The Death Penalty and Catholicism
Pope Francis declared to the world that the death penalty is never an appropriate punishment.
On Aug. 2, 2018, the Catholic Church’s Pope Francis declared to the world that the death penalty is never an appropriate punishment. On the same day, the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania published a list of 71 priests, deacons, and seminarians accused of “substantiated” sexual abuse over the last 70 years.
It’s an interesting contrast to discuss the age-old debate about capital punishment for the most heinous crimes while we await evidence of abominable crimes alleged to have been committed within the Catholic Church. While we do, let’s cheer on the justice system to bring every true sexual predator to face a swift trial and punishment, whether in the Church or wherever.
In the meantime, what about that death penalty? Is it ever fitting? Have crimes become more or less evil or monstrous? Do we expect our governments to address the most atrocious of crimes as a justice system, a legal system, or an institution that appears to selectively apply morality? Acknowledging the moral and religious aspects of this debate, why is the partisan divide over the death penalty growing, with an 18-point increase from 2000 to 2016, according to Gallup? And why does it appear that there’s greater offense to capital punishment for criminals as opposed to other loss of innocent life?
In America, there are 41 capital crimes — criminal acts punishable by death. Understanding that the taking innocent life is deemed murder, the taking of a life in self-defense has not been considered or punished as murder either in religious teachings or in civil governments. As restitution and justice, society has established that an especially atrocious act of murder may be punished through death precisely because life is so precious, and that the riddance of such evil provides a good.
Regardless of political stripes, those who adhere to the Christian faith see that God, our Creator, who states in the writings of Paul that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), did provide a way, a Redeemer, to pay the required debt of sin. That debt is paid for those who take the Name and ways of Jesus Christ through the confession of sin and the repentance, or turning away from, the same. But, problematically, Democrats and the political Left demand that the state and Church never intersect — or, put another way, that the church not encroach on the state’s province. The blame for this falls on their out-of-context use of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists that agreed that a state-sponsored church should be prohibited instead of their misuse to discourage the free exercise of religion. Democrats literally voted God out of their party platform in 2012, but in the case of capital punishment cite the precious nature of life and the power of redemption. Yes, this is the same group who also demand abortion as an essential element of women’s health, viewing an unborn child as a clump of cells, not a life.
So why would the amoral state spare the life of a convicted criminal sentenced to death, especially in the day of DNA evidence, videographic and technological advances to provide more than circumstantial evidence and the incredibly high bar a death penalty case must reach for execution?
Even Christ Himself, hanging on the cross on Golgotha’s hill between two criminals sentenced to death promised them eternal life in heaven if they believed. He did not offer a bargain of escape from punishment deemed appropriate by the government for the crimes they had committed.
To punctuate the magnitude and seriousness of our sin, iniquities, and transgressions, the sinless Son of Man hung on a criminal’s cross in public humiliation to die and pay the penalty of sin for all of Creation. In other words, while there’s redemption and reform available, justice is demanded. And, here are some thoughts that are a bit uncomfortable when citing the Bible, a Holy Father God, and His Son Jesus: The very nature of God in His righteousness demands and guarantees justice, and that very same nature of a Holy God provides mercy and grace as a gift to be received. All of the teachings of God and Christ are to the individual, not governments. While governments can show mercy, the role of a government is to provide structure, order, and authority — see Romans 13.
In both the religious and civil aspects of society, unlawful behavior carries a penalty. In the first five books of the Bible, the penalty for murder is mentioned and clear: death. Furthermore, the specifics of Genesis 9 to Noah and his family were to reestablish civility after the Great Flood included God’s demand of an accounting for the life of another human being stating, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”
From 1976 through July 2018, there have been 1,479 executions for capital crimes in the U.S. Already this year, there have been over 500,000 abortions in America with a report of child abuse made, on average, every 10 seconds.
Now, which life do we celebrate?