Thou Shalt Not Kill

Since beginning my journey back to the Catholic faith, there have been many times when I have questioned the teachings of the Church. Even though I question them after researching them and thinking about them I find myself agreeing with the Church’s position. One of these questions involved the death penalty.

Photo by Mika on Unsplash

Prior to this week, the Catholic Church has taken the position that:

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.

Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 546). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. CCC 2267

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I have always thought this went against the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” After all, this is the same reason that abortion and even contraception, is against Church teaching. They are both ending life, in the case of contraception before it has the chance to begin.

The way it is written there is a “grey area” and I just don’t like grey areas. Unless you are a moral relativist, there is only black and white, right or wrong, good or evil.  We can’t say something is a sin in one case and not a sin in another. When we do this, our moral foundation erodes a little more. Soon, the ultimate authority for the moral law, God is replaced with an ever-changing version based on the popular opinion of the time. Without this strong foundation, as Jesus tells us in Luke 6:49:

But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

our faith will collapse.

Here is the revised section of the Catechism:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of the third party, following a fair trial, was considered as an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of 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 from the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the protection of citizens 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”, [1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. New CCC 2267

Does this present a problem to those Catholics who believe there are cases where the death penalty should be an option, for example, where a police officer is killed in the line of duty? Yes. But being a devout Catholic isn’t easy. There are hard rules to follow, rules you may not agree with.

But isn’t eternal Salvation worth it?

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