Capital punishment, abolition and Roman Catholic moral tradition
The last fifty years have seen a turn in the Catholic Church's public attitude toward capital punishment. From openly defending the right of the state to kill malefactors, the Church has become an outspoken opponent. What accounts for this? How can it be reconciled with Catholic tradition? Should the current teaching be called a 'development of doctrine'? Can we expect further change? These questions shape this thesis. The work is divided into three parts comprising a total of eight chapters. Part I undertakes a detailed exegesis of the death penalty teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997). I conclude that the text, while not explicitly stating that the death penalty is in itself wrong, lays down premises which when carried to their logical conclusions, yield just such a conclusion. This conclusion is checked and confirmed by the fundamental moral reasoning found in the papal encyclicals Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor. In light of this conclusion (what I call the new position), Part II asks the question: may the Church, constrained by sound biblical interpretation and dogmatic tradition, legitimately teach in a definitive way that capital punishment is per se wrong? This is a question which concerns the development of doctrine. Before it can be answered the Church's traditional teaching needs to be precisely formulated so that it can be placed in juxtaposition to the new teaching. An analysis of statements throughout ecclesiastical history is therefore undertaken and what we might call the cumulative consensus of ecclesiastical writers on capital punishment is formulated. The authoritative nature of this teaching is analyzed to determine what kinds of developments it admits and excludes. Judging its nature admits of a development like the one described in Part I, models are proposed to explain modes by which it might be understood to be developing. Finally, a systematic and philosophically consistent account of the new position is proposed and its implications for other teachings in the Church's tradition of 'justifiable violence' is examined.