Pope: Ban the death penalty

Pope: Ban the death penalty

An Absolute Change on the Death Penalty

John-Henry Westen
Tue Jun 21, 2016

In a video message sent to the sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which opens today, Pope Francis made his strongest remarks against the death penalty, which he said contradicts the plan of God in that the “commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.”

While most Catholics agree with severely limiting the death penalty, an absolute prohibition would be counter to thousands of years of Catholic thought. Cardinal Avery Dulles warned in 2002, “If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4).”

The 1992 Catechism teaches: (2267) “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.”

In his message Pope Francis said:

One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defence. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.

In addition to the Scripture verses he quotes, Cardinal Dulles was referring to teachings such as these:

Roman Catechism of Council of Trent: The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thou shalt not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.”

Innocent III: “The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.”

Pius XII: “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.”

Prior to being elected Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger taught: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. … 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.”

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10 comments on “Pope: Ban the death penalty

  1. Common sense tells me that if the death penalty were reinstituted in Cook County, together with the prompt action of zealous prosecutors, just judges, and well-supported law enforcement officers, the skyrocketing murder rate of Chicago could be lowered effectively.

  2. Can we ban the death penalty for being Christian in Muslim territory?

  3. So, evidently the 5th Commandment has “absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty” but the 6th and 9th Commandments do not??? The confused state of this man’s mind is a worrisome thing to behold. How long Lord?

  4. He’s just plain wrong. It says ‘thou shalt not murder’, not ‘thou shalt not kill’. There’s a real difference there. The Church has always affirmed that the death penalty can be completely acceptable.

  5. 747 Pilot : Ban the Pope, Keep the Death Penalty !
    Over and Out

  6. 747 Pilot,

    Can I join your petition?

    Just as an after thought, I always thought that the laws of the Old Testament, while needing to be understood in the light of the revelation we have in Jesus, nevertheless gave us a clear understanding of the mind of God on many issues. If that is the case, the Old Testament laws tell us that God regards the taking of an inocent human life in the act of murder to deserve the death penalty. In other words, the sanctity of a human life is such that a person who deliberately takes that life, except of course in time of war and when acting in defence of others, must pay the ultimate price by forfeiting their own life.
    This is what the Church taught for 2000 years. To my knowledge there was never a time when the Church taught otherwise.
    So how come, after 2000 years, a Pope can strut onto the stage and declare the opposite? Not only does he declare the opposite, but actually, in what he says, he virtually states that those who believe in the death penalty, are sinning against the Commandment and are therefore in gross error.
    Where does that put Church teaching for the last 2000 years?

  7. Hi fidei,

    You are correct ! But I do not know how you get the Pope to believe it. This rule of this present pope is so convoluted , I do not know what the answer is. God Bless L

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