Archbishop Lucas offers insights on the US Catholic Catechism for Adults Chapter 29:
The Death Penalty
Following the lead of Pope John Paul II’s The Gospel of Life, the Catechism teaches that governmental authority has the right and duty to assure the safety of society, and to punish criminals by means of suitable penalties. This includes imposition of the death penalty if there is no other way to protect society (cf. CCC, no. 2267). But this principle has a very restrictive application:
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. 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—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (CCC, no. 2267, citing EV, no. 56)
When dwelling on legal and moral arguments concerning the death penalty, we should do so not with vengeance and anger in our hearts, but with the compassion and mercy of our Lord in mind. It is also important to remember that penalties imposed on criminals always need to allow for the possibility of the criminal to show regret for the evil committed and to change his or her life for the better.
The imposition of the death penalty does not always allow for one or both of the purposes of criminal punishment to be achieved. “Our nation’s increasing reliance on the death penalty cannot be justified. We do not teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill others. Pope John Paul II has said the penalty of death is ‘both cruel and unnecessary’ (Homily in St. Louis, January 27, 1999). The antidote to violence is not more violence” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2003], 19).
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
The Most Reverend George J. Lucas leads the Archdiocese of Omaha.
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