January 04, 2007

Capital Punishment and the Teachings of the Church

I was reading this article from Catholic World News and was wondering what the actual position of the Catholic Church was regarding capital punishment. It is my understanding that "Thou shalt not kill" refers to all situations other than self defense.

The article talks about the Church's position in regards to Saddam Hussein's execution. I keep thinking that lifetime prison would serve the purpose of keeping people safe from a murderer and in that case capital punishment is only revenge and isn't revenge against Christian principles? I'm saying this because I know that many devout Catholics and Christians in general are pro c.p. It just doesn't make sense to me.

That video of SH's execution which is everywhere on the web is just painful to watch. It kind of reminds me of the executions of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, Romania's former Communist president, and his wife. I can't help thinking that if they lived until God decided to end their life they would have had a chance to repent. Doesn't it say in the Bible that even the biggest sinner can hope for the happiness of Heaven if he repents and accepts God (or something to that respect). By ending the sinner's life early you basically take away that possibility from him.

Just my two cents.

Comments welcome.


Tirzah said...

Yesterday, I would have agreed with you. But last night when I got home from running some errands, Trevor was watching a show on the History Channel on Charles Manson. It didn't really bother me at first because at that point the show was focusing on the psychology of "conditioning" that goes on in cults. I also didn't know that Charles Manson had been born to a 16 year-old prostitute who continued her "work" after Charles was born and once tried to sell her baby for a pitcher of beer. After a while the show started focusing on the actual murders and got really groes, so I made Trevor turn it off. It stuck in my head anyway, and after Aaron left for work in the still-dark early morning I couldn't go back to sleep. I feel that in the case of Charles Manson(who is still alive and up for parole in 2007) his existence may inspire other followers. Charles Manson receives more mail in prison than any other inmate in history; some of it is hate mail, some of it is fan mail. He still maintains innocence of participation in the Tate-LaBianca murders(the most famous) in which he did not directly participate, but he ordered the killings and drove the girls to the houses of the victims. He had complete control of his "Family" and all he had to do to get someone killed was to give the order, which he could still do from prison. In the Old Testament, stoning the adultress and the idolaters was necessary for the good of society; they had no penitentiary to keep the offender locked away and unable to commit further harm. Because of the nature of the Manson Family and the zombie-like devotion of his followers, Charles Manson is still in a position to commit further harm against society. In general I agree with the late Pope John Paul II that a pro-life stance needs to be a "seamless garment" in order to be truly pro-life, but in cases where the person is still in a position to be responsible for further crimes I would not be opposed to capital punishment.

Anonymous said...

Tirzah is right regarding the Church's position, namely, that it is morally acceptable to execute a criminal if, by remaining alive, he still represents a threat to the common good. This would have been the case in times when there was no guarantee the criminal wasn't going to escape. John Paul II's issue was that he believed modern day prisons were effective enough at assuring that violent criminals would not escape (with exceptions, of course), and thus, there was no longer a situation in which it would be morally acceptable to execute someone.

I believe the "seamless garment" argument was more Cardinal Bernardin's than John Paul II's. The only problem with the argument is that many (not Tirzah, I'm fairly certain) have used it to put opposition to capital punishment (and euthanasia) on the same level with opposition to abortion, and maintain things such as that killing a violent criminal is just as wrong as aborting an innocent child. This the Church does not hold.

Regarding the video of the moments leading up to Saddam Hussein's execution, I agree that it was rather chilling.

Irina S. said...

Point well taken! I agree, the execution of a mass murderer can not be cosidered as wrong as the abortion of a helpless baby.