Friday, May 05, 2006

I began responding in my comment box, but then realized it might go a bit long, so I decided to give my thoughts a new post.

The very first thing I address in my Social Justice class (which matches the first major theme given by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Sharing Catholic Social Teaching) is the "Life and Dignity of the Human Person" – that each and every person on this earth was created in the image and likeness of God that God found to be very good, and thus that each and every person on this earth has inherent God-given worth and dignity. Or, as the bishops put it: "We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person." So I don't see this situation as a question merely of what the jury should consider as much as I see it an issue of "Should the death penalty even be on the table as an option?"

Actually, the Catholic perspective has not so much shifted as it has been solidified, especially by becoming a top priority in the past year and the topic for a brand new pastoral statement, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. The background information for congressional lobbying on this issue presents the USCCB position:
Since 1980, the U.S. Catholic bishops have taken a strong and principled position against the use of the death penalty in the United States. The Catholic Church opposes the use of the death penalty not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for how it affects society. Last November, the U.S. Catholic Bishops affirmed this position in their statement A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. This statement complements the efforts of the Catholic Church for many years and is a part of a comprehensive Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty launched in March of 2005. Moreover, Pope John Paul II, in both The Gospel of Life and the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church, stated that our society has adequate alternative means today to protect society from violent crime without resorting to capital punishment.

In looking for what the Catechism says, I was struck by this segment within the Social Justice section (§1930) .... I find it to be amazing food for thought:
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.
So, if society does not respect the rights of a human that flow from his/her dignity, then authority can rely only on force or violence? Hmmmm .....


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