by Bill Scholl
The Kansas Senate is considering legislation to abolish the death penalty.
This calls for a Catholic conscience-check on capital punishment. We Kansans have a legacy of frontier justice: felonies punished by hanging and a bed on Boot Hill. Yet, as Catholics, we are challenged by the church’s clear teaching that, in today’s world, to truly respect life, one must oppose the death penalty. Blessed John Paul II reminded us of this teaching when he last visited in St. Louis.
In a homily, he stated, “The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro- life: who will acclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”
Of all the life issues, this surely must be the most difficult for many pro-life Catholics. After all, it’s not people who don’t pay their parking tickets being put to death, but rather perpetrators of heinous crimes against life. Ironically, it is the love of life that drives many to want to see murderous violators pay for life taken by the forfeiture of theirs.
Yet, at this moment in church history, we believers are being asked by Christ through his church to drop the rocks. There will be no more stoning today. While execution of the guilty by the state is not an inherent evil, as is abortion, it is still an evil. When an evil is not necessary, it becomes a moral evil. Fortunately, civilization has developed to a point where it no longer needs to kill criminals to protect the innocent. In fact, it is vastly more expensive to execute a criminal than to sentence life imprisonment.
We are made in the image of God, and so all human life is sacred, even if someone violates that sacredness. you can kill someone in self-defense; it is not a good, but a choice between the lesser of two evils: Kill the guilty or let the innocent be murdered.
However, when the guilty has been effectively stopped by a permanent residence in a cell at Lansing, what is the choice? Take a life that is sacred or don’t.
We are called to drop the rock. If you love life, then you must love all life, no matter how inconvenient or hurtful it may be to you. How else can we ask the abortionist to drop the scalpel or the euthanizer to drop the syringe? Nobody escapes God’s justice. Only if we temper our justice with mercy may we hope to ask God for his.
For information on the Kansas effort to abolish the death penalty go to the web- site at: www.ksabolition.org.