Death Penalty Answer Incomplete

While you normally do an excellent job in your Quick Questions section, I disagreed with your reply in March to the following query (page 43): "If a Catholic judge is presiding over a trial in a jurisdiction where capital punishment is legal, may he pronounce a sentence of death?"

The reply given asserted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it "very clear" that capital punishment may be morally imposed, and then quoted the first line of Catechism, paragraph 2267. I think the answer given is problematic. In order to present Catholic teaching on this point fairly, it would have been better to quote the full text of CCC 2267, and not just the first sentence. Here is the relevant passage from the Catechism:

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.

— Brian Finnerty
New York, New York

Protestant Irony


I’d like to offer an enhancement to Dwight Longenecker’s "Baptism Saves You" (March 2008). Protestants must agree that God’s forgiveness of one’s sins is necessary for salvation. But, according to Scripture, this does not occur in our first moment of faith in Jesus Christ, as Protestants claim. Saul was not saved the moment he was struck on the road to Damascus and first believed in Jesus Christ because his sins were not forgiven until three days later, when he was baptized (Acts 9:9-19 and 22:16). Isn’t it ironic that Protestants claim Paul preached "salvation by [mental] faith alone" when it didn’t work that way for Paul himself ?

—Deloris Gross
Coon Rapids, Minnesota

The Church and the Nazis, Continued

I really enjoyed Joanna Bogle’s article on Bishop Clemens von Galen ("The Bishop vs. the Nazis," February 2008). Like all of Joanna’s articles, it was well-written and enlightening. The only point I would like to make relates to the statement: "All Catholics need to know that there was a bishop who was staunchly opposed to the Nazis." This suggests that von Galen was the only one. That is far from true. First of all, there is Pope Pius XII, the Bishop of Rome. He regularly enraged Hitler by protecting Jews, condemning racial theories, and cooperating with the Allies (even going so far as to forward to them information about German troop movements from anti-Hitler conspirators in Germany). Pius had the Vatican newspaper denounce the Nazi euthanasia program even before von Galen did. He then wrote to von Galen in 1942 and in 1943, thanking him and congratulating him for his bold anti-Nazi statements. Within Germany, there were many other bishops who also opposed Nazism. In 1930, the bishops of Berlin and Westphalia condemned the Nazis in pastoral letters. That same year, the Bishop of Mainz affirmed that "every Catholic is forbidden to be a member of the Nazi Party." In the spring of 1931, the Bavarian bishops condemned National Socialism and described it as heretical and incompatible with Catholic teaching. Similar statements were made by bishops in Cologne, Paderborn, and the upper Rhine. By the end of 1931, the entire German episcopacy had declared itself against Nazism. The 1932 common pastoral letter contained an "all-inclusive" prohibition on Nazi party membership. The bishops also forbade uniformed groups of National Socialists from attending Mass. The 1933 common pastoral letter attacked the pagan emphasis on blood and race. Hitler responded that he was not against Christianity itself, "but we will fight for the sake of keeping our public life free from those priests who have failed their calling and who should have become politicians rather than clergymen." The 1934 and 1935 joint episcopal letters both reminded Catholics that the Ten Commandments and the moral law bound all races. All people were subject to sin, and the Nordic race was no exception. A number of bishops, including von Galen, stressed the universality of the moral law for all races in their 1934 individual letters. In their 1935 joint memorandum to Hitler, the bishops bluntly accused the government of attempted race breeding. In late 1935, the German Propaganda Ministry imposed a "prior restraint" on all Church periodicals or other documents that were copied for distribution. By 1937, the German bishops gave up all attempts to print their pastorals, and had them merely read from the pulpit. Of course, sometimes it was impossible even to read statements from the pulpit. The Bavarian bishops’ pastoral letter of September 1938 was confiscated, as was the 1938 pastoral letter of the Bishops Conference of Fulda. On March 9, 1941, in a public sermon, Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin said that under Church doctrine, "there is no justification and no excuse for the killing of the sick or of the abnormal on any economic or eugenic grounds." Other German bishops followed suit, culminating in von Galen’s famous sermons of July and August of 1941. There were some bishops who succumbed to Nazi pressure. Usually this was a matter of trying to protect others from Nazi brutality. There may even have been some who actually accepted Nazi doctrine, though I am unaware of any who joined the Nazi party. Technically, they were prohibited from doing so under the terms of the agreement between Germany and the Vatican. The bottom line is that the Vatican leadership and numerous German bishops stood firm against Hitler’s party. As for Bishop von Galen, during the war legend soon spread about his bold defiance of the Nazis. It was illustrated by a widely told story: A Nazi official stood up in church one day and shouted that those who did not contribute to Germany’s struggle with their own flesh and blood, or that of their children, should remain silent. Von Galen turned and scolded the official: "I forbid anyone in this church, whoever it may be, to criticize the Führer."

— Ron Rychlak
University, Mississippi

Correction: "Can You Trust Thomas Merton?" (May/June 2008) suggested that Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc converted to the Catholic faith. Though his mother did convert from Unitarianism, Belloc himself was baptized in infancy. We regret the error.

This article appeared in Volume 19 Number 6.