There has been a lot of talk on the cable news stations this week about the death penalty. This is
primarily because of the trial of the Boston bombers. In listening to the banter, I noticed that the general public takes a very different approach to the death penalty than the Catholic Church does. In short, the public looks at the death penalty as a form of punishment, while the Church looks at it as a form of self defense.
The TV news host asks his "expert" guest the question, "Do you feel (insert name here) should receive the death penalty?" Invariable the answer focuses on the crime(s) committed and whether those crimes are horrendous enough to warrant the punishment of putting the criminal to death. Never does the question arise if there is any necessity to put the person to death. Sometimes the idea of "justice" may come up, but the form of justice that they speak of can be summed up in the words, "an eye for an eye."
This is a very different approach than what we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which focuses on whether the death penalty "is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." In other words, it is an extension of the principals of proportionate force and self defense; "the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty," when it is necessary in order to defend human lives ("self defense") and when there is no other "non-lethal means... sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor." ("proportionate force")
Catholic teaching on the death penalty reaffirms the dignity of the human person, the hope that all sinners will turn to Christ in repentance, and society's current ability to keep persons in incarceration, when she states in the Catechism that, "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'" The primary concern in regard to all of our actions remains the salvation of every soul.
All references are from CCC 2267