Today, through advances in law enforcement and criminal justice, our society has many ways to punish violent offenders and to prevent them from committing further violence.
As St. John Paul II said in his great letter, The Gospel of Life, society should only choose “the extreme of executing the offender” in “cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.”
But he added, in words that are quoted in the Catechism, in our times there is almost never any real justification to execute anyone. Cases where the death penalty might be justified are “very rare, if not practically non-existent,” St. John Paul said.
We do not need to kill criminals to defend our society.
More than that, the continued acceptance of the death penalty contributes to a culture in which people too often think their problems can be “solved” by violence and killing.
The death penalty is not at all like abortion or euthanasia. Abortion is the killing of innocent life in the womb and euthanasia is the killing of the sick and defenseless.
We recognize that those on death row are not innocent. They have been convicted of grave evil. Not only have they taken the lives of their victims, they have caused deep and lasting trauma to their victims’ families, loved ones and neighbors.
So we can never compare the state’s use of capital punishment with the fundamental evils of abortion and euthanasia.
But we do say that even the lives of the worst and most dangerous criminals are sacred and we hold out the hope that even these lives can be changed and rehabilitated — through the mercy of God.
As a nation and as a society, our justice must be tempered with mercy or we risk losing something of our own humanity.
And as Christians we are called to proclaim the Gospel of life and to work so that our criminal justice system always respects the dignity of every human person.
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So let’s keep praying for one another this week. Let’s pray for the grace to be more open to the light of Christ and the social teachings of his Church.
And may our Blessed Mother Mary help us to follow her Son more closely and to hear his call that we be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.
Posted with permission from Angelus, official online publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.