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Papal Bull-oney

December 30th, 2006
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The Vatican is bloviating about the evils of the death penalty and condemning the execution of Saddam Hussein. They can never get the Biblical truth about the doctrine of the two kingdoms right, can they? In the Middle Ages they claimed the right to wield both swords, all power in both the spiritual and secular realm, now they are decrying the use of the sword in the civil realm. Pastor Weedon has a good blog post on this papal bull. The Vatican needs to spend more time dealing with homosexuals and child abusers in it clergy ranks, and the lousy theology that infests most of its institutions of higher learning in this country, than pontificating on how to deal with mass-murderers and tyrants. My only question today about the execution of Hussein is why they didn’t broadcast it live? Sic semper tyrannis! The only reason I can think of as to why the Vatican is so strongly denouncing the execution of Hussein is to try to provide protection to Roman Catholics and other Christians in Muslim nations who may be on the receiving end of Islamic demonstration that their’s is a "religion of peace" <yes, that’s sarcasm>

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Categories: Roman Catholicism
  1. Tim Kuehn
    December 30th, 2006 at 20:15 | #1

    Considering laws God handed down to the Children of Israel had provision for capital punishment for a number of offenses, it seems rather presumptuous for the Roman Catholic Church – to oppose it.
    Particularly when the overriding concern is more about some “spirit of revenge” or the “seeds of new violence” over and above the dispensation of justice.

  2. organshoes
    January 1st, 2007 at 12:14 | #2

    National Review has a symposium of sorts, made up of current Catholic thinkers, offering extra-Biblical and very-RC intellectualization and rationalization of the Vatican’s stance and its possible interpretations. They come to mixed conclusions-of-a-sort, among them that his execution was perhaps not ‘tragic’ as the Vatican pronounced (but, if it were ‘tragic’, here’s how); but it was indeed ‘sad’, necessary, justifiable, but always ‘sad’.
    Also some intellectual gymnastics, suggesting that we wrongly ‘infer’ the church’s adamant opposition to any exceptions to the death penalty.
    You can almost see the handwringing and hear the throat-clearing.
    How they would benefit from a Luther to illuminate Biblical teaching, as well as to clarify their own thinking. Woops–they had one, didn’t they?
    It’s available at National Review ONline.

  3. January 1st, 2007 at 16:33 | #3

    “The only reason I can think of as to why the Vatican is so strongly denouncing the execution of Hussein is to try to provide protection to Roman Catholics and other Christians in Muslim nations…”
    The Roman Catholic Church has consistently denounced capital punishment for some considerable time, so I don’t think there’s any need to impute particular motives in this instance. Sure, take issue with the Vatican’s position on this, but let’s not fall into the trap of “wanting to paint black a little blacker”, as CS Lewis put it, by suggesting they are taking this stance in this case only from an attitude of appeasement.
    McCain: The Vatican is quite calculated about these things John and so speculating on their motives for their very vocal and public denunciation of the Hussein execution is not at all inappropriate. The Vatican has long experience appeasing kings, emperors, dictators and what-not. Perhaps you are falling into the trap of naievete?

  4. organshoes
    January 2nd, 2007 at 00:15 | #4

    Actually, one of the participants in the Nat’l Rvw. symposium places the Vatican’s stance at the feet of a particular encyclical letter–The Gospel of Life–not providing any date or chronological reference. The letter claims that death should only be sentenced as an act of self-defense, either in the immediate sense, or in the sense that, without the death of this person, it is no longer possible to defend society.
    According to this gentlemen, the encyclical states ‘cases of absolute necessity [of the death penalty] are rare to nonexistent’.
    Apparently, to the Vatican, Hussein’s life was no threat, immediate or otherwise.
    That alone is debatable.
    But, even then, the Vatican’s stance seems extra-Biblical to me; more of a philosophical exercise than a religious answer. Which, in the end, is a very Roman approach.

  5. January 2nd, 2007 at 02:48 | #5

    Well, even if I am being naive, and your assessment of the Vatican’s motives is correct, I don’t see that there is anything particularly ignoble in the desire to “provide protection to Roman Catholics and other Christians in Muslim countries” by distancing the church from Saddam’s execution, given the RCC’s opposition to (i) the death penalty and (ii) the invasion of Iraq.
    McCain: The Vatican’s position is contrary to Sacred Scripture which makes it abundantly clear that the state has been given the power from God to wield the sword and execute criminals. That’s the issue here. There is a long history of the Vatican doing things that directly contradict Holy Scripture.
    If the RCC had previously been pro-hanging and pro-invasion, then a change of position in order to placate the Islamist mob would indeed be contemptible. But the Vatican has been highly vocal in its opposition to both the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq, and its opposition to Saddam’s hanging is entirely consistent with that.
    As for the church-state issue, can I assume you believe church leaders in the EU who support the death penalty (not that there are many who fit into that category!) remain silent on the subject?
    McCain: I don’t understand your last remark.

  6. January 2nd, 2007 at 05:20 | #6

    What I meant was this: you and Pr Weedon are writing as Christians, and indeed pastors, who support the death penalty, living in a country in which the death penalty is still practiced. In that context, a Vatican statement against capital punishment looks far more “interventionist” than it does from an EU point of view, where the death penalty is outlawed anyway.
    McCain: You are misreading Pastor Weedon and my remarks, or perhaps neither of us are being adequately clear enough. Neither Pr. Weedon or I are insisting that every government must exercise its right to execute criminals. What we are both saying is that it is the teaching of God’s Word that governments have the authority to wield the sword to execute justice. To declare otherwise is to violate Holy Scripture and as Lutherans, it is also a violation of our Confessions to which we are bound because we confess them to teach what Scripture teaches. The debate over whether or not the death penalty is justly used, and how, when and where it is used will no doubt continue, but for Lutherans what is “out of bounds” according to the Biblical doctrine we confess in the Book of Concord is any suggestion that the state is not given the authority to wield the sword to execute criminals. That it does is what the Bible teaches and what our Lutheran Confessions teach. The death penalty is not sinful and a person can in good conscience enforce it and use it. I personally believe that justice requires it in certain circumstances. Hussein being a case in point. I do not regard it as a deterrent as much as a just punishment. That’s why we were both less than impressed with the Vatican’s comments, since they directly conflict with the teaching of Holy Scripture. Simply put, it is not a genuinely Lutheran position to take when a person says that the death penalty is wrong or should not be used.
    My question can be rephrased as asking whether, if you were serving as a pastor in Europe, you would consider it necessary for you to remain silent as regards your own support for the death penalty, on the grounds that speaking out on this issue would be as much an interference in state matters as the Vatican’s interventions in opposition to capital punishment?
    McCain: When the government takes a position contrary to God’s Word, it is the duty of Christian pastors to speak out against it, for instance, abortion, etc. Speaking out on this issue would be no different than speaking out on abortion and euthanasia, both widely practiced across the EU now, etc. If I take your logic, or what I perceive to a point you are driving at, further, we would have to agree that it would have been wrong for Lutherans to ever have spoken a word of criticism against Adolf Hitler. Some believed it was and remained silent. Others spoke out and paid the price in various ways for that opposition.
    Blessings to you and thanks for your comments.

  7. Tom R
    January 2nd, 2007 at 20:06 | #7

    I am conflicted. On the one hand, if one believes thhat Catholic doctrine is a seamless web across two thousand years and that Popes hath never contradict-ed one another, the combination of “Jan Hus and the Huguenots deserved to be killed but Saddam and McVeigh did not” sounds perverse. On the other hand, if one assumes “development of doctrine”, then given the Papacy’s historical inability to discern accurately who deserves to live and die, it is probably better for the Vatican to adopt a blanket rule of “don’t kill people unless they’re about to kill you first”. Having said that, Popes lecturing the rest of us about the sacredness of life is rather irritating, in the same way that a recovering alcoholic is when he scolds you for having half a glass of champagne as a wedding toast.
    PS: Point of order for Pr McCain. Since your counter-comments are interpolated textually with the original comments, could you put your editorial statements, say, in square brackets, or some other typographical device demarcating the word of Halton et al from the mark of McCain? Thanks.

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