Monday, October 27, 2008

Mr. Verrecchio on the death penalty

I have been consistently impressed with Mr. Louie Verrecchio’s Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II column in the Sydney Catholic Weekly, which is a pleasant surprise given my adverse opinion of the proceedings of that Œcumenical Council. Yesterday’s installment, provocatively entitled “Human dignity via the death penalty” was no exception. Now Mr. Verrecchio writes from a mainstream-conservative perspective of the purported ‘true spirit of Vatican II’, and accordingly I expected him simply to echo and elaborate on the opinions of recent Popes on the matter. Indeed, for the first half of the article it seems to be going that way, beginning with some quotations from John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and offering a curious examination of the death penalty in the Old Testament. But around the midway point Mr. Verrechio changes direction, acknowledging the disturbing connection between opposition to the death penalty and support for abortion, and he writes that it is possible that rather than being “a victory for the culture of life”,

it may very well be more accurate to consider [prohibition of the death penalty] the result of the kind of humanistic narcissism that sees man as the ultimate goal and master of all things; including determining the value of human life, not to mention choosing who shall live and who shall die.
He concludes by suggesting that

Perhaps we should consider that the truth of man’s unique dignity may be best communicated when the infinite value of a human life taken is demonstrated by applying the only penalty that can ever reflect the value of what was lost; death.
How refreshing to see a partisan, as it were, of Vatican II acknowledging what Traditionalists had defended all along (and what I have been arguing since my first post on the death penalty), namely, that there is simply no other earthly penalty that can satisfy justice in the case (at least) of murder. Mr. Verrecchio’s article was not perfect—its leisurely lead-up to its main point, its timid assertion of that point (“it may very well be more accurate …”, “[p]erhaps we should consider …”), and its use of the word “infinite” for the value of human life when a word like ‘inestimable’ might have been more apposite are among its shortcomings—but it was most pleasing nonetheless to see a bit of balance in a paper that is usually (or rather, always) uncritically anti-execution. The reaction in the letters page should be interesting.

What a sad irony it is, though, when a defender of Vatican II condemns as “humanistic narcissism” the view that “man as the ultimate goal and master of all things”, when in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes we read the startling assertion that man is “is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself”.

Reginaldvs Cantvar


Louise said...

[man] is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself”.

I always thought this kind of thing meant that man was created with inherent dignity and not for the purpose of use by its fellow men (as the animals are).

At least, I never thought it meant that God was making man into his own god.

Cardinal Pole said...

I think the problem is the ambiguity; even when read in context it is not clear exactly what the Council Fathers had in mind with that assertion.

Louise said...

Yes, it's certainly ambiguous. Bad translation?

Cardinal Pole said...

"Bad translation?"

Unfortunately not. Prof. Amerio deals with this in Iota Unum. Indeed, he describes how in Italy it was translated as man “is the only creature on earth which God willed for Himself”, thus inverting the meaning.

I suppose one could argue that Christ became a man, and Christ is the goal of human history, so in that sense God willed man for himself, but this interpretation is not imposed by the text.