I have to say: the issue of the death penalty baffles me in the Catholic Church. How we pride ourselves on being a people of life! How we claim that all life is sacred and should be protected! And yet… how vehemently I see Catholics react to the pope when he suggests that there is never an acceptable situation for the death penalty.
While the vast majority of Catholics recognize the evils of abortion, only about half are against the death penalty. While the “right to life” is a slogan found at almost every church, many of its people demand “justice” for victims in the form of executions. Reading the comments of this week’s video, hearing people talk about our pope, I’m honestly at a loss. How does this fit?
We can look to the Old Testament and find proof texts for the death penalty. All throughout the Law we can find that the penalty for certain sins is death. And people will stick to them. But why? Why them? Why, in the light of the Gospel and the recognition that we have been ratified to a new covenant, would we choose to hold onto that law when we are very comfortable letting go of others (animal sacrifices, eating pork, wearing clothing made of two fibers, etc.) Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love our enemies, that we are to forgive and have mercy because our God forgives and has mercy on us.
And yet, “justice” needs to be rendered in many people’s hearts. Horrible crimes deserve execution, in their minds.
I’m sorry, but I have to side with Pope John Paul II on this one. I have to stand with Pope Francis here. Really, I stand with the entire history of our Catholic tradition that says that the capital punishment is an evil to be tolerated at best, a thing that can never be a good. Now that situations exist when it is not necessary for the safety of society, now that we have a more defined understanding of the dignity of the human person and the damage that such penalties inflict on all of society, there is simply no need for it.
I hope that you will join me in standing agains the death penalty in all situations. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church, and really, the teaching of Jesus Christ.