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The Church's Anti-Death Penalty Position

 

The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, 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. . . . I renew the appeal I made . . . for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.
—Pope John Paul II Papal Mass, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999

Twenty-five years ago, our Conference of bishops first called for an end to the death penalty. We renew this call to seize a new moment and new momentum. This is a time to teach clearly, encourage reflection, and call for common action in the Catholic community to bring about an end to the use of the death penalty in our land.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

While the Old Testament includes some passages about taking the life of one who kills, the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

When Cain killed Abel, God did not end Cain's life. Instead, he sent Cain into exile, not only sparing his life but protecting it by putting a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight (Gn 4:15).
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but for what it does to all of society.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

Our faith and Catholic teaching offer a moral framework for choices about the use of the death penalty. A principled Catholic response to crime and punishment is rooted in our convictions about good and evil, sin and redemption, justice and mercy. It is also shaped by our commitment to the life and dignity of every human person, and the common good. The opening chapters of the Book of Genesis teach that every life is a precious gift from God (see Genesis 2:7, 21-23). This gift must be respected and protected.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

Each of us is called to respect the life and dignity of every human being. Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

In Catholic teaching the state has the recourse to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life. However, this right should not be exercised when other ways are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

We also share the hurt and horror, the loss and heartache that are the result of unspeakable acts of violence. We have presided at the funerals of police officers killed in the line of duty and have consoled parents who have lost children. We have heard the anger and despair of victims families who feel ignored by the criminal justice system, society as a whole, and, at times, even the Church. Our family of faith must care for sisters and brothers who have been wounded by violence and support them in their loss and search for justice. They deserve our compassion, solidarity, and support spiritual, pastoral, and personal. However, standing with families of victims does not compel us to support the use of the death penalty.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

For many left behind, a death sentence offers the illusion of closure and vindication. No act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

The death penalty arouses deep passions and strong convictions. People of goodwill disagree. In these reflections, we offer neither judgment nor condemnation but instead encourage engagement and dialogue, which we hope may lead to re-examination and conversion. Our goal is not just to proclaim a position, but to persuade Catholics and others to join us in working to end the use of the death penalty. We seek to help build a culture of life in which our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

[Punishment] 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. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, [Punishment] 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.
—John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), 1995

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect peoples 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 with the dignity of the human person.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Others question whether our criminal justice system can indeed protect society. They point to examples of the release of offenders who subsequently commit horrible acts of violence. But in the face of a growing culture of death, every effort should be made to promote a culture of life. Therefore, we believe that the primary response to these situations should not be the use of the death penalty but should instead be the promotion of needed reform of the criminal justice system so that society is more effectively protected.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

Public policies that treat some lives as unworthy of protection, or that are perceived as vengeful, fracture the moral conviction that human life is sacred.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

Defending all human life should unite us as people of life and for life.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

We hope and pray that this campaign will help bring an end to the use of the death penalty. This end may come through an act of Congress or a definitive court decision; more likely the death penalty will be abandoned and wither away through the everyday choices of prosecutors and legislators, judges and jurors, and ordinary citizens who make a commitment to respect human life in every situation. We look forward to the day when our society chooses not to answer violence with violence.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

For the Catholic community, this issue -- like all life issues -- is more than public policy. It involves our faith and the central principle that human life is sacred. Church teaching on the life and dignity of every human person should guide all our decisions about life, including the use of the death penalty. We are called to reflect on what the Lords command, You shall not kill (Ex 20:13) means for us today.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II told us that we have an inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.18 This Catholic campaign brings us together for common action to end the use of the death penalty, to reject a culture of death, and to build a culture of life. It poses an old and fundamental choice: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. (Dt 30:19)
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death




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