Capital Punishment and Being Catholic Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1655 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Death Sentence

Capital Punishment And Being Catholic

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment and Being Catholic

The issue of the death penalty is one that is fraught with ethical, moral as well as theological questions and problems. Generally this is related to the view that the taking of life is seen from a theological view as problematic, as life is deemed to be sacred and a gift from God. In essence this means that the implementation of capital punishment goes against the Christian principle that "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13) and the ethos of compassion and care of modern Christianity and Catholicism.

However, on the other side of the argument and from a more secular but equally ethical perspective, is the view that the innocent should to be protected from harm and that order and justice needs to be maintained by a deterrent like the death penalty. This point-of-view states that we have an ethical and moral responsibility to protect the weak and innocent and that capital punishment is part of the way in which the innocent are protected from those who would do them harm.

In this paper I will discuss both these points-of-view and examine the various arguments in order to provide an answer to the issue of capital punishment and being a catholic. In this process I will also endeavor to provide my own particular perspective on this issue.

2. The arguments: the Catholic perspective.Download full
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Capital Punishment and Being Catholic Assignment

The United States is the only major Western nation to still implement and support capital punishment. While there was a moratorium on the death penalty between 1972 and 1977, capital punishment was reinstated in the United States courts after 1977. (Dulles) This was followed by the official stance from the Catholic Church which opposed capital punishment. In 1980 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops "…published a predominantly negative statement on capital punishment, approved by a majority vote of those present though not by the required two-thirds majority of the entire conference." (Dulles) Therefore, while the sentiment opposed to capital punishment was approved it was not unanimous. As will be discussed, the issue of Catholicism and capital punishment is somewhat more complex than the above statement would suggest.

The central ethical and theological reason given for opposition to the death penalty is the sacred nature of all life. Many Catholics maintain therefore that, "…the death penalty, like abortion and euthanasia, is a violation of the right to life and an unauthorized usurpation by human beings of God's sole lordship over life and death." (Dulles) This view also had the support of Pope John Paul II.

The outright rejection of the death penalty is referred to as 'absolutist position' in Catholic theology. In other words, because of the religious view that life is both sacred and inviolable there can be no justification in any sense for the death penalty. This view is clearly explicated by Franciscan Priest, Gino Concetti:

In light of the word of God, and thus of faith, life -- all human life -- is sacred and untouchable. No matter how heinous the crimes . . . [the criminal] does not lose his fundamental right to life, for it is primordial, inviolable, and inalienable, and thus comes under the power of no one whatsoever. (Dulles)

This is a very clear statement of this ethical and moral stance which forms the basic view of the majority of Catholics. This stance is also intended to secure the right to life for all humanity.

However, many critics point out that the position with regards to the death penalty is not as clear-cut and unambiguous as some make out. They refer to the fact that capital punishment has a long history of acceptance in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. They point out that it is condoned in many Biblical texts. For example, there are at least thirty -- six references to capital punishment which call for "… execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation for & #8230;idolatry, magic, blasphemy & #8230; murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty, and incest." (Dulles) Furthermore,

The death penalty was considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Genesis 9:6). (Dulles)

There are many instances of divine justice that results in death. This view therefore makes the issue of the theological ethics of the death penalty more problematic than the absolutist view. Critics also point out that there is a tacit acceptance of the death penalty in the New Testament of the Bible as well. This refers to the fact that,

At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, "He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die" (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). (Dulles)

Therefore, from this perspective we have the predominant view in Catholicism that while the Church might object on ethical grounds to the death penalty, it does accept the fact that the state has the right to execute those convicted criminals who threaten the innocent and who seriously disrupt the healthy functioning of society. The Catholic Church recognizes that, " One of the principal duties of the state is to protect the rights of its citizens from the unjust taking of those rights… so that its citizens can feel secure that their individual, God given, rights are protected…" (Gonzales)

The above quotation clearly indicates a position of approval of the state implementation of the death penalty -- which many see as being supported by Biblical and ecclesiastical law and by Biblical text such as "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image," (Genesis 9:6), which was referred to in context above. This stance therefore leads to the assertion that Capital punishment was even "required" by God to maintain the natural order and harmony. As one commentator points out, "Jesus never once refuted this natural law precept which, as the Second Person of the Trinity, He created in the first place." (Gonzales)

The above view is in contradistinction to those who argue against the death penalty, like Father Concetti and many other contemporary Catholic thinkers. According to these thinkers there has been a failure in the way the Church has interpreted the image of man. They assert that as mankind is made in the image of God this implies that human life is both sacred and inviolate. Furthermore, this view also states that one should question the Catholic stance which accepts that the state has the right to use deadly force to maintain order and control. This view is linked to a modern view of Catholic doctrine that is more 'enlightened' than in the past. As one ecclesiastical expert states;

Those who recognize the signs of the times will move beyond the outmoded doctrines that the State has a divinely delegated power to kill and that criminals forfeit their fundamental human rights. The teaching on capital punishment must today undergo a dramatic development corresponding to these new insights. (Dulles)

3. A personal perspective

While the sentiment that all life is sacred is laudable, I believe that there are a number of reasons for condoning the use of death penalty by the state. In the first instance, it is not ethically consistent to assert the sanctity of all human life and then not protect human life from harm. In other words, I believe that it bis an ethical responsibility to protect the innocent from attack and harm, and not just to utter nobler sentiments… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Capital Punishment and Being Catholic.  (2010, October 11).  Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

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"Capital Punishment and Being Catholic."  11 October 2010.  Web.  16 January 2022. <>.

Chicago Style

"Capital Punishment and Being Catholic."  October 11, 2010.  Accessed January 16, 2022.