September 1, 2022


Pope Francis, who has long questioned and then opposed capital punishment - i.e. the death penalty - has asked that the Church pray for and end to the death penalty throughout the world. His proposal for an September 2022 prayer intention throughout the Church is for "ABOLITION OF THE DEATH PENALTY - We pray that the death penalty, which attacks the dignity of the human person, may be legally abolished in every country"

The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, published in 2011 and then five years later in English, already reflected this attitude. In Part 3, that deals with the Life of the Church, a small collection of paragraphs was dedicated to the question. That section is reprinted below. (The entire text of the Catechism in English can be downloaded [HERE])

2. The Limits of State Authority and the Death Penalty

959 In accordance with Church teaching, the limits of state authority are delineated by its earthly and temporal character. State authority acts within the limits of its functions. The state cannot fulfil its functions if it violates the dignity of the individual and the moral principles of society. The limits of state authority are defined by a constitution.

960 The Church directs her children to submit to state authority, and prays for it regardless of the religious affiliation of its representatives, for "there is no authority except from God... for [the governing authority] is God's servant for your good" (Rom 13:1, 4). However, the Church does not consider the authority of government or its representatives to be absolute and does not accept the idea of its complete autonomy from God. Nor does the Church accept the government's autonomy from the earthly order of things established by God. "For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution" (1 Pt 2:13). In other words, the criterion of the lawfulness of state power is its conformity to the Lord's law. When state authority loses its legitimacy through its lack of conformity to God's law, the people have a right to resist such a government and to oppose it. The Christian is bound to follow divine law even in difficult circumstances: "We must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29).

961 According to a Christian understanding, punishment for a crime is not society's revenge against a criminal. Rather, punishment is intended to create the foundation for a criminal's conversion, reconciliation with God, and return to society. Therefore, punishment ought to be open to the possibility of a criminal's future reintegration into the life of society.

962 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ challenges the logic of revenge with a new logic of forgiveness, and he teaches us to understand justice from the eschatological perspective of the kingdom of God. This new logic proposed by our Lord creates a new Christian ethic. According to this ethic, the protection of society takes place not by means of capital punishment but through other forms of punishment. Being conscious of the mystery that is the person, and defending the value and dignity of life, the Church supports the non-use of capital punishment.

963 In his encyclical Evangelium vitae, Saint Pope John Paul II describes the growth in society's consciousness of a yearning to resolve conflicts using non-violent, peaceful means as one of the signs of hope. "In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of 'legitimate defence' on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform."

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