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What the Vatican has said

The definitive Latin edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued in September 1997, states that although the death penalty would be theoretically permissible in instances when it is "the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," such instances are "practically non-existent" in today's world, given the resources available to governments for restraining criminals. The Catechism language (click here for text) reflects the views of Pope John Paul II, expressed in his 1995 encyclical "The Gospel of Life."

More recently, at his Sept. 13, 2000 general audience in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father expressed his hope "that there no longer be recourse to capital punishment, given that states today have the means to efficaciously control crime, without definitively taking away an offender's possibility to redeem himself."

In a homily at a Jan. 27, 1999 Papal Mass in St. Louis, Mo., he termed the death penalty "both cruel and unnecessary," and went on to say:

"The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will acclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

In a declaration to the first World Congress on the Death Penalty held June 21-23, 2001 in Strasbourg, France, the Vatican termed the death penalty "a sign of desperation," and said it pursued the abolition of capital punishment as "an integral part of the defense of human life at every stage of its development.... The universal abolition of the death penalty would be a courageous reaffirmation of the belief that humankind can be successful in dealing with criminality and of our refusal to succumb to despair before such forces, and as such it would regenerate new hope in our very humanity."

Other views
Numerous other Vatican officials have echoed the Pope's views. In a June 20, 2001 address to members of the organization Priests for Life, Archbishop Renato Martino, the Holy See's ambassador to the United Nations, said: "Our voice must be heard not only in the fight against abortion, but in the fight against euthanasia and capital punishment as well. We can never condone the deliberate taking of human life created in love by God and redeemed in Jesus Christ."

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says that in modern society it would be "practically impossible" to fulfill the Catechism's criteria for a death sentence.

In a 1992 newspaper interview, the Vatican's Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini stated: "Among the individuals and groups against legalized abortion in the United States, there are some who support the continuation of capital punishment. This is an inconsistency and an unacceptable contradiction."

Click
here for excerpts from the papal encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," Pope John Paul II's 1999 homily in St. Louis, Mo., and other papal statements on the death penalty.

 

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