SAN FRANCISCO – The Catholic Church has in recent decades been associated with political efforts to eliminate the death penalty. In fact, the three most recent popes, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, have called for the abolition of the death penalty. In 2016, Francis said, “Nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person.” With such high-profile opposition to the death penalty in the Catholic Church, how could any practicing Catholic support it?
Drawing upon philosophical, scriptural, theological and social scientific arguments, Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette explain the perennial teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate — not only to protect society from immediate physical danger, but also to administer retributive justice and to deter capital crime — in their provocative new book, BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.
Feser and Bessette’s book reviews and explains the Catholic Tradition regarding the death penalty, addressing whether it’s inherently evil and if it can be reserved as a just form of punishment in certain cases. The authors also show how some recent statements of Church leaders in opposition to the death penalty are prudential judgments rather than dogma. They also address whether Catholics may, in good conscience, disagree about the application of the death penalty.
Is there a just use of the death penalty? Can it be used to protect the lives of the innocent, inculcate a horror of murder and affirm the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures who must be held responsible for their actions? Feser and Bessette discuss the aforementioned topics — and more — in BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED.
“At long last, we have a serious and intelligent look at all aspects of the death penalty — its causes, its justification, its consequences for the victim of the crime, the criminal himself, his family, and for civil society,” James V. Schall, S.J., professor emeritus, Georgetown University, says of BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED. “… This book brilliantly sheds some much-needed realism in the fuzzy thinking in our society and often in the Church on this basic question of the consequences of our most heinous acts.”
For more information, to request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Edward Feser and/or Joseph M. Bessette: