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Roman Catholic support for the death penalty

An essay donated by Vincent Be m owski, a
Catholic Writer on Spirituality, U.S. Politics & World Affairs

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When Cain murdered Abel, God voiced His disapproval of any type of personal vengeance (Genesis, Chapter 4). However, legislators are obligated to enact laws that protect society, punish criminals, and discourage crime:

bullet Pope Pius XII, Sept. 14, 1952: "When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live."
bullet Pope Benedict XVI (when known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) made this statement in a June, 2004 memo to the U.S. Bishops: "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
bullet St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 147: "The fate of the wicked being open to conversion so long as they live does not preclude their being open also to the just punishment of death. Indeed the danger threatening the community from their life is greater and more certain than the good expected by their conversion. Besides, in the hour of death, they have every facility for turning to God by repentance. And if they are so obstinate that even in the hour of death their heart will not go back upon its wickedness, a fairly probable reckoning may be made that they never would have returned to a better mind."

Should punishments for unremorseful criminals who deliberately and violently kill people exclude the death penalty? The old adage, "the punishment should fit the crime" is often difficult to reconcile with today’s debatable definitions of what constitutes "mercy."

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Originally posted: 2006-MAR-08
Latest update: 2005-MAR-08
Author: Vincent Bemowski

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