Dr. Richard Dougherty of the University of Dallas politics department spoke for an hour on the topic, "Can a Catholic Support the Death Penalty?" on Nov. 17
in Gorman A.

Dougherty said that his interest in the question of capital punishment began when a college professor gave him a book defending capital punishment. Later, Dougherty's interest was piqued when he participated in a panel discussion in which he was the only participant arguing in favor of the death penalty. "There is something in the nature of the discussion of capital punishment which is a matter of great importance, if only for its role in teaching us about the value of human life and the proper understanding of human dignity," said Dougherty.

Dougherty first cited Catholic tradition as being supportive of the death penalty. "Virtually every Church Father was in agreement that capital punishment is a legitimate exercise of state power," said Dougherty. "The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Catechism of the Council of Trent and various papal encyclicals all agree with this view."

Dougherty then asked his audience to consider why capital punishment had become a topic of heated discussion in recent years, proposing that the publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1997 was a catalyst for the controversy. "The issue of capital punishment ought to be considered in light of the larger consideration, in the Catechism itself, of the proper goal of the state in responding to civil injustice," he argued.

Citing a work by Avery Cardinal Dulles, Dougherty said that the essential position of the Catholic Church on capital punishment has not changed, except for the addition of a "prudential judgment" by which political rulers choose to apply the death penalty in certain cases based on circumstances and the state of their society. "This view upholds the traditional ends of punishment-retribution - defense of society, deterrence and rehabilitation - rather than rejecting these ends or focusing on one of the ends to the exclusion of the others," said Dougherty.

Dougherty agreed with the idea that capital punishment would not be necessary in a state that could guarantee the sentences of criminals imprisoned for life, but he questioned whether the modern American justice system is capable of achieving this goal. "Today, the risk is not so much that justly judged criminals will escape from prison," argued Dougherty. "The risk is that we will let them out." Dougherty mentioned several cases in which violent offenders were able to strike again due to the complex dictates of modern U.S. law. In light of this, Dougherty concluded that capital punishment might actually contribute to the "culture of life" in America by protecting the innocent and justly punishing the guilty.

Although the event was originally to include a rebuttal by Dr. William Doyle of the University of Dallas economics department, Doyle was unable to attend due to illness. The University of Dallas College Republicans sponsored the event.