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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

tonerWhat we think is the right road
Everybody knows that capital punishment violates the right to life, that it’s an affront to human dignity, that it erodes respect for human life, that it’s motivated by vengeance, that it does not deter, that it removes the possibility of reform, that the state has no right to inflict the death penalty, and that innocent people often receive the death penalty.

But it’s the wrong road
These are prominently among the bromides we “know” that ain’t so. Space limitations prevent lengthy explanation of why and how each of these eight statements is morally or logically defective. If you find yourself surprised at reading that these common objections to capital punishment are, in fact, mistaken, Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette offer substantial instruction in their very recently published “By Man Shall his Blood be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.”

“Capital punishment,” they contend, “is philosophically justified, consistent with Scripture and long-standing Church teaching, and necessary to achieve the common good.” The eight propositions above are refuted clearly, concisely and cogently. “Catholic teaching and traditional Church practice,” they write, “allow no room for rejecting the death penalty as intrinsically wrong.”

Before studying this book, I would have argued along lines which would have accepted many of the eight propositions above, while citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267. Then along came Feser and Bessette, whose book is acclaimed by Jesuit Father James Schall; Jesuit Father Kevin Flannery; noted canon lawyer Edward Peters; Father George Rutler; Catholic convert and philosopher J. Budziszewski; Dr. Robert Royal, editor of the highly respected daily column “The Catholic Thing”; and many others. These are solid, serious Catholic thinkers. Hmmm. Before I spoke or wrote again about capital punishment, I thought, I ought to read the book carefully.

“By saving innocent lives, by affirming the sacredness of the lives of murder victims, and by treating murderers as morally accountable creatures who deserve punishment proportional to their crimes, the death penalty plays a vital role in upholding human dignity and in promoting a culture of life,” it stated. If your education leads you to question or challenge that assertion (as I would have a few weeks ago), I urge you to study this book. You may well find yourself agreeing with Father Gerald Murray, the well-known canon lawyer, frequent EWTN guest, and regular contributor to “The Catholic Thing”: The book “conclusively show(s) that in Catholic doctrine the death penalty is a moral, legitimate and appropriate punishment for certain heinous crimes.”


In “What We Know That Ain’t So,” I have argued that much of what passes for worldly wisdom is just that – the so-called “wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 3:19). Our Catholic worldview, which ought to be formed in and by genuine wisdom, should be the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16), but it is often darkened and even corrupted. We Catholics, therefore, have a constant and critical duty to learn (and, by the grace of God, to exemplify) the truths of the faith.

This column has been founded upon four convictions: First, there are evil forces at work in the world (Eph 2:2 and 5:12, John 14:30), threats from which we minimize or ignore at our grave spiritual peril.

Second, the greatest ethical threat to us today is false compassion, as we were warned by such Catholic stalwarts as Mother Angelica, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. It is never right to do wrong. Evil does not deserve pity; it requires conversion to the truth. A false “mercy,” which condones sin, is the diabolical masquerading as the angelic (see Wisdom, Chapter 2).

Third, we must be orthodox Catholics, despite the costs (John 15:18). Recently, a Notre Dame law professor, Amy Coney Barrett, was nominated to be a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. One senator, Dianne Feinstein, reproached Barrett by saying that “dogma lives loudly within you.” (Isn’t that exactly what all Catholics should aspire to?)

Fourth, we should expect even greater chaos soon. We live at a time when the Church is under the greatest assault it has endured since 1517. And the most grievous challenges to orthodoxy may come from people who ought to know better. Therefore, triangulate: Read the Bible, understand and learn Sacred Tradition, and study the Magisterium.

There is profound reason why, for centuries, Mass was ended with the “Last Gospel” (John 1:1-14). One hopes for its liturgical restoration, and we treasure its promise: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Nor will the darkness ever fully and finally defeat Him – or us who are His followers: “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20 DRB).

This marks my final “What You Know That Ain’t So” column. Thank you to the Catholic News Herald staff, and thank you, readers, for your time and patience. Oremus Pro Invicem! (Let us pray for one another!)

Deacon James H. Toner serves at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro.