From Mr Michael Petek
SIR Sister Gillian Price and Fr Adrian Graffy (Letters, January 19) are right to say that Church teaching can and does develop, but mistaken if they think it can be treated as a wax nose.
Authentic development never denies any rule or principle of divine natural law, for they are unchangeable, but proceeds by inference from principles and rules known to be true and by way of their application to new situations.
The issue is the truth value of judgment A, "capital punishment is a just retribution for murder", versus judgment B, "capital punishment is murder". Both cannot be true at the same time. Whichever is true. the other must be false. And if B represents the fullness of truth into which the Holy Spirit leads the Church, then Christ's promise to the repentant criminal who was crucified with Him is inconsistent with His own divinity.
The content of the natural law concerning murder happens to be among its common principles, so that no one of mature intelligence can be invincibly' ignorant of it. The popes who affirmed and taught judgment A remained good men only because it is true always and everywhere. If it were false, then they were inexcusably wicked for teaching it.
The teaching of Pope John Paul II in paragraph 2267 of the Catechism concerning the death penalty is stated in terms only of the protection of the public. It is an incomplete doctrine which has to be read together with the traditional teaching, implicitly preserved in paragraph 2266, which he had no mandate to set aside. The primary purpose of punishment is retribution, without which it is not justified to punish at all.
Retribution sets the maximum limit of punishment, and the exigencies of public safety set the minimum. Punishment in a particular case should normally be set between those limits according to what is best for the correction of the offender.
The effect of the Church's traditional and unchangeable teaching is that the legislator who makes the death penalty available to the courts as a discretionary punishment for murder never acts unjustly. The effect of Pope John Paul Ts teaching is that a judge must not impose the death penalty unless, in a particular case, he is convinced in his conscience that the demands of full retribution are so compelling that the correctional and rehabilitative indications must be sacrificed to them.
Yours faithfully, MICHAEL PETEK Brighton, E Sussex