Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Saddam's Execution

With regard to the capital punishment of Saddam Hussein, which happened last night, the director of Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., released the following declaration to journalists this morning:
Capital punishment is always tragic news, a motive of sadness, even when it’s a case of a person guilty of grave crimes.
The position of the Catholic Church against the death penalty has been confirmed many times.
The execution of the guilty party is not a path to reconstruct justice and to reconcile society. Indeed, there is the risk that, on the contrary, it may augment the spirit of revenge and sow seeds of new violence.
In this dark time in the life of the Iraqi people, it can only be hoped that all the responsible parties truly will make every effort so that, in this dramatic situation, possibilities of reconciliation and peace may finally be opened.


Anonymous said...

The scripture which I find most impressive in disclosing Our Lord's attitude to the death penalty is Luke 23:40-43, in which He promises Paradise to the criminal who, in repentance, approves of his own execution by the hand of man as the just punishment according to the death sentence he deserved.

Now, Father Lombardi, and for that matter Cardinal Martino a day or two ago, spoke as though capital punishment were intrinsically immoral, contrary to the Church's infallible condemnation of the Waldensian heresy in the 12th century.

If it were, we should expect to find Jesus rebuking the criminal for consenting to his own murder! As it is, the State takes the life of murderers in capital punishment not by any human right, but as the agent of God over whom we have no rights, though He has all right over us.

The case of Saddam Hussein is one of those rare cases in which the condition set forth in Evangelium Vitae for the disuse of the death penalty simply does not obtain. Iraq does not even have a secure government, let alone a secure prison in which safely to incarcerate the man who terrorised them for nearly forty years and murdered at least a million of his own people.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Fr Lombardi has ever read the Catechism of the Council of Trent.

The death penalty is not wrong - it's how it's used, which is up for debate.

Anonymous said...

"capital punishment were intrinsically immoral, contrary to the Church's infallible condemnation of the Waldensian heresy in the 12th century."
Infallible - really?

"I wonder if Fr Lombardi has ever read the Catechism of the Council of Trent."
I suspect he has, the question is have you read "Gaudiam et Spes?

Except in the US where children and the mad are judicially murdered, the Church has moved on. A true example of an organic development of doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Saddam's "reign of terror" actually lasted just 24 years, and not forty. And, frankly, Iraq is more "terrorised" now than it ever was during all that time.

It doesn't seem to me that the death penalty is always (inherently) immoral, but it is the circumstances in which it is used which bring it into question. In this case the outcome is not going to be a good one, whichever way the events are viewed. And Saddam was head of state; are President Bush and Prime Minister Blair now going to be put on trial for the horrors now taking place in Iraq, for which they must take responsibility?

And what about the Christian community of that country? It has been cut in half. Whatever else Saddam did, the Christians of Iraq did not suffer the peculiar persecution they are now undergoing during his period in power.

Physiocrat said...

From a pragmatic point of view, hanging Saddam Hussein will do no good at all and quite likely a lot of harm.

There was the unfinished business of his war crimes. When that had been dealt with he should have been put on an island out of harm's way, treated with a modicum of respect and provided with modest comforts.

That way his erstwhile supporters might have lost their enthusiasm for avenging his death.

Killing him has fed and strengthened the beast. Bad idea.

Anonymous said...

say a prayer for his soul

lunkhead said...

I am a big proponent of the death penalty. Yes, I'm an American, and yes, I am from Texas, home state of George W. Bush. I believe there are Scriptural reasons and pragmatic reasons for capital punishment.
You weep for Saddam Hussein, but who weeps for the millions (yes millions) of lives he affected and hurt, whether directly or indirectly. How speaks for the nearly half million Iraqis in mass graves?
Some of you who post sneer at those who defend liberty and at times, must apply the most severe penalty to those who deserve it. But without these men and women defending us, you would be wearing burkas and facing Mecca five times a day. As a father of three daughters, I would prefer death.
Hussein's execution is nothing to rejoice over, but rather a grim reminder that there are people who are evil because they stray from the God.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Mark - a development of doctrine is organic only when it brings out further depths of the same truth, while preserving the essential content of the prior doctrine. And yes, the Waldensian doctrine that capital punishment = murder was, I believe, definitively condemned by Pope Innocent III.

Chris - This is where international law comes in. Saddam Hussein was convicted and hanged for crimes against humanity, and his accomplices are on trial for genocide. The Preamble to the Statute of the International Criminal Court determines these as threats to international peace as a matter of law. Therefore to put them down by force is not aggression. So Blair and Bush have no case to answer in the crime of aggression.

Please assign responsibility where it is due. The insurgency has no jus ad bellum because the Coalition has the mandate of the United Nations, because the insurgency seeks to wage war against the legitimate government of Iraq, and because part of it at least wages war in furtherance of a false religion.

Anonymous said...

We should have condemned this action more. We condemn euthanasia, we condemn abortion - we also condemn capital punishment. We are pro-life - not pro-death.

Who are we to in one breath call for warring factions in the Middle East to cease from violence and yet support the killing of a Middle Eastern leader ourselves, the result of which will only be more violence - and then to justify it because he was a 'bad man'.

The Church consistently campaigns against the death penalty - not because we believe all people on death row are innocent, but because we believe human life is not for ours to take.

Anonymous said...

When a council defines a dogma then you can say that it speaks infallibly, when it condemns a particular group for heresy it is merely condemning a particular at particuilar time, there is a distintinction.

I think that the teaching of recent Popes is clear, as is the catechism about the Church's pro-life teaching, as was the teaching of Pope John-Paul on the injustice of this war, in which the consequences are beginning to seem worst than the evil that it sought to overcome

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Let's go back to first principles and remind ourselves why we are pro-life. God is the sole giver of life, therefore to kill a person - including by abortion or euthanasia - is, in general, a usurpation of that right.

But He sometimes uses men and angels as His agents in taking life - one angel slew 800,000 Assyrians in one night, and unless I am mistaken He also uses angels to separate the soul from the body in natural death, though an angel is but a creature.

So it is that the life of a convicted murderer can be taken by the State on the basis that the State acts not by human right, but as God's agent, somewhat analogous to the vicarious power by which the Pope can dissolve certain marriages under the Petrine privilege.

Saddam Hussein was not merely a murderer. He was convicted and hanged for crimes against humanity, in particular multiple murder carried out as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population of Iraq.

Crimes against humanity and genocide are so heinous that international law brands them as both crimes and threats to international peace (and therefore a casus belli.) They fall within the Catechism's set of "rare" cases in which the death penalty is absolutely necessary in retribution. To give an idea in numbers, there are about 850 murders a year in England. This year - in fact last week - four men appeared before Magistrates on charges of genocide in relation to Rwanda.

The problem I have with the Catechism's teaching on the death penalty is that it is incomplete. It looks at capital punishment only in terms of rendering a criminal harmless for the future. But punishment in general is supposed to fit a crime committed in the past. It is about retribution, which is the only basis on which Jesus could have commended the repentant criminal for accepting his death as just payment for his crime, instead of rebuking him for consenting to his own murder.

Andrew said...

In our parish, in several Masses, both the parish priest and his assistant have prayed for Saddam and even mentioned him during the Canon, naming him amongst the faithful, despite his recitation of the Muslim shahada which were his last words at the gallows, and asking God to number him among His saints.

They're both quite militantly anti-American but this is ridiculous and blasphemous.

The things we suffer.

Anonymous said...

One problem I have with the death penalty for Saddam Hussein or any other mass-murderer is that it just doesnt seem to be dreadful enough.

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I think you ought to tell your bishop about this. Saddam was not only unbaptised, but he gave every indication, if anything, of final impenitence - not a scrap of remorse or repentance for what he had done.

Fr Mark - One point I'd like to add is that the Church has taught since at least the fifth century that death is just retribution for murder and crimes of similar gravity. Even if the charism of infallibility did not attend any of the Popes when they taught on this point, the divine natural law concerning homicide is so clearly inscribed on the human heart that no one who has the use of reason could remain in ignorance of it except through his own fault.

If, as Father Lombardi and Cardinal Martino seem to think, capital punishment is morally indistinguishable from wilful murder, then Pope Pius XII and all his predecessors, Ss Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and St Paul and Moses, were all culpable in teaching a doctrine which they knew or ought to have known was false!

At that point those who oppose the death penalty on moral grounds are forced to embrace the heresy that the Holy Scriptures are not inspired in those parts which speak on the subject.

Henry - No, executing Saddam Hussein will not feed the beast. He refused the chicken dinner they offered him as his last meal!

Anonymous said...

Thou shalt not kill. The execution of Sadaam shows how vile and repugnant the death penalty is.I don't wish to offend your readers from Texas but was it not Donald Rumsfeld who was out dealing with Sadaam in the 70s & 80s selling arms and expertise in the Oil industry.Perhaps that is why he was so convinced that there were weapons of Mass destruction,the US, France & the UK among others had sold the parts to him.
No one would defend his appaling record as a Head of State,ruthlessly suppressing any opposition and no doubt guilty of murder.
However his execution by a gang of hoodies,looking more like a terrorist execution squad,than agents of a legitimate government does not inspire hope for peace and reconcilliation in the future.
At least in the US the electors will have the chance to repudiate all that G Bush stands for in a couple of years,it would be wonderful if they elect a world leader of calibre(perhaps following the example of the Cardinal Electors at the last conclave)
Finally the most disgusting aspect of the execution was the refusal of those present to allow Sadaam to die in peace;like Christ on the Cross he was taunted to the last;only God knows what was in thoughts at those last moments.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Fr. Mark,

respectfully, that's rubbish.

To have the Church say through all of her previous history, "yes the death penalty is morally permissible" and then have her change it to "no, the death penalty is not morally permissible," is not a "development of doctrine," but a denial of it.

You can't have Yes turn into No and claim they are being said by the same Church.

Anonymous said...

FFN - A certain Rabbi Moss posted the following on the Internet in answer to a question from Peter:

Dear Peter,

You have asked one of the most important questions to ask in order to understand Biblical morality.

The original Hebrew is "Lo Tirtzach", which means "Do not murder". The Hebrew word for killing is "Hariga", a completely different verb.

Murder is the taking of innocent life, which is always forbidden, while killing is the taking of any life, which is sometimes not only permitted but obligatory. The Bible commands us to kill those who have lost their innocence.

Innocence is lost in two ways:

1) Someone who was found guilty in a court of certain crimes, for example, "Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech (a form of idolatry where priests pass children through ritual fires) must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him." (Leviticus 20:2)

2) Someone who is clearly posing a direct threat to the lives of innocents. "If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account" (Exodus 22:2). This only applies where it is clear that he is willing to kill the house owner.

It is clear that there is no contradiction between these commandments - actually they compliment each other. Innocent life is protected, both by the commandment not to murder and the commandment to kill those who are a threat to innocence.

All the best,

Rabbi Moss

Your comment about what Saddam Hussein's executioners looked like confirms that the malaise of modern thought is the loss of all concept of (Thomistic) form in philosophy. Modern man has only a hazy concept of what a thing is and what it is for.

So if something "looks nasty" it is "bad", even though it is in essence a lawful execution. And if men are dressed like an IRA active service unit they must be thugs, even though in essence they are lawful executioners carrying out a just capital sentence.

Anonymous said...

Michael Petek wrote: "Iraq does not even have a secure government, let alone a secure prison in which safely to incarcerate the man who terrorised them for nearly forty years and murdered at least a million of his own people."

Saddam Hussein was a prisoner of the United States forces until a very short time (a couple of hours?) before his execution. And you can't tell me the US doesn't have "super-max security" prisons in which to successfully incarcerate the mad, bad and dangerous.

By killing him, we perhaps removed from him the opportunity to know his sins and come to final repentance. And so we do the only thing we can do for any of the departed, namely commend his soul to the mercy of Almighty God, Who knows all hearts.

Anonymous said...

"Know his sins and come to repentance?" Anonymous, Saddam Hussein spent a whole year of his life being judicially confronted with but a tiny fraction of his crimes. As for the US having him in his custody, it was the Iraqi authorities who had custody of him in the legal sense.

Remember, the death penalty was established by God Himself. Therefore there are no Christian grounds for denying that capital punishment is just retribution for murder. This is the traditional teaching of the Church affirmed in particular by Pope Pius V and Pope Pius X in their respective Catechisms. Both men were declared Saints, yet if capital punishment were tantamount as such to murder, then the fact would be so clearly inscribed on the heart of every human being that no Pope could have taught the contrary in good faith.

Retribution is the sole basis of the justice of judicial punishment, and sets its maximum limit. It is never just to impose a punishment on someone who does not deserve it, no matter how urgent the need to protect society from him, no matter how much better a person he would become for the experience. If deterrence were the only end of punishment, then we should be justified in punishing a criminal far in excess of his just desserts.

So as Catholics we have to combine the traditional teaching with that of Pope John Paul II as best we can. The death penalty can be used even when not strictly necessary to protect society, provided that in the circumstances of the case the demands of full retribution are so strong that the reformative indication must be sacrificed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Saddam Hussein spent a whole year of his life being judicially confronted with but a tiny fraction of his crimes.

Indeed. And I know it took far longer than a year for me to acknowledge that my sins are ever before me. Admittedly, I am not noted for my tendency to conduct chemical warfare on the innocent.

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