“The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.” –Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995
Life Matters: The Death Penalty
We live in a culture of death: a culture torn by abortion and euthanasia, by wanton violence, war, murder, and hatred. Life is treated as if it were cheap, and many are the threats to the dignity of human life. Yet we believe that all human life is from God, and he alone is the master of life and of death. Blessed John Paul II made the defense of the dignity of all human life the centerpiece of his pontificate. The death penalty presents itself as a complex moral issue because of the apparently conflicting demands of justice on one hand and charity on the other. Some crimes are so serious and so heinous that they seem to cry out for the ultimate punishment of death. And yet the Gospel message is forever one of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of committed charity toward all without exceptions.
Christian teaching since the time of Christ has never considered the death penalty in itself intrinsically evil. The Fifth Commandment which instructs us “thou shall not kill,” has always been understood to refer to innocent human life, and not to those guilty of the most terrible crimes. Christians have always believed in the right of self-defense because every person has an obligation to guard his own life as a gift from God. And society clearly has a right to defend itself from aggressors, both external (by means of war as a last resort) and internal (such as murderers, serial killers, terrorists, and those guilty of treason). The question for a Christian is not so much whether there has been validity for the death penalty, but whether it should or should not be imposed today.
And today it is clear that the death penalty no longer serves a useful purpose in protecting the sanctity of human life. Perhaps once it was the only way society could protect itself from those who would destroy the life of others, but today in most modern nations, judicial and penal systems have improved so much that they effectively remove further danger to innocent people by incarcerating the perpetrators of criminal violence. Imprisonment is effective in removing the offender from society. Importantly, it allows time for repentance and rehabilitation. And the one sure result of executing prisoners is to make us as a people more vengeful—seeking retribution and satisfying our outrage at the violent crime by more violence.
“If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2267)
As Christians we are asked to visit the imprisoned, minister to their needs, and encourage them to repent and change. We should never lose our conviction that even the worst offenders are our brothers and sisters in Christ, who offers forgiveness and eternal life to all. That process of reform takes time, often quite a long time. The death penalty takes that opportunity for conversion away.
One noteworthy example of a delayed conversion began with a rapist’s brutal attack on an eleven-year-old girl. When she resisted him, the twenty-year-old assailant stabbed her fourteen times and left her to die. Had he not been a minor himself, he would have received the death penalty for his heinous crime. Instead, his sentence was 30 years’ imprisonment. During his first three years behind bars, the murderer remained unrepentant and even hostile to a visiting priest. But after a visit from the local bishop and a dream in which his victim forgave him, he repented and resolved to lead an exemplary life. After serving his full sentence, he sought the forgiveness of his victim’s family and the parish community before becoming a lay brother of the Order of Capuchin Franciscans.
By now you may have guessed that his victim was St. Maria Goretti, and his name was Alessandro Serenelli. He later had the unique honor of attending the canonization of the child saint whom he had martyred. Had Alessandro been executed, the story would have had a tragically different ending. Today, thanks to the ministry in prisons by Catholics and other Christians, countless inmates serving life sentences have allowed God to transform their lives. They lead Bible study groups, pray with fellow inmates, and counsel them to lead lives of virtue, placing all their trust in the Lord’s merciful love. The death penalty may make us think that we have eliminated a problem—but a person, even a criminal, is never a problem to be destroyed. It lulls us into thinking we have addressed the problem, but we have not really dealt with the deeper issues of what has gone wrong in society when violent crime is so widespread. Death is an all too simple “solution” for a much more complex set of problems we need to face as a society. There are as many degrees of guilt and culpability as there are crimes, yet the death penalty imposes one definitive, final, indiscriminate punishment on all, halting the action of the Holy Spirit on the condemned person’s soul for eternity.
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 nonexistent. (Blessed John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 56).
We know all too well the inadequacies of our society. In a real sense our society’s dysfunctions breed our criminals through poverty, fatherlessness, discrimination, injustice, lack of opportunity, and hopelessness. How much of the gang violence linked to the drug trade is occasioned by the addiction of the whole society to illegal drugs we use to escape reality? And many of our social pathologies make us more prone to crime and violence. We don’t fix those problems by executing people. The death penalty just aggravates the injustices we have not yet been able to overcome.
Despite the virtues of our justice system, we have to honestly admit it also has serious limitations. With scandalous frequency, people on death row have later been shown to be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. DNA testing and other conclusive forms of evidence have resulted in the exoneration of well over 100 death row inmates. Nor can we overlook the fact that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities are put to death, despite their lesser degrees of culpability. But the death penalty once applied is irrevocable, and human life cannot be given back once eliminated. As time goes on our society seems increasingly reluctant to impose the death penalty, as it is imposed far less frequently now. There seems to be a growing consciousness that there is something wrong about using violence to discourage violence, that it serves no good purpose. We would be better as a people if we were to end it altogether. Many families of victims, too, are hopeful of seeing an end to the death penalty, feeling that no punishment can bring back their loved one and that it is better to forgive and hope for a change on the part of the criminal.
People instinctively know it is better to let the offender remain in prison and, hopefully over time, repent of his crime and change his life. To that end, the goal of Christian prison ministry was beautifully expressed by Pope Benedict XVI:
“Chaplains and their collaborators are called to be heralds of God’s infinite compassion and forgiveness. … They are entrusted with the weighty task of helping the incarcerated rediscover a sense of purpose so that, with God’s grace, they can reform their lives, be reconciled with their families and friends, and, insofar as possible, assume the responsibilities and duties which will enable them to conduct upright and honest lives” (Address to the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, Sept. 6, 2007).
This is the way of Christian mercy and reconciliation, and a challenge to all who call themselves Christian.
Life Matters: A Catholic Response To The Death Penalty
We are confident that we serve a God of life, of hope and mercy. We know that all human life is a gift from God, a gift that God charges us to protect. To be worthy of being called his disciples, Jesus urges us to love others as he has loved us (Jn 13:34-35). Our response then to a culture in which hostility towards others is commonplace, in which killing is often considered a legitimate solution to social problems, is to both live and proclaim a gospel of life, hope and mercy.
For people committed to upholding the sanctity of human life, the death penalty can present a challenge. Properly understood, however, Catholic teaching against the death penalty is both persuasive and eminently pro-life. It begins with the affirmation that human dignity applies to every human being, to victims as well as those who have committed crimes against life. Our teaching also holds that recourse to the death penalty may be justified only under the most narrow circumstance, namely, if it “is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 2267). The teaching reminds us that if non-lethal means are capable of protecting society, these are preferable as “more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person” (CCC, no. 2267).
Blessed John Paul II was instrumental in challenging the world to reconsider the use of the death penalty. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, “EV”), he explained that, “The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel” (no. 2). Quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (no. 22), “By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man,” he added that, “This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God… but also the incomparable value of every human person” (EV, no. 2).In the first chapter of EV, “The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood Cries to Me from the Ground” (Gen 4:10), Blessed John Paul II presents the story of Cain and Abel to illustrate that God’s mercy embraces even a murderer. Despite Cain’s deliberate killing of his brother, despite his lack of remorse, his arrogance, his lies to God and utter callousness about what he had done (“I do not know [where Abel is]. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen 4:9), God nevertheless refuses to take Cain’s life as punishment. But he does not leave the crime unpunished. He tells Cain that he will not be able to grow crops and that he will be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Cain complains that such leniency is still too harsh, fearing that someone might kill him on sight.
God then reveals still greater mercy towards Cain, putting a mark on him “so that no one would kill him at sight” (Gen 4:15) and promising that “If anyone kills [you], [you] shall be avenged seven times” (Gen 4:15). Although Cain is spared execution, justice requires that he live the rest of his earthly life alone and outcast, but with time to reflect on his crime, to perhaps feel remorse and at last seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
The story of Cain and Abel shows that, though we reject and betray God through our sinfulness, his love for human beings is always faithful, merciful, compassionate and patient. Writing about this passage, Blessed John Paul II observed, “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this” (EV, 9). We must never lose our conviction that even the worst offenders are our brothers and sisters in Christ.From a purely secular perspective, it is a fact that simply because states have always exercised the power to kill persons convicted of murder or treason, it does not follow that this power always has been exercised wisely or well. Given mankind’s seemingly infinite capacity to err, we must admit that the death penalty poses significant problems. With scandalous frequency, people on death row have later been shown to be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. As of 2012, 141 people incarcerated on death row in 26 states have been exonerated and freed when conclusive evidence of their innocence was later discovered. But we cannot always rely on DNA evidence to demonstrate guilt or innocence because DNA evidence exists in only 10 percent of cases.
Even if the death penalty were always imposed without error, should we support its use? We teach that killing is wrong by responding with mercy and justice, not more killing. We don’t want a government that kills when society can be protected fully by the bloodless means of life imprisonment. By fostering a spirit of vengeance, which should have no role in the administration of justice, the death penalty contributes to the increasing disrespect for human life in our culture.Today a growing movement in the United States, led by Catholics, opposes the use of the death penalty. As a result, more states are restricting or abolishing its use, but many other states retain this penalty.
As Catholics, we believe and put our hope in a merciful and loving God. We are conscious of our own brokenness and need for redemption. Our Lord calls us to imitate him more perfectly by witnessing to the inherent dignity of every human being, including those whose actions have been despicable. Our faith and hope is in the mercy of God who says to us, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy (Mt 5:7) and “I desire mercy, not sacrifices” (Mt 9:13). As Christians we are called to oppose the culture of death by witnessing to something greater and more perfect: a gospel of life, hope and mercy.
Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, recently summed up the case against the death penalty in these words: “As children of God, we’re better than this, and we need to start acting like it. We need to end the death penalty now.” Let us then join in efforts to end the death penalty and show that we are people of life, hope and mercy.
Anthony Granado is a Policy Advisor in the Office of Domestic Social Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
La Vida Importa: Respuesta Católica A La Pena De Muerte
Programa Respetemos La Vida 2013 | Documento imprimible
El aborto, la eutanasia, el Abuso doméstico, La Violencia de pandillas, el Terrorismo, el asesinato, tiroteos Masivos, Expresiones de aversión o racismo y Otros Actos Contrarios a la dignidad de las Personas … todos ESTOS delitos claman por justicia. Sin embargo Somos Un Pueblo de Esperanza y San Pablo nos Recuerda Que “En la esperanza somos salvados” ( Rm 8,24).
Confiamos En que Servimos al Dios de la Vida, La Esperanza y la misericordia.Sabemos Que Toda vida es un regalo de Humana de Dios Que El ha puesto m bajo Nuestra protection. Para Ser Dignos de llamarnos SUS Discípulos, Jesús nos insta a amar a los demás como El nos ha amado ( Jn 13,34-35). Nuestra Respuesta then una Una cultura en la Que la hostilidad Hacia Otros ES Común, en La que los asesinatos se consideran una de menudo Una solución f legítima a Los Problemas sociales, es vivir y proclamar la ONU Evangelio de Vida, Esperanza y Misericordia.
Para Las Personas Comprometidas con la defensa santidad de la Vida Humana, la pena de capital PUEDE representar Reto de la ONU. Bien entendida, sin embargo, la doctrina católica en Contra de la Pena de capital es a la vez convincente y eminentemente pro vida. Se Inicia con la Afirmación de la Dignidad Humana Que se APLICA a todos los Seres Humanos, a las Víctimas, Asi Como una Aquellos Que Hayan m cometido m Delitos Contra la Vida. Nuestra doctrina también Sostiene Que El recurso de la pena en solitario de capital PUEDE justificarse en Circunstancias muy Concretas, es factible de, “Si està Fuera El Único Camino Posible párrafo defensor eficazmente del agresor injusto, Las vidas Humanas” ( Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica[ CIC ] , 2267).
El Beato Juan Pablo II FUE muy influyente en retar al Mundo un reconsiderar el USO de la pena de muerte. En su encíclica de 1995 Evangelium Vitae ( El Evangelio de la Vida , [ EV ]), nos explico Que: “El Evangelio del amor de Dios al hombre, el Evangelio de la dignidad de la persona y el Evangelio de la Vida un son Único e indivisible Evangelio”(2). Citando Gaudium et spes (22) del Concilio Vaticano II: “El Hijo de Dios, con su encarnación, se ha unido, en Cierto Modo, Con Todo hombre” y agrego Que, “En Este acontecimiento salvífico SE REVELA a la Humanidad No Solo el amor infinito de Dios … Sino también el valor incomparable de Cada Persona humana”( EV , 2).
En El Primer Capítulo de EV : “La sangre de tu hermano clama a Mí desde el suelo” (Gén 4,10), el Beato Juan Pablo II Presenta La historia de Caín y Abel para illustrate Que la misericordia de Dios Abraza INCLUSO al asesino . A Pesar De Que Caín mató un deliberadamente hermano Do, A Pesar De Do Falta de remordimiento, su arrogancia, mentiras SUS a Dios y su absoluta insensibilidad about Lo Que habia Hecho ( “No lo sé [DÓNDE está Caín]. ¿Acaso soja El guardián de mi hermano?”[ Gén4,9]), Dios, el pecado embargo se niega un Tomar la vida de Caín Como castigo. Pero no deja El crimen impune. Le dados un Caín Que No Va A Ser Capaz de cultivar Y Que va un vagabundo errante Ser ONU por la tierra. Caín se queja de que tal clemencia duramadre Sigue Siendo Demasiado,
Dios REVELA AÚN alcalde Misericordia Hacia Caín, Poniendo En El Una marca “Para Que no lo matara El que lo encontrara” ( Gén 4,15) y prometiendo “me vengaré Siete Veces de quien aparearse una Caín” ( Gén 4,15). AUNQUE Caín se salva de Ser ejecutado, la justicia Requiere que viva el resto de Sus Días solo y marginado, Pero con Tiempo para reflexionar Sobre su crimen, tal vez Sienta remordimiento y al fin busque el perdón y la Reconciliación con Dios.
La historia de Caín y Abel Muestra Que, A Pesar De Que rechazamos y traicionamos a Dios nuestro de la estafa pecado, Su Amor Por Los Seres Humanos es siempre fiel, misericordioso, compasivo y Paciente. Escribiendo Sobre Este Pasaje El Beato Juan Pablo II observó: “Ni Siquiera el homicida pierde su dignidad personal y Dios Mismo se Hace su garante” ( EV , 9). Perder de Nunca debiéramos Ntra Convicción De Que AUN los peores criminales hijo Nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Cristo.
Desde Un Punto de Vista Puramente secular, Es Un Hecho Que simplemente Porque los Estados siempre hayan ejercido El Poder de matar a las Personas Condenadas por asesinato o traición a la patria, Esto No Implica Que Este Poder siempre se Haya ejercido con prudencia o párrafo busque . Teniendo en Cuenta la Capacidad Aparentemente infinita de la humanidad de errar, TENEMOS Que admitir Que la pena de muerte plantadas: problemas significativos. Con escandalosa frequency, se ha demostrado Que las Personas En El Corredor de la Muerte En Realidad hijo Inocentes de los Crímenes Por los Cuales were convictos. Desde 2012, UNAS 141 Personas encarceladas en espera de ejecucion en 26 Estados de han Sido exoneradas y liberadas Cuando Se descubrio la Evidencia concluyente de su inocencia Más tarde.
AUNQUE la pena de muerte siempre se impusiera error pecado, ¿puedo dar hoy toda la USO Do? Enseñamos Que Matar Es Un acto malo, respondiendo con misericordia y justicia, Que No Haya muertes más. No hay Queremos ONU Gobierno Que mata CUANDO la sociedad Se Puede Proteger Completamente Por los Medios incruentos de cadena perpetua. Al Fomentar la venganza, Que No debe tener ningún papel en la Administración de justicia, la pena de muerte contribuye a la Creciente Falta de respeto por la vida humana en Nuestra Cultura.
Hoy en día la ONU Creciente movimiento en Estados Unidos, Dirigido por católicos, se Opone al USO de la pena de muerte. A consecuencia, Estados ESTÁN Más limitando o suprimiendo su USO, Pero Muchos OTROS ESTADOS mantienen Este castigo.
Como católicos, CREEMOS Y ponemos Nuestra Esperanza en Un Dios amoroso y misericordioso. Somos conscientes de Nuestras Propias y Debilidades de la s necesidad de redención. Nuestro Señor nos llama a imitarlo Más Perfectamente Dando testimonio de la dignidad tanto inherentes de Cada Ser Humano, incluyendo Despreciables Sido un Aquellos Cuyas: acciones de han. Nuestra fe y esperanza ESTÁN en la misericordia de Dios Que Nos dados: “Bienaventurados los misericordiosos, Porque ELLOS alcanzarán misericordia” ( Mt 5,7) y “Me gusta la misericordia Más Que las ofrendas” ( Mt 9,13). Como cristianos se nos pide de oponernos a la cultura de la muerte Dando testimonio de Algo Más Grande y Más perfecto: el Evangelio de la Vida, La Esperanza y la misericordia.
Charles J. Chaput, Arzobispo de Filadelfia, recientemente resumió el Caso Contra la Pena de Muerte en Estas Palabras: “Como hijos de Dios, somos Mejores Que ESTO, Y NECESITAMOS Empezar a comportarnos Como cuentos NECESITAMOS Acabar con la pena de muerte ahora” . Unámonos en los Esfuerzos Para Que cese la pena de muerte y demostrar Que somos personajes de Vida, esperanza y piedad.
Anthony Granado es asesor de política en la Oficina de Desarrollo Social Doméstico de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos.
Prayer to End the Use of the Death Penalty
Merciful Father, we ask your blessing on all we do to build a culture
of life. Hear our prayers for those impacted by the death penalty.
We pray for all people, that their lives and dignity as children
of a loving God may be respected and protected in all stages
We pray for victims of violence and their families, that they
may experience our love and support and find comfort in your
compassion and in the promise of eternal life.
We pray for those on death row, that their lives may be spared,
that the innocent may be freed and that the guilty may come to
acknowledge their faults and seek reconciliation with you.
We pray for the families of those who are facing execution, that they
may be comforted by your love and compassion.
We pray for civic leaders, that they may commit themselves to
respecting every human life and ending the use of the death penalty
in our land.
Compassionate Father, give us wisdom and hearts filled with your
love. Guide us as we work to end the use of the death penalty and to
build a society that truly chooses life in all situations.
We ask this Father through your Son Jesus Christ who lives and
reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.
This prayer was originally published on www.USCCB.org.
Copyright © 2017, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.
Oración A Poner Fin Al Uso De La Pena De Muerte
Padre misericordioso, te pedimos tu bendición en todo lo que hacemos para construir una cultura de la vida.
Escucha nuestras oraciones por los afectados por la pena de muerte.
Oramos por todas las personas, que sus vidas y la dignidad como hijos de un
Dios de amor pueden ser respetados y protegidos en todas las etapas y circunstancias.
Oramos por las víctimas de la violencia y sus familias, para que puedan experimentar
el amor y el apoyo y encontrar comodidad en su compasión y en la promesa de la vida eterna.
Oramos por aquellos en el corredor de la muerte, que sus vidas pueden estar a salvo,
que los inocentes sean liberados y que el culpable puede llegar a reconocer sus faltas y buscar la reconciliación con usted.
Oramos por las familias de las personas que se enfrentan a la ejecución, para que sean consolados por su amor y compasión.
Oramos por los líderes cívicos, para que se comprometan a respetar toda vida
humana y poner fin al uso de la pena de muerte en nuestro país.
Padre compasivo, danos la sabiduría y el corazón lleno de su amor.
Guíanos mientras trabajamos para poner fin al uso de la pena de muerte y para construir una sociedad que realmente elige la vida en todas las situaciones.
Te lo pedimos Padre por medio de su Hijo Jesucristo, que vive y reina con el Espíritu Santo y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos.