Death penalty

Is the death penalty just? – Response to a question

The question has been repeatedly asked, “Is the death penalty just?” Here is the response from the mind of the Church.

YOU SHALL NOT KILL

Pope Blessed Paul VI

“Go out into the world and make every effort possible in every way to restore the dignity of man, and all that it implies! I stand foursquare with modern theologians who hold that prudentially and historically capital punishment does not fit into the greater contemporary theological awareness of the worth of each individual on earth” (Speech to the Bishops at closing of Vatican Council II, Vatican City, 1965).

Note: Paul VI removed capital punishment from the fundamental law of Vatican City in 1969.


Pope Saint John Paul II

“On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”.46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 

“It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: ‘If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person’” (Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae ¶56, 1995).  (more…)

The hypocrisy of some in the pro-life movement in the United States

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Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, You have driven me this day away from the ground; and from Your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.”

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”

And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Gn 4:2-16).

Some claim to be ‘pro-life.’ In fact, they will stop at nothing to hold back a mother-to-be from aborting her baby-in-the-womb, for abortion is manslaughter-by-another-name at the very least. And rightly so.

It should be noted, however, that the many of those who call themselves pro-life these days and actively belong to that movement in the US are not genuinely pro-life. They are simply pro-birth and pro-rationalization of whatever will quieten their conscience in the moment, to retain their personal and public delusions of being ‘a true Christian’ or ‘a faithful Catholic,’ despite the intractable beliefs with different intent which remain deeply in their hearts.

You shall not kill (Ex 20:13).

Specifically, these individuals defend capital punishment – the death penalty; another name for homicide – tooth and nail, despite the fact that only God and no one else has the right to take the life of another human person, no matter the actions, honorable or dishonorable, of the latter. In a celebratory manner reminiscent of that of a herd of fools rather than that of a herd of sheep, these individuals and this movement disregard the teachings of the Church and the repeated calls of Saint John Paul II, among others, to end this “cruel and unusual” punishment. It is a punishment that only declared barbarians, irrevocable sadists, radical extremists, and those possessed by Satan would ever endorse in this day and age.

Here are some excerpts of Saint John Paul II’s calls in relation to the death penalty:

Human life belongs only to God: for this reason, whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God Himself . . . Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God Himself pledges to guarantee this . . . God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide (Evangelium Vitae, 1995).

A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary (Homily at the Papal Mass in the Trans World Dome, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999).

May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world (Prayer at the Papal Mass at Regina Coeli Prison in Rome, July 9, 2000).