“Criminals do not die by the hands of the law. They die by the hands of other men.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
Crime is without a doubt, a serious matter. It is considered to be just when a person is punished for their crimes (that is if the criminal is rightly accused). Punishment can range from simple fines and confiscation, all the way to imprisonment and even death. The latter form of punishment is called capital punishment. Capital punishment is defined as the legally authorised killing of someone as a punishment for crime. Capital punishment is a highly controversial topic amongst numerous groups in society, including the Catholic Church. The question as to whether it is morally acceptable has been debated for centuries.
In the secular society, there are several arguments in favour of capital punishment and several arguments against. People argue that capital punishment is morally acceptable because it is believed that real justice requires people to suffer for their wrongdoing, and to suffer in a way appropriate for the crime, and in the case of an atrocious crime such as murder, the criminal should be put to death. Other arguments for the practice of capital punishment include the deterrence of other criminals, the prevention of reoffending and the closure for victim’s families and friends.
Conversely, people argue against that the capital punishment is morally unacceptable under the belief that all life is valuable. So valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of the value of their lives. Everyone has the right to live, therefore capital punishment can be considered to be the act of taking away that right. Those who believe in the abolishment of capital punishment also argue that the theorised deterrence of criminals is statistically flawed, and that “retribution” is only another excuse for revenge.
“We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.”
– U.S. Catholic Conference
The Catholic Church has a unique stance towards the issue. The Catholic Church has a mixed perspective about the practice of capital punishment because of the doctrine and theology found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bible & Catholic Social Teaching. However, in the contemporary Catholic Church it is generally accepted that the death penalty should be abolished.
“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. . . . I renew the appeal I made . . . for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”
—Pope John Paul II Papal Mass, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the exposition of Catholic doctrine and teaching, it is said that the death penalty is acceptable in the circumstance where there is no other form of punishment that is suitable for an extremely heinous crime. The Catechism states that:
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
– Catechism of The Catholic Church #2267
In contrast, it is found in the Bible that the act of killing is a dishonour against God & is the transgression of His commandments. In the Ten Commandments, which are the foundational moral laws of Judaism/Christianity, it is stated that “Thou shalt not kill”, which implies that any form of killing is prohibited.
However, in the Bible it also states that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”. This verse establishes that sin only results in death and that all sinners deserve death, but since we’ve been given the undeserved gift of Jesus, we have life that is eternal. Since all of humanity has received Jesus, all of humanity has received a second chance, therefore, capital punishment should be considered theft of this second chance.
It is quite clear that the Catholic Church has a very self contradictory, mixed and confusing stance towards the issue.
Personally, I believe that the practice of capital punishment is unacceptable since it proves to be the “opposite of the Gospel”.
The Gospel was all about forgiveness, grace and love. The Gospel was the greatest love story of all time: the God of the Universe stepping down from His throne to pay the world’s debt. Christians should adopt the attitude of Jesus and “forgive those who have trespassed against them”. The act of taking one’s life because of unforgiveness greatly contrasts what God has commanded us.
God has commanded that we love one another as He has loved us, in John 13: 34. This means we are to follow Jesus’ example of love. Jesus saw through people’s sin and loved them, regardless of what they have done. For example, in John 8, when the pompous Pharisees caught a woman committing adultery, Jesus forgave her, did not condemn her and was even an advocate for her. We are to imitate Christ in our love, in our faith and in our purity, as said in 1 Timothy 4:12.
Since I believe that capital punishment contradicts the Gospel’s message of love, grace and forgiveness, I stand for the abolishment of the practice. We are all sinners; we all deserve death; but God has given us a second chance- eternal life. We aren’t entitled to take away one’s second chance because we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all fallen short of God, but He stepped down and raised us up.
“So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
– John 8:7 NKJV
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