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History of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and how it has changed over time Essay

Whereas the ancient Catholic Church did not have much of a problem with capital punishment, the modern Catholic Church stands resolutely against capital punishment. The stand of the Catholic Church concerning death penalty gives a clear illustration of centuries of tension in addition to uncertainties. However, the Catholic Church with its stern stand has been able to manage all the tensions that emanate from this serious issue. The role of the Catholic Church in the debate concerning death penalty has got a rich history.

This paper through qualitative analysis of legitimate websites and published work is going to look at the history of the Catholic Church on the death penalty as well as how it has changed over time. Introduction There are various ways that have been employed by human beings to get rid of evil doers since the inception of the world. The techniques chosen by people to punish perpetrators of violence present the society with great challenges. Death penalty, also referred to as capital punishment, is one of the ways through which evil doers can be punished.

Implementation of death penalty has, however, been a controversial issue that has been debated for years without coming to a rational conclusion. The issue of death penalty has been debated for years by the public, religious organizations and professionals without coming to an agreement. The Catholic Church, for example, is one of the religious organizations that have for decades been in the front line in the fight against death penalty. The Catholic Church argues that instead of imposing death penalty, more lenient forms of punishment should be employed (Megivern p, 391).

The principle objective of the Catholic Church, as far as death penalty is concerned, is to break the cycle of violence, get rid of the culture of death, and seek justice without revenge. Victims of violence have every right to see perpetrators of such violent deeds face the law, and the public acting out of faith has the mandate to assist the victims of violence in their attempt to come to terms with their condition (Mahony para, 5). It is also the right of the general public to seek justice when laws have been violated, peaceful coexistence gotten rid of, and the rights of human beings violated by a variety of violent acts.

The position of the Catholic Church has undergone extensive evolution over the last few decades in calling the public to seek justice rather than revenge (Anon p, 1). The Catholic Church also makes it clear that putting perpetrators to death does not restore the condition as it was before the crime was carried out. The papal authority has constantly called for an end to capital punishment. The Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope issues numerous appeals for clemency for those awaiting punishment by death around the world (Gregory para, 20).

History of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and how it has changed over time The history of the utilization of death penalty, as a mode of punishment for evil deeds, is a story that entails exceptional conducts of the human beings stuffed with all sorts of anomalies. It incorporates religious matters and touches on almost all aspects of culture. The deep involvement of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the in the process of approving the deliberate destruction of the lives of human beings has resulted in development of a novel set of complex beliefs and practices that make up a kind of tradition.

The early Catholic Church beliefs concerning capital punishment resulted in it being regarded as a different mode of punishment. The Bible, according to Hodgkinson and Schabas, is believed to have been the base on which early Catholic Church beliefs concerning death penalty were shaped (p, 117). Had death not been so clearly signified as an exquisitely ordained penalty for all who committed serious crimes, as it is in the Hebrew Bible, the practice of punishing criminals through death would not have gained the kind of momentum it gained in addition to occupying the central position in the Christian history (Megivern p, 8).

The Catholic Church has a rich history of backing up death penalty. In the Vatican city is was death penalty was legal until it was prohibited by Pope Paul VI in the year 1969. The early Catholic Church did not have much of problem with capital punishment (Megivern p, 8). Death penalty, according to Megivern, was taken as an important tool for punishing those who threatened the social and political order (p, 9). This perception has however, changed over the years. There are numerous contradictions when it comes to the teachings and the stand of the Catholic Church on death penalty.

Even though it has not been totally eliminated, the scope of capital punishment has been reduced drastically. Whereas the previous pope was totally against death penalty, constantly writing to law makers and judges to get rid of death penalty, in the United States and other developed countries, the official teaching of the Catholic Church makes it clear that capital punishment is not ethically incorrect in all cases. This calls for understanding of the cases where death penalty is an applicable means of punishing wrong doers (Gregory, para, 30).

Over the years, “against the death penalty”, has turned out to be a common phrase among the Catholic Church faithful. Death penalty is treated as a form of intrinsic evil among Catholic Church faithful. The Catholic Church teachings have, over and over, made it clear that human life is sacred due to the fact that human beings were created by God. It is therefore the duty of each and every person to safeguard and defend the human life at all times. Human life according to the Catholic Church is a gift from God, and all people regardless of the social and economic backgrounds are called upon to enhance it.

The Catholic Church argues that it is morally wrong to take away the life of another person (Cline para, 2). Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has always protected the government in its development and implementation of policies aimed at getting rid of wrong doers from society. This is why at certain times, in the history of the Catholic Church, Christians have supported capital punishment for certain crimes. However, as the Catholic Church continues growing in wisdom and experience, its teachings result in constant refining of capital punishment (Cline para, 4).

The earlier edition of Catholic Church catechism, according not Gregory para, holds onto the traditional teaching of the church concerning death penalty (para, 6). These teachings allowed for the use of death penalty as a way of punishment with intent of protecting public order and defending life. As a result these church teachings redressed the disorder that emanated from the offense. However, the Catholic Church teachings made it clear that bloodless means of punishment should be employed.

It also emphasized on the notion that Christians globally are supposed to show mercy and not revenge (Gregory para, 7). In 1997 the Catholic Church revised the section on death penalty. This revision was executed as a result of the changes in the catechetical presentation of the Catholic Church’s moral stand (Gregory para, 8). However, the purpose of death penalty as a means of restoring public order was not part of the revision. The corresponding perception of death penalty as a way of deterring further serious crimes was also minimized.

After the 1997 revision of catholic catechism had failed to institute capital punishment as a means of restoring public order, the only reason for deterrent values of death punishment was that it provided protection to human beings against perpetrators (Gregory para, 8). In 2005, John Paul II after consultation with Roman Catholic bishops from all over the world came up with a conclusion that death penalty should only be permitted in cases of utter necessity, when it would be impossible to defend the society through other means of punishment (Gregory para, 10).

John Paul II, as indicated by Gregory, pointed out that the world possesses the capacity to protect itself in addition to safeguarding the common good without the need for death penalty (para, 10). The Catholic Church holds onto the fact that various forms of punishment, with the exception of death penalty, have the capacity to protect and defend the safety of the people from perpetrators, and that modern authority is flexible enough to restrict itself to such means.

John Paul II advocated for the use of other punishment modalities such as long periods of imprisonment with intent of promoting safety of the public (Gregory para, 14). These means would punish evil doers without necessarily having to kill them. Since the 1980s catholic bishops in the United States have persistently called for an end to the use of capital punishment in the country. They asserted that sanctity of all human life should be respected, innocent life should be protected, justice should be achieved through law and public order should be preserved (Gregory para, 30).

The bishops claimed that capital punishment does not aid the main intent of reform due to the fact that the opportunity for a prisoner to reform is eliminated. They also argued that even though death penalty protects society from a particular criminal, who committed a serious crime for which death penalty is prescribed; it does not eliminate chances of similar crimes being committed in the future. Catholic Church leadership argued that communities are not made whole and societies are not strengthened through killing those who commit capital crimes.

Death penalty according to the church leadership perpetuates a dangerous cycle of violence that eventually diminishes everyone (Gregory para, 31). In 1999 these bishops made an appeal to prohibit the use of capital punishment and followed it up in 2000 with “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” Document (Gregory para, 29). This was after Pope John Paul II‘s visit to the United States in 1999. The Pope called for the abolition of death penalty.

The Pope challenged the catholic faithful globally to protect the lives of innocent people, in a similar manner to abortion and euthanasia, in addition to protecting the lives of those who may have committed capital crime (Mahony para, 6). In 2005, Catholic bishops revived their fight against death penalty and began educating both Catholics and non-Catholics on the evils associated with death penalty. The American Catholic Church, currently, holds onto the perception that capital punishment under the conditions of the modern American society is not justified in the view of conventional rationale of punishment.

Catholic Church leadership in the United States has developed careful guidelines concerning death penalty, which apply the teachings of the universal Church to the American culture. The modern American Catholic Church leadership has expressed its opinion against death penalty (Gregory para, 30). Whereas the ancient Catholic Church allowed for punishment of capital offenders with death, over the last four decades the Catholic Church has come out strongly against state-sponsored capital punishment (Megivern p, 14).

This deviation from the Catholic Church teachings, which have been in existence for almost two millennia, is highly likely to provoke disagreement within the ranks of Catholic faithful. Modern Catholic Church leadership, as indicated by Hodgkinson and Schabas, charges that there are numerous flaws associated with the use of capital punishment including racial disparity and economic disproportion that take root in the trials of serious offenders (p, 126).

Catholic leadership also makes it clear that chances of wrongly convicting men and women are very high, and therefore death punishment would result in the death of innocent people (Hodgkinson, and Schabas p, 127). Even though the validity of capital punishment has not been totally rejected, the circumstances in which they are approved are so limited that they are virtually impossible. The society is left without an option, rather than stick to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Conclusion It can therefore be concluded that whereas the ancient Catholic Church did not have much of a problem with capital punishment, the modern Catholic Church stands resolutely against capital punishment. The Bible is believed to have been the base on which early Catholic Church beliefs concerning death penalty were shaped. The Catholic Church has a rich history of backing up death penalty. In the Vatican city is was death penalty was legal until it was prohibited by Pope Paul VI in the year 1969.

Death penalty was taken as an important tool for punishing those who threatened the social and political order. This perception has however, changed over the years. The modern Catholic Church leadership has expressed its opinion against death penalty. The Catholic Church teachings make it clear that bloodless means of punishment should be employed. The Catholic Church leadership also asserts that human life is sacred due to the fact that human beings were created by God, and therefore it should be respected.


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