December 4, 2009

Catechism Corner

What the Church teaches about the death penalty

The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents the Church’s teaching on the death penalty in the section on moral doctrine in its explanation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13, Dt 5:17).

It appears under the heading “Legitimate defense.”

“#2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

“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 to 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 definitely 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 nonexistent’ ” (“Evangelium Vitae,” #56). †

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