James Fitzpatrick has some interesting thoughts about Catholic jurors and the death penalty.
Wouldn’t it be possible, then, for a Catholic to say to himself that executing such a man is within the pope’s guideline of a punishment necessary “in order to protect society”? That if we do not opt for the ultimate punishment for Scott Peterson for a crime like this we will send a signal to similarly depraved individuals that may lead them to commit comparable murders? That there is a need to jolt society with the death penalty in a case such as this to protect future Laci Peterson’s and their unborn children?
The answer to these questions hinges on what the pope meant when he wrote that a death sentence would be permissible only “when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” Some interpret these words to mean only when there is no other way to ensure that the individual murderer in question will not escape and return to his evil ways. I disagree. I maintain that when the pope spoke of an execution being necessary when “it would not be possible otherwise to defend society,” he was granting permission for Catholics to weigh whether there are rare times when capital punishment is needed as a deterrent to future crimes. The encyclical did not condemn the concept of capital punishment for deterrent purposes.
The experts continue to argue about whether capital punishment works as a deterrent to murder. That does not change the equation. The point is that Catholics are free to side with the experts who say that it does. And then to conclude that executing Scott Peterson will save many lives. There is nothing immoral or irrational about coming to that conclusion. Everyone understands that executing Peterson will not stop all future wife-murderers. The verdict against him did not deter Lisa Montgomery, the woman from Missouri who recently killed an expectant mother and cut her 8-month-old child from her womb. But we don’t repeal laws against corporate polluters and real estate agents who discriminate against minorities because there will always be some individuals who will try to get away with those crimes.