Cardinal Blase Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago, told a panel last week that he wished Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had lived long enough to see Pope Francis declare the death penalty “inadmissible.”
“Would that he had lived to be here today, to see what the pope has done, because I think it would cause him to rethink that,” Cupich said, in reference to a Scalia quote read by the panel moderator, Ronald J. Tabak, the chair of the ABA’s death penalty committee.
In the quote read from a 2002 article in the journal First Things, Justice Scalia noted that Christian societies, confident in eternal life, tended to be less horrified by the death penalty than secular societies.
“Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is, the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral,” Scalia wrote. “Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe and has least support in the church-going United States. I attribute that to the fact that for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.”
“I think that his understanding of salvation has great limitations. It’s an atomistic view of salvation, that is, as individuals,” Cupich said. “God saves a people. God doesn’t just save by individuals. How is it that we integrate human beings into society, especially those at the margins? That’s the question we should be posing here.”
As Breitbart News reported, on August 2, Pope Francis amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding its teaching on capital punishment, declaring the death penalty to be “inadmissible” and saying that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
The new text of the relevant number, 2267, recognizes that recourse to the death penalty “was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good,” but adds that this is no longer the case.
Cupich said that he believes capital punishment to be intimately related to abortion.
“Erasing the innate value of individual lives because of crimes committed, and removing such criminals from the human family, is an echo of the violence done to human dignity when pro-choice advocates imply that the life developing in the womb is not ‘real human’ life,” Cupich said.
Cupich also said that he understood some Catholics would struggle with the church’s teaching on the death penalty due to “a desire to restore the order of justice that has been so viciously violated.”
“But there is a flaw in that way of thinking,” Cupich said. “When the state imposes the death penalty, it proclaims that taking one human life counterbalances the taking of another life. This is profoundly mistaken.”
Justice Scalia’s son, Christopher, who holds a PhD in English, challenged Cardinal Cupich in a series of posts on Twitter, saying that the cardinal did not give “a very good answer.”
When Cardinal Cupich said that the pope’s recent decision would have caused Justice Scalia to rethink his position on the death penalty, he was mistaken, his son said.
“But the belief that the new catechism would have changed his mind assumes that the pope presented any new arguments my father hadn’t already addressed,” Mr. Scalia tweeted, noting that this was clear from the full essay from which the passage had been read.
As for Cupich’s assertion that Justice Scalia’s understanding of salvation was “atomistic,” his son said that such a reply was “irrelevant to the passage in question.”
And my father elsewhere expressed agreement with the traditional Catholic belief that “the primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is ‘to redress the disorder caused by the offense’,” which is far from atomistic, as it recognizes that because certain crimes do such damage not only to individuals, but to the broader society, capital punishment is the only way to restore order. Agree or disagree with that belief, it’s not an atomistic view.
“I’m glad the moderator quoted my father at this panel. I do wish, though, that Cardinal Cupich had provided a better informed response,” he concluded.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.