Catholic Church revises stance on death penalty

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

The recent editorial, “Death penalty: Abolished in 2020?” offered support for the death penalty, but said it should be kept in reserve as an option because “in rare instances, some crimes are so extraordinarily heinous that states should be able to execute those capable of such gross evil.” While I oppose the use of the death penalty under any circumstance, I believe the editorial — with its significantly qualified support of the death penalty — marks another step forward in the evolving public opinion on this subject.

For the next step, we should follow the lead of the Catholic Church in its teachings about the death penalty. The Catholic Church, until very recently, also maintained that the death penalty might be justified in the most extreme cases, while confusingly saying that, in reality, “cases of absolute necessity for suppression [execution] of the offender today are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Last year, Pope Francis approved a revision of Provision No. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pertaining to the death penalty. The revised wording notes that “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” From the practical standpoint, there also is the recognition that “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

The clear bottom line to the restatement of the church’s position is that the Catholic Church, “in the light of the Gospel,” stands against the death penalty, as it “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

I hope that the Catholic Church’s evolution on this issue might inform our own considerations, as we decide whether to ever execute another human being.

Mike Sarahan.


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