As a priest I often meet good people who have a very clear understanding of the position of the Church on issues like abortion or the legal sanction of the union of same-sex couples and yet, when issues like the death penalty or immigration arise, they frown in disapproval, or at least in doubt. I would like to very briefly explain in this article and in the next as well, the doctrine of the Church on these issues:
– DEATH PENALTY
Regarding the issue of the death penalty, two different levels must be distinguished: the theoretical one and the practical application of the principles. At the theoretical level, the death penalty, seen as the only possible way to defend the innocent members of a society, must be accepted by a Catholic. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this issue is taken in the context of self-defense: just as a person has the right to defend themselves against an unjust aggressor, society also has the same right which sometimes can even be a duty. The Catechism in #2266 states that penalties must always be “proportionate”, for example, it is never lawful to impose disproportionate sentences for reasons of revenge or hatred; and continuing in #2267, “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. ‘If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should 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.’” [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
It is hard to believe that in the United States, which is first among the world powers economically, there are no means to protect citizens without depriving the wrongdoer of his life. In the words of John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, “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.” ‘[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
So when the Church defends human life “from conception to natural death”, the term “natural death” is referring to euthanasia which is always bad, and the death penalty when it is applied improperly. I would like to call to our attention the documents of the bishops of the United States who have unanimously called for the abolition of the death penalty. In Arizona, where the use of the death penalty exists legally, our own Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, along with the other bishops of the state, have reiterated many times in word and deed, their rejection, opposition and condemnation of the death penalty in Arizona. I invite everyone to read their joint statement which can be found on the internet.
Let us ask God, therefore, to free us from the “Catholics yes, but” and to grant us a country which promotes and defends the dignity and value of human life from conception to natural death.