A Catholic’s Case in Favor of the Death Penalty

Viet-Cong assassin Nguyễn Văn Lém meets his demise at the end of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s Smith & Wesson.

Provocative photograph, isn’t it? I hope so — it was meant to be.

For those of us old enough to remember, the image of Nguyễn Văn Lém, formerly of the Viet-Cong, at the receiving end of a field expedient execution at the hands of Saigon’s Chief of Police General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan was the iconic anti-war instrument of propaganda to end all instruments of propaganda … ever.

What the anti-war mob never told us is that Lém’s execution happened during the Tet Offensive, martial law was declared and the shooting was in the wake of Lém assassinating a Saigon police deputy commander. Oh, I almost forgot, Lém has just slaughtered the wife and children of said police deputy.

If anyone deserved the business end of General Loan’s Smith & Wesson, it was Nguyễn Văn Lém.

But the Pope said …

It’s common knowledge that every Pontiff of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s have voiced and continue to voice their ardent opposition to Capital Punishment.

To that I politely ask: So what?

Any given pope can have his own personal opinion, and he most certainly can ask us to prayerfully consider any number of issues. Fine, that’s one of his responsibilities.

But let’s be clear — as a faithful Catholic I can honestly state that when it comes to any given pope’s exhortation on any given topic, is simply isn’t binding under pain of sin.

But the Church is against the death penalty!

When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (who happen to have no doctrinal or dogmatic authority) released in 2007 a particularly toothless document with the impressive title “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States” our stouthearted shepherds expressed their collective thumbs down to legal executions.

However, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn was quoted as stating, “While the bishops argue against capital punishment, Catholics may disagree without separating themselves from the Church community”. Ladies and gents, what we have here is what’s better known as political double-speak in the first degree.

As those of us who have actually researched the subject, we know that the official teaching of the Church (2266 and 2267 of the catechism) is that the death penalty is allowable, but only in cases of extreme gravity and should only be used on rare occasions.

To cut to the chase, in the totality of crimes committed ranging from jaywalking on one end of the spectrum to sexually torturing a child to death on the other, a legal execution of such a murderer would certainly qualify as a punishment that was utilized in a case of extreme gravity and obviously would be a rarity handed down from the courts.

The Church has also officially declared “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient …” That’s an awful big if.

And as most of us are aware, in more than a few Third World nations busting out of prison often relies on no more than a handful of well placed pesos or chickens, and not necessarily in that order.

With all that said, allow me to introduce the phrase intrinsically evil into the conversation.

I’d like to also point out that unlike abortion or the sin of Sodom, the death penalty has never been defined as intrinsically evil by the Catholic Church. For those who may be unfamiliar with the phrase, intrinsically evil is something that has absolutely no redeeming qualities and is always wrong under any and all circumstances.


Boiling my position down to its essence, the Church also teaches the expiatory value of punishment. Also known as reparation or atonement, the death penalty isn’t revenge, it’s justice.

After all, when The Good Thief (St. Dismas) refuted Gesmas as the Latin Vulgate tells us, “et nos quidem iuste nam digna factis recipimus hic vero nihil mali gessit/And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds. But this man hath done no evil.” (Lk 23: 41)

Only when St. Dismas accepted the consequences for his actions, confessed to Christ of his wrongdoings and beg for forgiveness did Jesus … well, we know what happened after that.

Did anyone else notice Christ never refuted Dismas’s statement that his execution was just?

One other thing …

Strictly in my person opinion, in clear cut cases of especially viscous killers, death should be meted out within one hour after the word “guilty” comes out of the jury foreman’s mouth.

Every time one of these animals has a full belly, urinates, defecates, masturbates, falls asleep, etc, etc, that individual experiences either a moment of pleasure and/or relief.

Once found guilty, that individual surrendered their right as a human being to enjoy a single moment of extra life.

When the killer of his daughter was found guilty, her father Paul Klaas, was asked his opinion of the killer. He simply responded “it’s offensive to me to breath the same air as him.”

Twelve-year-old Polly Klass was kidnapped, repeatedly raped, then sexually tortured to death with a hunting knife and a pair of vice grips.

She suffered unspeakable pain and horror for days until she finally died at the hands of her killer.

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