I see Mark Shea’s combox explodes pretty much any time he dares to weigh in on the death penalty, so I am a bit hesitant to step into these angry waters.
But when stories in the news so directly contradict the teachings found in the Catechism, and when so few of my fellow Catholics seem to be speaking up in protest, I can’t help but want to bring it up.
Perhaps you’ve heard? Teresa Lewis is scheduled to be executed on Thursday night.
Teresa Lewis, a 41-year-old grandmother, is now set to die by lethal injection Thursday evening. She pleaded guilty to her part in the 2002 slayings of her husband and son-in-law in their rural home near Danville, about 145 miles from Richmond, Virginia.
But what does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach us about the use of the death penalty? Let’s read:
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s 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 are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.
On the subject of her crime, Teresa Lewis says, “I just want the governor to know that I am so sorry, deeply from my heart. And if I could take it back, I would, in a minute ... I just wish I could take it back. And I’m sorry for all the people that I’ve hurt in the process.”
Whether she’s sincere or not is actually irrelevant. Do any of us actually believe that killing this woman is the state of Virginia’s only way of “effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”?
If not, why aren’t more Catholics scandalized enough to speak out?
I am not at all equating the death penalty with abortion (and neither does the Church). But it seems to me that when our nation’s news headlines are focused on an event that so clearly contradicts the teachings of the Catechism, more outspoken pro-life Catholics have an obligation to speak up. If Catholics don’t bring a Catholic perspective to our secular world and speak up in defense of human life, who will?