Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Catholic Church worldwide is working hard for the repeal of the death penalty. This is a topic that even within the Church and within Christianity itself we have a difference of opinion. It is not a position that the Church calls intrinsically evil. The Church had no difficulty with the death penalty for centuries but there has been a change. She is trying to convince us that we should see the life in prison without parole as a sufficient penalty for even the most heinous of crimes.

Cardinal Stephen Kim had a intense opposition to the death penalty. Part of the reason was that he knew many of those who were sentenced from his visits to the prisons. He got to know them personally and suffered when they were killed. He knew that many who were sentenced to death where from the underprivileged social class and background.

Here in Korea the opinion is very much for the death penalty so the movement to change the sentiment on this subject will not be easy. I can recall stories of children and families being killed for the simple reason that the fathers of the family went to the North at the start of the Korean War. The wounds that were inflicted at that time were such that they are still too raw to even attempt to make amends, even after the passage of so much time. No one even wants to bring it up in conversation.

A great deal of this is retribution: the eye for eye approach to justice. The vast majority of democratic countries in Europe and Latin America have abolished capital punishment over the last fifty years, but the United States, and most democracies in Asia, and almost all totalitarian governments retain it.

There is no scientific proof that nations with capital punishment have a lower rate of crime; the risk of the death penalty does not seem to deter crime. Many feel that the capital punishment brutalizes us, makes us insensitive to the precious nature of every single human life."

John L. Allen in one of his blogs mentioned, “The Church now has two categories of moral teachings: what we might call "ontic" or "inherent" absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which are considered always and everywhere immoral because of the nature of the act, and "practical" absolutes, i.e., acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.” This is a very succinct way of putting it and helps us understand why we have so much difficulty in coming to some sort of consensus on this issue. For some the distinction does not mean much.

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