifestation comes from a group of American Catholic academics, who support the abolition statement posted by Catholic Moral Theology.

And regarding the specifics of the Davis case leading off the abolitionist’s plea, an article in the UK Telegraph has some devastating comments, which should have been more covered by the American press.

An excerpt.

“There are few subjects that provoke as much smug condescension and shallow anti-Americanism as the death penalty in the United States. And the “debate” over the execution in Georgia last Wednesday of Troy Davis, 42, convicted of the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, marked a new low.

“The sheer emotionalism and partisanship of much of the coverage of the case in Britain was an embarrassment. On virtually no other subject could you find facts presented so selectively, conclusions so sweeping and reasoning so simplistic.

“American campaigners against the death penalty know the buttons to press. Thus, we have statements like that from Thomas Ruffin, a lawyer for Davis, who said that Georgia had “legally lynched a brave, a good and indeed, an innocent man”.

“We saw “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts being worn as far afield as London, the message being that Davis was somehow plucked randomly from the streets and arbitrarily condemned, perhaps because he was black.

“Unfortunately, little about the Davis case fits this na├»ve picture. A jury of seven blacks and five whites found that Davis, who had a street name of “Rah”, standing for “Rough As Hell”, had been pistol-whipping a homeless man in a Burger King car park and had shot MacPhail dead when he intervened.

“Again and again, courts confirmed the Davis conviction as being on legally solid ground. Lynchings were carried out by racist mobs rushing to judgement, dragging their quarry out to string them up from a tree. To describe a two-decade legal process that twice went to the highest court in the land as a “lynching” is to try to strip the word of all meaning.

“Last year, the Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of directing that a District Judge...hold fresh hearings because seven out of nine eyewitnesses had supposedly recanted their testimony.

“Davis’s lawyers declined to put two of those witnesses on the stand, making their affidavits of almost no value. Judge William Moore, a President Bill Clinton appointee, found that of the five others, two did not in fact alter their original evidence and two lacked any credibility. He found that one, a jailhouse snitch, had genuinely recanted – but that it had been clear in the original trial he was a liar.”

The perspective we keep hearing about capital punishment from the American media, may cause us to wonder: "How can they get it so wrong?" but Catholics who expect the media to be on the side of the angels, does not understand Catholic teaching erected on the gospel proclamation: “and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” (Luke 2:34)

Pope John Paul II wrote a wonderful book on this: Sign of Contradiction.

Our organization supports capital punishment and we have published a book about it, Capital Punishment and Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support, excerpts of which are on our website.

Catholics have always understood the need to confront evil, and the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, expressed through the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2266-#2267) and our Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote concerning capital punishment:

“When, however, they fall into very great wickedness, and become incurable, we ought no longer to show them friendliness. It is for this reason that both Divine and human laws command such like sinners to be put to death, because there is greater likelihood of their harming others than of their mending their ways. Nevertheless the judge puts this into effect, not out of hatred for the sinners, but out of the love of charity, by reason of which he prefers the public good to the life of the individual. Moreover the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin any more.”

Summa Theologica. (1948). Second Part of the Second Part: Question 25, Article 6, Reply to Objection 2.