What about Capital Punishment?

Life is a gift of God for all of us to enjoy.  Without God’s love for us, we would be unable to love. As Pope John XXIII 1 said:

And You, O God, with a wonderful gesture of love, You who are from the beginning and before all time, You drew me forth from my nothingness, You gave me being, life, a soul, in fact all the faculties of my body and spirit; You opened my eyes to this light that sheds its radiance around me, You created me.  So You are my Master and I am your creature, I am nothing without You, and through You I am all that I am, I can do nothing without You; if at every moment You did not support me I should slip back whence I came, into nothingness.  This is what I am.  And yet I am boastful and display with pride before the eyes of God all the blessings he has showered on me, as if they were my own.  Oh what a fool I am!  “For what have you that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not as gift? 1 Corinthians 4:7?/span>2

God continues to guide and sustain human history, and we with our free will have the choice between good and evil.

On February 4, 2000, Pope John Paul II in a message to religious and civil leaders attending the 50th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. encouraged them to ?i>build a civilization of love?/i> and to defend and “cherish every human life.?/i>  He stated, “We are convinced that humanity is at a crossroads, …is a time to reaffirm our belief that the God who created the universe and fashioned human beings in His own image and likeness continues to guide and sustain human history.?/i>3

If we live the faith, we profess in Jesus Christ as our savior and Lord, we will live accordingly.  Life is precious because by faith we know, it leads us into eternal life. The faith we have, leads us to achieve better things, because inspired by it, we can build a better and more humane world.

History teaches that hatred will wilt and destroy a society.  Love of neighbor will make it bloom and prosper. When we are able to respect the individual, and as a society we follow the laws of God, we prosper and enjoy peace.  The disregard of human life brings ruin to society.  Moral ruin will be followed by decadence and destruction. 

The Catholic Church stands as a great defender of human life in all areas. What are the teachings of the Catholic Church about capital punishment?

According to the Catholic World News, Pope John Paul II on December 12, 1999 said that the Jubilee was an opportunity to "promote, throughout the world, ever stronger attitudes of respect for life and the dignity of every person." In that context, he said, "I renew my appeal to all leaders to build an international consensus for the abolition of the death penalty." The Pontiff also repeated his argument that legal execution is no longer necessary because society can protect itself from criminals by other means. Thus "the cases in which the death of the guilty party is absolutely necessary are rare, if not practically nonexistent."4

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 5 has this to say about capital punishment and the precious gift of life:

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.

Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.?sub>7

 

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops states:

“Society has a right and duty to defend itself against violent crime and a duty to reach out to victims of crime. Yet our nation's increasing reliance on the death penalty is extremely troubling. Respect for human life must even include respect for the lives of those who have taken the lives of others. It has become clear, as Pope John Paul II has taught, that inflicting the penalty of death is cruel and unnecessary. The antidote to violence is not more violence. As a part of our pro-life commitment, we encourage solutions to violent crime that reflect the dignity of the human person, urging our nation to abandon the use of capital punishment. Respect for human life and dignity is the necessary first step in building a civilization of life and love.?/span>6

 

Pope John Paul II defines the challenge our culture is facing very clearly in Evangelium Vitae 7   “…when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence.?/i>

The encyclical written by Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 7 is very effective in illustrating why we should stand for life in everyway and form.  As we defend the life of the baby in the mother’s womb, and the old person in his death bed, as we stand to stop the hand of someone committing or helping in a suicide, we as Catholic stand up and say: There has to be another way of punishing the transgressor.  As Father Frank Pavone 8 says: ?/i>Human problems demand humane solutions, and killing is not one of them. As John Paul II declared in Evangelium Vitae, ‘Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity.?/span>?o:p>

 

God seems to talk to us today in our moral decisions as He spoke to Moses:

"If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live ... therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days" (Deut 30:16,19-20).

 

I live my faith by every action I take.  My life is a vivid reflection of my faith in God.  Is it in God plan for us to take away the life of others?  In my mind as a creature of God, I have been debating that moral decision, and I have come to agreement with the Catholic Church’s teaching on capital punishment. (Cf. CCC#2265-2267)  This was the line of reasoning I followed:  I would not vote for the death penalty of another individual or push the button for the execution of another person?nbsp; How can I expect others to do it, or how can I carry the guilt that I share- for someone’s death- with society?  The person who dies in the death penalty is someone’s loved one.  As faithful servants of the Lord, let’s recognize that we are to defend life for everyone. 

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. 9

 

Death penalty is a last option for a society.

 

The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights.10

 

In facing life we must remember that God is in control and we are not.  Let us stand and be counted.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

1 Jn 4:7-13

(NIV)

 

 

What about capital punishment?

 

“As a part of our pro-life commitment, we encourage solutions to violent crime that reflect the dignity of the human person, urging our nation to abandon the use of capital punishment. Respect for human life and dignity is the necessary first step in building a civilization of life and love.?sub>6

Lord, please, may I do Your will, and your will only.

As Christians let us celebrate life. /

 

 

Footnotes:

1        Catholic World News reported on February 9 that on September 3, 2000, John XXIII will be beatified in the Vatican.

2        Pope John XXIII, Journal of a Soul. Dorothy White, translator. First Edition. New York: SIGNET BOOK, 1966. pp 127

3        As reported by Catholic World News on February 9, 2000.

4        Catholic World News in the Internet reported on December 13, 1999.

5        Catechism of the Catholic Church.  #2265-2267

6        Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium, Copyright ?1999, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Washington, D.C. Used with permission.

7        Evangelium Vitae. Encyclical by Pope John Paul II, March 25, 1995.

8        Pavone, Father Frank, National Director of Priests for Life  . ?/span>Capital Punishment and Abortion?1999

9        Catechism of the Catholic Church. #2267

10    Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, A Statement by the Catholic Bishops of the United States, November 18, 1998 Copyright ?by United States Catholic Conference

Acknowledgments:

Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America Copyright ?1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  Used with Permission.

 

Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modifications from the “Editio Typica?/i> Copyright ?1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  Used with Permission.

 

 

By Marta Alves

Second Edition

091800

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