The precise question at issue in this essay is the moral standing of capital punishment. Taking the teachings of the largest Christian denomination (Catholic) as a starting point, some say that the presentation of capital punishment in the Catechism of 1992 (#2266) differs surely in restrictiveness from the teaching of the Catechism of 1566. And that the revised Catechism of 1997 is even more restrictive. Leet's examine these ane other aspects of the morality of capital punishment.
The Catechism (1997) #2267 says, in part, "... 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...."
"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm ... the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (CCC # 2267).
Thus, classic elements of the conventional Catholic teaching remain: 1) the Church does not deny the State the "right" to recourse to the death penalty (i.e., it is not morally forbidden as intrinsically evil); but 2) the Church's official teachers clearly teach that this recourse is tightly circumscribed, indeed so tightly circumscribed as to be "practically non-existent."
Capital punishment ironically stands at the beginning of Christianity. The Lord Jesus, Founder of Christianity, was Himself a victim of capital punishment, as were most of the Apostles and a great many of the early martyrs.
The canonical Scriptures were rarely invoked to question capi...
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... unique dignity of each person, the truth that God is the Lord of Life not us, and the example and teaching of Jesus on mercy and forgiveness.
This debate will and should continue since the conditional premise makes it more and more difficult to sustain that capital punishment is truly a "necessity" in actual modern circumstances, much less "an absolute necessity" for effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
City of God
New Catholic Encyclopedia v. 14 (1967), 779-781.
Rotelle,J. ed. The Works of Augustine, Sermons III/1 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1990) pp. 312-313; original in PL 38:110-111.
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