Death Penalty vs. Catholicism


In the United States, upwards of 30 people per year are executed by the government as punishment for criminal activity. Many other countries also use this method of punishment. The issues surrounding capital punishment have always been bridges to burn among the people of society, the Roman Catholic Church, different government representatives, and pretty much everyone else as well. No matter what aspect of the concept you wish to discuss, there are several different opinions that would arise regarding the situation. Some people feel that killing is immoral, no matter what the reasons backing it are. Some people have no moral obligation to it, but simply feel that it is not effective enough of a punishment. Still more people feel that there can be nothing more effective than completely eliminating a problem, and that these criminals do not deserve to live anyway. All of the differing opinions are undoubtedly attributable to the fact that killing of any kind is a moral thing, and a very controversial subject among people.

There are many things that make capital punishment such an easy thing for scores of people to disagree about. There are positives and negatives that any person (regardless of personal standpoint) can see by taking a step back from their own opinion of the issue and reviewing a number of cases of different executions.

Some people, for example, will see that there is always a chance that someone sentenced to death may be innocent and wrongfully accused. Anyone would say that in this case, if the person truly did not commit the crime, they should not die for it. This is an issue that is very real, and one of the reasons that the death penalty comes up as an arguing point among different groups of people at times. According to a study done by Columbia University, two out of three cases which are given a death penalty sentence are overturned upon appeal due to the discovery of serious error during the original judicial process leading to a wrongful conviction, or evidence showing that the death sentence is much too strong. (Bevilacqua)

Other people will cite botched executions as cruel and unjust punishment for any crime, and henceforth, in contrast with this nation’s constitution. Any person, once they have set aside their own opinions, can see that it is undeniably cruel to strap someone down and take all of the essentials to their living from them, yet somehow they still live, at least temporarily. Anyone can see how incredibly disgusting and inhumane it would be to be electrocuted with intent to take your life, and live through it. A person going through this would not be able to function, and would be in unbelievable pain, which makes for a good argument when this particular issue is raised about the death penalty.

Still, representing the other side of the coin, there are people that, despite not denying that cases such as the aforementioned do happen and aren’t good things, argue in favor of the use of capital punishment as the only surefire way to hinder crime from occurring, after all, no sane person could deny that a dead criminal will no longer commit crimes.

There are countless different arguments that any one person could come up with to defend their position regarding capital punishment. People formulate their ideas from many different things.

Many people take into consideration alignment with a political party. More often than not, Democrats tend to be against the punishment of crimes by death, while the traditional Republican viewpoint is that it should be supported.

Other people base their standpoint on the issue based on their own morality, or what they were raised to believe is right and wrong. Some think that since those punished by death are almost always those accused of first degree murder, they deserve to die; they hold sort of an “eye for an eye” mentality, while some believe that it is wrong to kill any human being, and the death penalty is inexcusable regardless of the circumstances.

Still others turn to their religious faith’s ideas concerning the topic to guide them in making up their own mind about the issue. According to Father Jud Weiksnar of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern at St. Bonaventure University, Catholic social teaching tells us that the Catholic faith as a whole is opposed to the taking of any life, be it of an unborn baby in the case of abortion, or of a convicted murderer in the case of capital punishment. This said, it becomes obvious that many Catholics would be opposed to capital punishment.

The combination of many different viewpoints, however, that one person may be exposed to and drawn to is what will help them to make up their own mind on an issue. All in all, a 2001 poll shows us that since 1965, opposition to the death penalty has dropped. In 1965 38% of Americans supported it, while in 2001, 67% did.

So, what is the Catholic Church’s official stance on the issue? As I mentioned already, Catholic social teaching tells us to respect all of God’s creations. Upon the list of God’s creations of course would be human life, and so according to Catholic social teaching, the death penalty is wrong. A written statement from Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in the year 2000 tells us that, “Executing a killer doesn’t bring closure or healing.” Bevilacqua goes on to say that the Church has always acknowledged the right of a state to impose capital punishment on those accused, tried, and convicted of a crime worthy of the punishment by the state. He says that past teachings of the Church recognized the benefits of the death penalty toward helping to protect a society, and the good of its entire people. He says that the Church continues to uphold this teaching, which confused me, however, he goes on to say that the Church simply upholds that a state has the RIGHT to practice capital punishment. He says that current Catholic teaching does not condone the exercising of this right, and that the Church now recognizes other methods of protecting societies as superior to the usage of capital punishment.

The Church’s stance against the death penalty is based on the same principles as their opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. This continuity makes Catholic social teaching simple to follow and a sensible way to create one’s own stance on these issues. The teaching simply says that all of God’s creation is to be respected, which I mentioned earlier, and that these things do not respect human life, and are therefore not morally right.

I agree with the Church’s teaching about the death penalty. While I do not totally agree with the respect of God’s creations aspect of it, I agree that the death penalty is probably not the most effective method of punishment in terms of protecting a society. Any society that tries to cancel out a murder by murdering the murderer just has way too much killing and this is seen by all of the people. Desensitization to killing and death is something that will probably not help a society to become a safer place.

The reason I say that I do not fully agree with the Church’s teaching is that, while agreeing with the death penalty portion of their teaching, I am pro-choice when it comes to abortion (in some cases). I feel that if a woman is raped, or will not be able to raise a child in suitable living conditions, she should have the choice to abort the child’s birth before it reaches a fetal stage. I understand (like the Church teaches) that this is still a living organism, and a creation of God, but I think that the circumstances make abortion excusable, though probably not the best solution to the problem.

Again, I am in agreement with the Church’s teaching, and I think that Catholic social teaching concerning the right to life of man is something that should be further stressed and burned into the minds of Americans (even though we have separation of church and state, and I am not religious at all). I think that statistics showing 67% of Americans being in favor of murders carried out in their name are startling, and people need an influence like the Catholic social teachings to change this statistic.


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