Justice Scalia on the Death Penalty

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is generating controversy on another issue before the court on the death penalty. Last week, Scalia criticized the Roman Catholic Church’s stand against capital punishment. Kim Lawton has the story.

KIM LAWTON: Justice Antonin Scalia is regarded as a devout Roman Catholic, but he is publicly taking issue with the pope, the U.S. bishops, and Catholic teaching.

At a forum on religion and the death penalty, Scalia said he does not agree with the Church’s position on capital punishment. Scalia did not allow videotaping of his remarks, but he did permit an audio recording.


Justice ANTONIN SCALIA: That is not to say that I favor the death penalty. I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point. It is only to say that I do not find the death penalty immoral.

LAWTON: For centuries, Catholic teaching accepted capital punishment. But Church officials say the teaching has developed over time. When he came to St. Louis in 1999, Pope John Paul II urged an end to the death penalty. So have the U.S. bishops.

Cardinal ROGER MAHONY (Archdiocese of Los Angeles): The Church is not looking for a fail-safe system of the death penalty. I don’t care how good the attorneys are or how good the DNA evidence is, we are against the death penalty period.

LAWTON: The Catholic Catechism, the compilation of Church teaching, says in today’s world, circumstances where the death penalty may be warranted are, quote, “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Justice SCALIA: As for the very latest edition of the new Catholic Catechism, I assume that is just the phenomenon of the clerical bureaucracy saying, “Yes, boss.” In any case, I have given this new position, if it is indeed that, thoughtful and respectful consideration, and have rejected it.

LAWTON: Scalia also rejected the pope’s argument that opposition to the death penalty is part of a consistent respect for life that includes opposition to abortion and euthanasia. U.S. Church officials declined to respond to Scalia’s remarks.

I’m Kim Lawton reporting.