On Capital Punishment
I have a mixed opinion on the death penalty. On the one hand, I cannot help but feel that certain crimes should be punishable by death, as a matter of justice. Some crimes seem so horrible that our first reaction is to say of the perpetrator “he needs to die.” There is a sense of satisfaction that we get when we feel that justice has been done. However, we rarely want justice for ourselves - we prefer mercy. In examining one’s own life, how many times have we been happy to receive justice for our actions? No, we are much happier to be “let off the hook.” As a Catholic, I also believe we must follow the example Jesus set for us. Mercy was a constant theme in his preaching. Redemption is made possible through God’s mercy, and we should also, where possible, extend that mercy to others. Of course I yearn for justice to be done, for the wicked to “get what’s coming to them,” but I must remember that I too am deserving of God’s just punishment. Our Lord will indeed come to administer justice, but he first offers his Divine Mercy, of which I am all too eager to receive. St. Paul tells us Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NABRE)
Of course, it is the duty of public authority to protect its citizens. Capital crimes such as murder must be deterred, and murderers must be stopped. In the past, putting a murderer to death may have been the only option to prevent the criminal from committing future murders. This was not wrong, as the principle of self-defense would have applied. Today however, we have the ability to detain these kinds of criminals indefinitely. This allows public authorities to keep the peace, while offering the criminal a chance of repentance.
As a pro-life advocate, I believe that abortion is a death-sentence to the unborn, and I fight for the abolition of abortion. To be truly pro-life, we must recognize the dignity of human life at all stages, and consequently, my thinking on capital punishment has shifted. A person does not lose their dignity and worth by committing a crime. Yes, actions have consequences, and it is the responsibility of the public authority to safeguard its citizens, but today we have “bloodless means” of punishing criminals that both preserve their human dignity and prevent them from committing future crimes. Our ability to permanently imprison an offender allows them the possibility of repentance and redemption. They may never walk free, but as Christians, we recognize that freedom of the soul is much more important, and we should give them every opportunity to obtain this freedom. While once I would have found satisfaction in a murderer or rapist receiving the death penalty as a matter of justice, I now follow the Church when she teaches: “in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’” (CCC 2011).
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
John, Paul II. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2011. https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/.
© 2023 Stephen Jacob Edwards