The death penalty is such a divisive issue than even I’m divided on it. On balance, I’m in favour – but with so many reservations that even simply listing them would bore you to tears.
On the other hand, I know some good and intelligent people whose balance swings the other way.
Believers among them cite the relevant commandment or question the right of fallible people to pass irreversible judgement. Materialists are troubled by the likelihood of mistakes.
The materialist objection could be answered by tightening the required standard of proof. I’d be comfortable if proof beyond any reasonable doubt were in death penalty cases replaced with proof beyond any doubt.
For example, having plunged the knife into the body of Sir David Amess 17 times, his murderer calmly waited for the police to arrive. No doubt, reasonable or otherwise, of his guilt can exist; no mistake is possible. Give him the chop.
Still, I’m prepared to consider any informed argument on the issue. Alas, the one casually mentioned by Dominic Lawson, doesn’t qualify as such.
In his otherwise good article on Sir David, Mr Lawson described him as “a devout Catholic (despite his support for the death penalty)”. The assumption is that support for the death penalty is incompatible with Christian, or specifically Catholic, doctrine.
That, I’m afraid, is ignorance speaking. For Mr Lawson’s statement is tantamount to saying that being a Thomist is incompatible with being a Catholic.
For St Thomas Aquinas, the greatest philosopher among theologians and the greatest theologian among philosophers, was an unequivocal supporter of the death penalty.
According to St Thomas: “…men who are in authority over others do no wrong when they reward the good and punish the evil… Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.”
And further: “… the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.”
Thus St Thomas doesn’t pass the Lawson test of Catholic probity. However, Pope Francis does. He opposes not only the death penalty but even life imprisonment, which he thinks amounts to the same thing.
I wouldn’t be surprised if This Holiness felt that a strong rebuke and perhaps a warning would be sufficient punishment for murder, but, after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), even more conservative Popes have had problems with the death penalty.
However, saying that there’s something inherently contradictory about a devout Catholic supporting it betokens sheer ignorance. That is lamentable in a man who, like Mr Lawson, is married to a Catholic, Diana’s Best Friend by profession. One gets the impression that the Lawsons don’t ponder Christian doctrine at their dinner table.
One argument against the death penalty is that it corrupts the executioner. I find this argument worth considering. But David Amess always dismissed it out of hand. “If that’s your problem,” he’d say, “I volunteer.”
Generally speaking, I doubt I could honestly give the same answer. However, in this particular case, if the only obstacle to putting Sir David’s murderer to death were the dearth of executioners, I too would offer my services.
P.S. Our press blithely crosses the line separating righteous from self-righteous.
Thus there was an outburst of indignation when the Saudi government bought Newcastle United. Apparently the Saudis’ record on human rights doesn’t meet the exacting standards our hacks demand from any buyer of British football clubs.
These standards, however, are applied selectively. Thus journos fall over themselves trying to wangle an invitation to the box at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s stadium.
Now, Chelsea FC is owned by Roman Abramovich, one of those shady characters who were appointed ‘oligarchs’ by Russia’s KGB government. According to Catherine Belton’s book Putin’s People, it was Putin who ordered Abramovich to buy the club as a way of establishing a foothold in London and especially the City.
I won’t go into any details of Russia’s record on human rights, other than saying that it’s not conspicuously better than the Saudis’. So where’s that sauce for the gander?