Saturday, December 23, 2006

As we prepare to observe the Incarnation of the Son of God, Part III

The good news at the end of this Advent is that in two states, both of which have Catholic and Republican governors, Florida and California, all executions have been halted after the botched execution of convicted murderer Angel Nieves Diaz, in Florida, on 13 December. Executions in these states were stopped due to persistent problems with lethal injection that show this form of execution violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Apart from the basic question as to whether execution is a legitimate form of punishment, except in cases in which it is the only way to safeguard the population, there are problems with the death penalty in the U.S. The first problem is that, in the rush to judge and punish, innocent people have been convicted, senetenced to death and very nearly executed. Although it remains far from clear whether innocents have, in fact, been executed. This is why, a few years back, executions in the state of Illinois were suspended.

At the root of this problem, in almost all these cases, is race and poverty. Rather than the prosecution bearing the burden of proof, it seems to fall to the accused to prove their innocence. In addition to being unconstitutional, it is practically impossible for many of these accused, who have to be defended by court-appointed public defenders who are over-worked, understaffed, and underfunded. These public defenders have many, many clients and no resources at their disposal, especially when compared to the virtually unlimited resources the prosecution has at its disposal.

Leaving that aside, we are reminded that the "traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. 'If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
'Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267, which, in turn, quotes John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae, 56)-emboldened and underlining emphasis mine.

So important is this teaching that number 2267 of the Catechism was revised after the promulgation of Evangelium Vitae in 1995, as the Catechism was initally promulgated in 1992.

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