20: Death Penalty in Our Time


Capital punishment is one of the most complex and intensive questions to debate. We must always remember that human life is sacred and has a social value. We have the duty to protect it. The death penalty must be examined in the light of a consistent ethic. The growing awareness of human dignity must be acknowledged as a dominant factor in our culture. Consequently, a consistent ethical life must be based on the need to ensure the sacredness of human life, the ultimate source of human dignity. The Church cannot accept the viewpoints of some political leaders on capital punishment. These leaders point out that such punishment might satisfy certain vindictive desires of the victim, and can be justified as punishment for reasons of deterrence, retribution, reform or protection of society. On the contrary, the Church affirms that the death penalty can never be justified as such, and cannot be the humane and Christian approach to punishment. The best example, the Cardinal points out, comes from Jesus Himself, who offered forgiveness for His own unfair death. He calls us to view the judgment of these matters as shifting to a “higher court” that possesses wrath and tenderness, law and grace. In light of this, we must seriously question the appropriateness of capital punishment and the right of society to impose lifetime imprisonment.

A consistent ethical life requires that society struggle to eradicate poverty, racism, and other forces that nurture and encourage violence. Capital punishment is an example of meeting violence with violence, with the aim of revenge. It is a shame, the Cardinal feels, that a great percentage of the population favors capital punishment despite studies that have shown its negative impact on crime prevention. Violence cannot be answered with other violence. An effective means to protect and enhance human life must be found.