The Death Penalty and Terrorists

With the recent terrorist act in Boston and subsequent capture of the remaining bomber brings up one of those questions which cause a lot of consternation among Catholics. That question is: should the bomber, if convicted, get the death penalty?

Like questions on same sex marriage, contraception and abortion, many Catholics are torn on the question of whether or not someone should be put to death. I know I have been struggling with this question this week, especially since this terrorists act was close to home.

Let’s look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

“The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.”  –
CCC 2266

“Assuming the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been full determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is thinly possible way of effectively defending human lies against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as those are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. – CCC 2267

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that our suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, should he get the death penalty?

We can certainly say the “punishment is proportionate to the gravity of the offense” (CCC – 266) after all four people have been killed and hundreds injured. But we can also argue that “non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor” (CCC – 2267) This puts us into one of those grey areas in Catholic teaching.

What do I think?

First, if Tsarnaev is truly a devout Muslim extremist, he probably wants to be a martyr. Keeping him alive would probably be more of a punishment than killing him. Those virgins will just have to wait.

Second, is combatting violence with more violence really an answer? Is this teaching others about forgiveness and God’s mercy?

We need to put this guy away for a long, long time, for the rest of his natural life. We should pray for him, and leave the final judgment to God. Killing him would serve no other purpose other than to make some feel good about themselves. Killing is never the answer. As Christians, and especially Catholics, we should not be in favor of killing anyone, no matter how evil they are.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” – Mt 5:7

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