Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2267).
‘Redemption is Possible’: Why I’m working to abolish the death penalty in NC - Read a short article of a testimony from a North Carolina Catholic working for abolition of the death penalty.
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is the foundation of a moral vision for society and stands at the heart of the Church’s understanding of justice. “In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, ‘As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me’” (Matt. 25:40). (Gaudium et spes 27). The death penalty disregards this inherent dignity of the human person.
In his recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (265), Pope Francis points out:
From the earliest centuries of the Church, some were clearly opposed to capital punishment. Lactantius, for example, held that “there ought to be no exception at all; that it is always unlawful to put a man to death”. Pope Nicholas I urged that efforts be made “to free from the punishment of death not only each of the innocent, but all the guilty as well”. During the trial of the murderers of two priests, Saint Augustine asked the judge not to take the life of the assassins with this argument: ‘We do not object to your depriving these wicked men of the freedom to commit further crimes. Our desire is rather that justice be satisfied without the taking of their lives or the maiming of their bodies in any part. And, at the same time, that by the coercive measures provided by the law, they be turned from their irrational fury to the calmness of men of sound mind, and from their evil deeds to some useful employment. This too is considered a condemnation, but who does not see that, when savage violence is restrained and remedies meant to produce repentance are provided, it should be considered a benefit rather than a mere punitive measure… Do not let the atrocity of their sins feed a desire for vengeance, but desire instead to heal the wounds which those deeds have inflicted on their souls.”
Many Church leaders have emphasized that it is impossible to imagine that states today have no other means than capital punishment to protect the lives of other people from the unjust aggressor. In addition, the arguments against the death penalty are numerous. The Church has called attention to several of these, including the possibility of judicial error and the use of executions by totalitarian dictators to suppress political dissent and persecute religious and cultural minorities.
Therefore, Catholics in the Diocese of Raleigh work to follow the Pope’s direction that, “All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom.” (Fratelli Tutti 268)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267 on the death penalty was revised in 2018 by His Holiness, Pope Francis.
Catholics for Abolition in North Carolina (or CANC) answer the Gospel call to recognize the sanctity of life and abolish the death penalty in North Carolina (NC) and in the United States (US).
Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the use of the death penalty, to transform the U.S Criminal Justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.
The North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (or NCCADP) is a statewide coalition of member organizations and individuals committed to ending the death penalty and creating a new vision of justice.