To address this controversial topic, we must return to the beginning. “In the beginning”, God created Heaven and Earth and created Man in His own image and likeness, complete with human dignity and the great gift of free will. Soon afterwards, Man used that free will to his detriment. And then Cain murdered Abel. Instead of destroying Cain, God banished him. Cain, very worried, assumed that, as a result, “anyone may kill me at sight”. “Not so”, the Lord said to him. “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven-fold. So the Lord put a mark on Cain”. Later, when the Lord saw “how great was man’s wickedness on earth…” he decided to wipe out His creatures, but spared Noah and his flock in order to assure a new beginning. We see in these actions God’s choice of a second chance for His creatures. And we are reminded that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. I shall repay.”
then, again, came man’s free will…and its consequences…including Hell. Man’s laws including Mosaic Law, the Code of
Hammurabi, Roman law, and laws throughout the Dark and Middle Ages
the death penalty for an over-generous grouping of infractions, often
by torture and mutilation. Roman law
included deportation and also life imprisonment at hard labor under
Punishment”. Only beginning in the 18th
century was the validity of Capital Punishment imposed by civilized
questioned…up to and including the present time. Most
nations in Western civilization have
outlawed the death penalty. In the world
of Islam, the absence of a
central unifying authority makes the situation chaotic.
It continues to be upheld by the laws of the
Current arguments against Capital Punishment fall into several categories. The ethical / moral argument is made lucidly by the modern Catholic Church: the primacy of human dignity at all stages of life; the central role of forgiveness among Christians; the fact that the ultimate judgment is ultimately God’s…and God’s alone. An individual and all of society have the right of self-defense, but using the least violent and still most effective methods. The utilitarian argument has been that the death penalty does not deter further violence – except that by the executed criminal. (However, a series of academic studies reported over the last few years purport to prove that the death penalty does act as a deterrent to murder). The argument over errors in convictions, resulting in the incarceration -and execution – of innocent persons is gaining strength daily with the increasing use of DNA science. The argument over methods, consistent with the American constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”, is based on practical experience…including the quite proper refusal of physicians to be involved in any way in its implementation.
fine summary of the position of the Catholic Church on this subject,
2005 by the
Peter Moore, PhD George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.