Gospel of Life -- Study Guide
"Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity," the Holy Father
reminds us in The Gospel of
Life. This section of the document calls rightly for a rejection of
It should be noted, however, that the paragraph also makes reference to the
"cases where it may be justified." Rare as they may be, or even practically
non-existent in our times, this indicates a significant difference between the
Church's "no" to capital punishment and its "no" to abortion and euthanasia. The
prohibition on the intention killing of the innocent is an absolute; the
prohibition on capital punishment is not absolute.
In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II makes a
clear distinction between a practical "no" to the death penalty and an
absolute "no" to abortion. In regard to the state punishing wrongdoers, he
writes, "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated
and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender
except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be
possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady
improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare,
if not practically non-existent" (56).
Then he goes on to say, in distinction, "If such great care must be taken
to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the
commandment "You shall not kill" has absolute value when it refers to the
innocent person." (57) Simply put, "You shall not kill" applies even to the
criminal, but with exceptions. "You shall not kill" applies absolutely to the
innocent (born and unborn), without exceptions.
If you compare the statistics on capital punishment (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/tables/exetab.htm)
with those on abortion (www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html)
you find that more children are killed by abortion in America in a single week
than criminals have been executed in our entire history. Every life is of equal,
infinite value, but the nature and extent of these two issues are beyond
What is the teaching of the Church regarding capital punishment, and how
does it differ from the teaching on abortion?
Can one still be pro-life and support the death penalty in certain instances?
Click here to learn
more about the Church's stand on Capital Punishment.
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