Catholic Church and Capital Punishment Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1319 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

¶ … Catholic Church and Capital Punishment

Catholic punishment remains one of the most divisive issues in American society, even though the majority of the European democratic nations have abolished its practice. "The headline" of a 2000 St. Louis newspaper of record attracted one theologian's attention: "Pro-killer crowd strikes again.'" He stated, the first sentence immediately set the tone for the whole article: "the bleeding hearts are at it again.'" but "another headline declares a very different message: 'A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty.'" Thus, according to this Catholic theologian Kevin Overburg, these two black-and-white print examples, newspaper headlines drawn from the same paper from the same day "dramatically describe a deep division in our country." (Overburg, 2000)

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The headlines also demonstrate a fundamental contradiction within the heart of American society -- America is a religious nation, and Catholicism is one of its major Christian traditions. The Catholic Church today officially opposes the death penalty. Pope John Paul II often speaks out against capital punishment. But the majority of Americans support capital punishment, some statistics indicating support running as high as seventy percent of the population, depending on the phrasing of the question. This is why "debate about the death penalty stirs strong emotions, impacts people's lives, and so demands careful moral reasoning," according to a number of American Catholic scholars. (Overburg, 2000)

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But the current Pope's view is unquestioned, and beyond any attempts at reasoning from a theological standpoint. "In one of his most recent visits to the United States, in 1999 at a St. Louis stop, the ailing pope implored his audiences that protecting the dignity of life is America's deepest calling. In five speeches he returned repeatedly to the theme, decrying abortion, racism, poverty and euthanasia, unambiguously proclaiming the death penalty as cruel and unnecessary," eliding the execution of the condemned by the state with abortion, so-called mercy killing, and the victimization of the poor by the rich. Rhetorically skillful, the pope, speaking before an American audience, used the language of American jurisprudence rather than his faith, stressing the cruelty and unusual nature of capital punishment to condemn the death penalty, even as he made analogies between the death penalty and other medical issues in a way that might make some American Catholics uncomfortable. (Feister, 1999)

Not all American Catholics who are outspoken against the death penalty have condemned capital punishment in the same language and terms. Rather than stress that the death penalty is against the free laws of the United States, and the concept of cruel and unusual punishment. Sister Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame, prays in her prayer against capital punishment, "Jesus, our brother, you suffered execution at the hands of the state," suggesting that to engage in act of capital punishment is to mimic, however unconsciously, the actions of Christ's executioners. Rather, she implores Christ to "Help us to reach out to victims of violence so that our enduing love may help them heal. Holy Spirit of God, You strengthen us in the struggle for justice. Help us to work tirelessly for the abolition of state-sanctioned death and to renew our society in its very heart so that violence will be no more. Amen." (Prejean, 2000) Violence is violence, stresses the nun, even retributive violence by the state, and must thus be abolished.

How can the actual words of Bible enlighten this profound dilemma, asks Kevin Overbrook? This theologian of the American Catholic notes that often we hear the Bible quoted as a justification for capital punishment: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth' (from Leviticus 24:20; also Exodus 21:24). This follows a more direct passage: "Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death" (Leviticus 24:17). Overbrook points out that the well-known 'eye for eye' passage "was originally intended to limit violence by reducing the escalation of violence. "In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus disallows even that limited violence. This example reminds us that culture and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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