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The Heart of the Good News: Life

1. What is at the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ?

  • The heart of Jesus' message is the Gospel of Life.
  • Pope John Paul II teaches: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as 'good news' to the people of every age and culture" (EV, 1).

2. Have we in the Philippines accepted this message?

  • Yes and No.
  • In faith, we have accepted Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
  • But in our lives, we have yet to live according to His Way, His Truth, and His Life.
  • Often, our lives - our attitudes, thoughts, judgements, actions remain untouched by His Life and His teaching.

3. What has Jesus taught us?

  • Jesus taught us how much the Father loves us – despite our many sins. On his Cross, through which we are redeemed, Jesus taught us the depth of the Father's love. In forgiveness, we are loved.
  • In this way, Jesus taught us how valuable our human lives are. For if we were not valuable, why would He suffer and die that we might have life? Our human dignity consists in that we are loved, even without deserving it. We are loved first, forgiven, redeemed, and called to new life by God.
  • In His Spirit, he taught us that loved, we too must love others, and forgiven, we too must forgive others. He taught us to make His Way, our way.

4. In Jesus, what must our attitude to human life be?

  • We must value human life. God creates human life. God loves it. God redeems it. God sanctifies it. Human life is sacred. We must value, love and revere it as God's.

5. Why is it that as Christians we are often not touched by His teaching?

  • Each Christian must search for the answer to this question in his or her individual life.
  • There may be many reasons.
  • We may be poorly informed about the message of Jesus and the implications of this message for ourselves as believers. We may lack familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
  • Or, informed, we may not have entered into the reflection and prayer that would allow God to touch us with this message. We may be too busy for this, too concerned with other things to even consider this.
  • Or, committed to a Christian life, we may lack insight into the demands this Christian commitment makes on various parts of our individual and social lives. As committed Christians, we may go to Mass every Sunday, pray the rosary daily, and strive to care lovingly for our families. But we may be blind to the imperatives of following Jesus in His preferential love for the poor, His will for social justice, His self-sacrificing sanctification of all human life.

6. How do we learn to live a Christian life in the Philippines?

  • Normally, within our families, our parents teach us the basics of Christian life. Our parents introduce us to personal and family prayer, the Church, Sacred Scripture, and worship in the Christian Community.
  • In worshipping God at Sunday Mass, we learn more about the Word of God and its meaning for our lives from our parish priest, deacons, or other teachers in our parish community.
  • We learn more through catechism or religious-instruction classes at school.
  • In living our Faith in our Christian culture, we also learn from other exemplary Christians.
  • Most important, we learn to personally live our Christian life in prayer, and in praying over the Word of God in Sacred Scripture.
  • In all these ways and more, it is the Holy Spirit who forms our Christian conscience and teaches us how Christian life must be lived in fidelity to Jesus Christ.

7. What are some passages in Sacred Scripture that would help us grow in an appreciation of the Gospel of Life?

  • The entire Sacred Scripture is Good News of Life in Jesus Christ. The following are merely some examples of texts that might help grow in the Spirit as we consider the death penalty:
    • Choose Life…that you might live: Deut. 30:19-20
    • God's Mark on Cain: Gen 4:15
    • The Word as life and light: Jn. 1:4
    • Forgive us our trespasses: Mt. 6:12
    • Woman caught in adultery: Jn. 8:3-8
    • Weeds and wheat: Mt. 13: 24-30
    • Prodigal Son: Lk 15:11-32
    • Father, forgive them…Lk 23:34
    • Life and dignity in the Spirit: Rom. 8:
    • Christian vocation and life: Eph. 1:2-12

8. Are we forced to live a Christian life?

  • Christian life is a free response in faith to God's love and care for us. It cannot be forced on us.

Punishment: Towards Life through Conversion

9. In this light, does punishment have a place in Christian life?

  • All human beings are called to do good and avoid evil.
  • Doing good is rewarded, doing evil is punished.
  • Christians are called to follow Christ.
  • Following Christ in freedom is rewarded with deep joy, lasting peace, and a meaningful life - leading to everlasting life.
  • Rejecting Christ deliberately is punished by loss of all that embracing Christ brings - reconciliation with the Father, participation in the mission of His Son on earth, and everlasting joy in heaven.

10. Is there punishment for our individual sins?

  • Yes. Our individual consciences punish us. God punishes us as He in His mercy sees fit. Human society, hurt by our sin, punishes us.

11. What is the purpose of punishment?

  • In Our Church we have long recognized a three-fold purpose of punishment: retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence.
  • Retribution pays the wrongdoer what he deserves for doing wrong.
  • Rehabilitation helps the wrongdoer to err no more.
  • Deterrence discourages others in society from doing similar wrong.

12. How ought the Christian use punishment?

  • Considering that three-fold purpose of punishment, should focus especially on the rehabilitation aspect of punishment for crimes. The Christian is just, but not vengeful. He focuses on the good of the person being punished, even as he hopes others do not sin likewise.
  • Punishment should be such that it helps the sinner turn away from sin and return to a following of Christ. It helps the sinner reject death - the consequence of sin, and accept life - the fruit of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.
  • In this context, the Christian uses punishment for teaching. Applied properly, it helps all avoid what is wrong, and seek what is right. It helps the Christian fulfill what he vows in his Baptism, to reject evil and seek lasting treasure in commitment to the Kingdom of Christ.

13. How strong should the punishment be?

  • The punishment, applied with justice and love, should be in proportion to the gravity of the offense committed.
  • For a light offense the punishment should be light; for a grave offense, the punishment should be grave.
  • For jaywalking, one is not sentenced to 25 years in prison. For causing countless deaths through treason, one is not given mere push-ups.
  • But in the light of Jesus' example, the punishment should not be imposed in a spirit of vengeance.

Death Penalty in the Philippines

14. What are the worst crimes in Philippine law?

  • The worst crimes in Philippine law are "heinous crimes." These are "grievous and hateful offenses … which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity, are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society" (RA 7659).

15. What is the appropriate punishment for heinous crimes?

  • According to Philippine law (RA 7659), depending on the type of heinous crime committed, the appropriate punishment is either necessarily death / or possibly death.
  • In Philippine law, 46 crimes are called heinous.
  • For 21 of these crimes, the death penalty is mandatory.
  • For 25 of these crimes, the death penalty may be imposed.
  • There have been proposals to add more crimes to this list.

16. Is use of the death penalty for very grave crimes accepted in all countries of the world?

  • No. Today, 104 countries of the world, the majority, reject the death penalty.
  • 63 countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
  • 16 countries abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes (wartime crimes).
  • 25 countries abolished the death penalty de facto. They retain the law in their statutes, but in the past ten years they executed no person.
  • 91 other countries, including the Philippines, retain and use the death penalty.

17. Is the death penalty in the Philippines constitutional?

  • Only apparently. The 1987 Constitution included in its Bill of Rights the abolition of the death penalty "unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it" (Art. 3, Sec. 19 [1]).
  • In 1994 the Congress of the Philippines passed RA 7659 imposing the death penalty for heinous crimes.
  • This is the legal status quo.
  • However, there are some who seriously question the constitutionality of RA 7659:
  • The Constitution says: "Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted" (Art. 3, Sec. 19 [1]). The death penalty is arguably cruel, degrading and inhuman.
  • The Constitution says: "The employment of physical, psychological, or degrading punishment against any prisoner or detainee…shall be dealt with by law." The death penalty as provided for in RA 7659 arguably employs physical, psychological and degrading punishment against those convicted of capital crimes.
  • For them, the death penalty is not constitutional.
  • There are others who consider this law immoral and deserving of immediate repeal.
  • There is no moral necessity for this law.
  • Its implementation would be necessarily unjust.
  • The death penalty violates the sacredness of human life.

Development of Church Position
Against Death Penalty

18. Does the Catholic Church accept the death penalty as legitimate?

  • Today, under the moral leadership of Pope John Paul II, the Church practically rejects the death penalty and invites us all to do likewise.
  • It bases this position on Jesus Christ, who died for us and rose that we "might have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10) and so taught us, irreversibly, the dignity of the individual human person.
  • It also bases it on advances in modern penal systems.
  • Traditionally, however, the Catholic Church accepted the death penalty as legitimate for cases it considered very serious, like murder or heresy.

19. Why did the Catholic Church accept the death penalty in the past?

  • Theoretically, the person who committed a capital crime was compared to a diseased part of the human body.

    It was taught that as it was sometimes necessary to amputate a diseased part in order to save the whole body, so is it sometimes necessary to execute the capital criminal in order to save human society.
  • Undervalued was the inviolable dignity of the human person, for whom society exists, and not vice versa. The person is not a "diseased thing" that can be amputated and discarded for the good of society.
  • Furthermore, since rehabilitation was impossible in death, the Church stressed retribution and deterrence. The grievous offender was justly "paid back" with death. Through execution, often horrible (by stoning, hanging, beheading, drawing and quartering, bludgeoning to death, burning at the stake) more crime was to be deterred.

20. Did the Catholic Church use the death penalty in the past?

  • It did - with an intensity that is shocking to the contemporary reader of Church history.

21. What are some examples of the Church's use of the death penalty in the past?

  • The Church used the death penalty liberally against heretics.
  • The first Christian to be killed by other Christian for heresy was Priscilian (385-386). Though initially criticized by contemporary bishops, Pope Leo I (440-461) expressed his full approval of this killing lest "both human and divine law be subverted."
  • The first use of death as a capital punishment for heresy was in the burning of 13 heretics in Orleans in 1022.
  • Innocent III turned over heretics to the secular powers for "appropriate punishment," which included death.
  • Gregory IX, in Excommunicamus (1231), prescribed in canon law the burning of heretics at the stake. He also began the Inquisition. Since then, death was the standard punishment for heresy, and burning at the stake its normal form. Soon thereafter, hundreds of heretics were burned at the stake.
  • Innocent IV, in Ad Extirpanda (1252), sought to render the civil power subservient to the Inquisition, which sentenced heretics, guilty or not guilty, to death. Torture was officially introduced to the inquisitorial procedere.
  • In calling for the Crusades thousands of Christians were sent on "holy war" to assert a type of power that was not in keeping with the Spirit of love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Death: No Solution to Life's Problems

22. What is the attitude of the Church today towards this use of the death penalty and torture against heresy in the past.

  • Pope John Paul II has humbly apologized for this.
  • "Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even to use of violence in the service of truth… Yet the consideration of mitigating factors [in past cultural conditioning] does not exonerate the Church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied her face, preventing her from fully mirroring the image of her crucified Lord, the supreme exemplar of patient love and of humble meekness. From these painful moments of the past a lesson can be drawn for the future, leading all Christians to adhere fully to the sublime principle stated by the Council: 'The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 35).
  • In the Catholic Catechism of the Church, the Church professes regret for "cruel practices" which it engaged in with the civil power. It admits these cruelties were "neither necessary for the public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person" (CCC, 2928).

23. Why is it important to appreciate our own history of using the death penalty in the past?

  • Pope John Paul II is leading us into a radically new "culture of life." Here it is important to appreciate that the "culture of death" was part of our own history of sin in the past. It came with an unbridled attachment to naked power, or a tragically erroneous desire in hate, violence and death to defend the "truth" of the Gospel of love, life and lasting peace.
  • He or she who does not appreciate the past is condemned to repeat its errors.

24. Why is JP II's "Good News of Life" important?

  • Pope John Paul insists that in Jesus Christ we are being challenged to break away from our belief that death, and especially the institutionalized use of death, solves problems. Killing the unwanted unborn, killing the unproductive old, killing the capital offender, killing the enemy through murder, slaughter, war or genocide, aggravated by the "poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources…" (EV, 6) are all part of a "culture of death" that must be rejected.
  • We are being challenged to a radically new "culture of life." This involves reflected commitment to life and the value of human life, that continues to be threatened today.

Absolute Necessity: Rare, Practically Non-Existent

25 . What does Pope John Paul II teach concerning the death penalty.

  • In Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul teaches that punishment "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be otherwise possible to defend society. Today, however, as a result of several improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (EV, 56).

26. What is the contemporary position of the Church on the Death Penalty?

  • The new version of the Catholic Catechism of the Church, which was officially revised after John Paul II's "Evangelium Vitae," says:
    • "Assuming the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
    • "If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect the people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
    • "Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (JP II, EV, 56).

27. In the light of the Good News of Life, how has the Church's position on the Death Penalty developed?

  • The earlier version of the Catholic Catechism of the Church (1992), taught that:
  • "Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.
  • "The Church's position has developed from the legitimate use of the death penalty for the defense of society "in cases of extreme gravity" to a much stricter requirement of "absolute necessity" for the defense of society, which the Pope himself considers "rare, if not practically non-existent."

28. Is it self-evident what a case of "absolute necessity for the defense of society" that is "rare, if not practically non-existent" means? Is there an example of this that can be given?

  • It is not self-evident, nor can an example be given a priori, what particular case, if any, this might be referring to. Certainly, the formulation "absolute necessity for the defense of society" that is "rare, if not practically non-existent" is more stringent, i.e, admits of fewer possibilities, if any, than "in cases of extreme need." The modern Christian must, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, and in the context of his or her local Church, assess the conditions of society and the gravity of the offense of the capital [or heinous] criminal. Individually, in the light of the universal teaching of the Church as explained and applied by his or her local bishops, he must in conscience judge whether capital punishment is warranted.
  • In the Philippines, the bishops have judged that there is no need for capital punishment: Capital punishment is not an absolute necessity for the defense of society.

29. How have the bishops come to that conclusion?

  • They believe that death is not "the only possible way of effectively defending lives against the unjust aggressor" in the Philippines. It is possible for Philippine society to defend itself even against heinous crimes through "non-lethal means."
  • Instead of death, heinous criminals could be punished with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

CBCP: No Moral Necessity for Death Penalty

30. What have the bishops of the Philippines taught concerning the Death Penalty?

  • During the debate on the restoration of the death penalty in the Philippines, the CBCP opposed its restoration. In a statement dated 24 July 1992, they said its restoration would be "a backward step" with "no moral necessity":
  • "The abolition of the death penalty by the 1987 Constitution was a very big step towards a practical recognition of the dignity of every human being created to the image and likeness of God, and of the value of human life from its conception to its natural end.
  • "This advance was in accordance with the 1971 Resolution of the United Nations which declared, 'in order to fully guarantee the right to life… the main objective to be pursued is that of progressively restricting the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed, with a view of abolishing this punishment in all countries'
  • "It would indeed be regrettable, if after that step forward embodied in our Constitution, we should now take a backward step without moral necessity."

31. Why were the bishops against the restoration of the death penalty?

  • The bishops were not convinced that the death penalty deters future crimes. "This deterrent effect on the commission of future crimes has nowhere been established."
  • The bishops were not convinced that retribution necessitates the death penalty. "From the Christian point of view, Christ's words about the forgiveness of injuries and above all his own example on the Cross call not for vindictive punishment, but rather for more humane and humanizing punitive responses to evil doing."
  • The bishops were not convinced by the "amputation theory," namely, "that as in a body it is legitimate to excise a sick organ when such excision is for the good of the whole body, so also it is legitimate to execute a criminal when to do so would redound to the good of the whole of society." The bishops replied: "…While a human being must live for the good of society, society exists in order to promote the good of the individual human being. A human being has a value in himself/herself and is the goal and purpose of society in a way that a limb or organ is not the goal and purpose of the human body."

32. What positive objections did the bishops see to the restoration of the death penalty?

  • The bishops objected to the restoration of the death penalty because:
  • "We cannot exclude the possibility of the imposition of the death sentence on innocent human beings…
  • "The imposition of the death penalty in our country today will have a bias against the poor…
  • "The abolition of the death penalty is consistent with our stance for life, which we want protected and enhanced from its conception to its natural end. ..
  • "The abolition of the death penalty is most consistent with our faith in Jesus Christ and in the merciful God whose face He has revealed to us" (CBCP Statement, 24 July 1992).

33. What did the bishops suggest instead of the death penalty?

  • Instead of the death penalty the bishops suggest:
  • "The relentless pursuit and direct attack on poverty…
  • "The reform of our law enforcement and judicial systems…
  • "The reform of our penal system, so that criminals will indeed be reformed instead of becoming more hardened when they serve out their sentences.
  • "A relentless and coordinated effort to combat heinous crimes.
  • "The cleansing of police and military ranks of scalawags in uniform, many of whom have perpetuated crimes…
  • "The elimination or lessening of the atmosphere of violence propagated by mass media…
  • "The enforcement of the gun ban, so that no persons may carry guns in public places unless they are persons in authority and (for regular policemen and soldiers) wearing their uniform" (CBCP Statement, 24 July 1992).

Dangerous, Discriminatory, Unjust

34. Is the death penalty sometimes imposed on the innocent?

  • Yes. As the bishops of the Philippines warned, the death penalty has been imposed on those who do not deserve it.
  • In the Philippines, all convictions to death must be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Since the re-imposition of the death penalty in 1994, there have been, as of the latest count, 1,064 persons sentenced to death.
  • The Supreme Court has reviewed only 52. Of these, 6 were acquitted, 22 were affirmed, and 22 were reduced.
  • The horror of the death penalty is already obvious in these simple statistics. The Supreme Court acquitted 6 persons - roughly ten percent of the cases it reviewed! These could have died through an unjust imposition of the death penalty. The Supreme Court reduced the death sentence imposed on 22 persons. These could have died through an inappropriate imposition of the death penalty.
  • There is little comfort in the fact that at least the Supreme Court acquitted 6 and commuted 22.
  • When the death penalty is carried out in error, death is final.

35. Is the death penalty imposed fairly on rich and poor alike?

  • No. As the bishops in the Philippines warned, the death penalty in fact is imposed more on the poor than on the rich.
  • A 1998 socio-economic profile of 425 death row convicts showed:
  • Only 27 graduated from college: close to half (46%) were in various stages of elementary school.
  • Only 16 (or short of 4%) were administrators or executives.
  • Over one-fourth were agricultural workers (105 farmers); 73 transport workers; 18 sales workers; 24 service workers (security guards, caretakers, porters)…
  • More than half earned less than the minimum wage (P5,148).

36. What does poverty have to do with unjust impositions of the death penalty?

  • The poor person is generally unable to afford the competent legal defense he would need to fight an unjust or inappropriate imposition on him of the death penalty.
  • Public Defenders often lack experience, skill and competence.
  • Public Defenders have a large case load that makes is practically impossible to represent their clients adequately.
  • Public Defenders work under a conflict of interest: they work for the same Department of Justice that is prosecuting their clients.
  • Lawyers from such organizations as the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) are overworked.
  • Law enforcement agencies and the courts are not free of corruption. In this corrupt system, freedom from punishment for crimes actually done is purchased.
  • Furthermore, if poverty actually conditions heinous crimes, poverty cannot be said to be the fault of the individual poor person alone. There are structures of poverty for which society must take responsibility. These structures are not removed with the death of the convicted poor person.

37. Can the death penalty be justly administered in the Philippines?

  • No. Based on the experience with RA 7659, there is no evidence that the death penalty can be administered justly in the Philippines.
  • The "adequate legal assistance" that is guaranteed by the Constitution despite poverty (Art. 3, Sec. 11) cannot in fact be provided. There is much ignorance of the law.
  • The underdeveloped state of forensic science and investigation in the Philippines places in question the quality of evidence used in sentencing people to death.
  • The Supreme Court was able to review only 52 of 816 cases since this re-imposition of the Death Penalty in 1994. This is but 6.3 % of the cases.
  • If similar number of convictions in the next four years and the Supreme Court reviews cases at the same pace, in four years it shall have reviewed 52 of 1580 cases - or but 3% of cases for review.
  • But while the output of Supreme Court reviews will probably remain steady, the convictions to death will quite certainly increase. There is an inane tendency to add more crimes, like the falsification of land titles, to the list of heinous crimes punishable by death.
  • This means that the period of imprisonment in death row will be necessarily excessively long.
  • Yet the urgent necessity of review by the Supreme Court of the large number of death sentence is proven by the large number of acquittals and commutations in the last four years.
  • Meanwhile, the lives of innocent people on death row, as well as of their families, may be destroyed by this unjustly imposed punishment. Others who do not deserve the death penalty will have been living in the shadow of death for years.
  • Yet our Constitution forbids infliction of "cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment" (Art. 3, Sec. 19 [1]). The Constitution intended that "physical, psychological and degrading punishment" be eliminated in law (Art. 3, Sec. 19 [2]).

38. Does the death penalty deter future crime?

  • As the bishops and countless studies have pointed out, this has never been scientifically proven. It is said the death penalty proves, "Crime does not pay." But this is more rhetoric than reality. It is more wishful thinking than fact.
  • On the contrary, the type of criminals who are involved in highly-paying crimes are not the type of criminals who are being sent to death row.
  • Heinous crimes, on the other hand, are often crimes of passion. They are not normally committed after rational calculation of the type of penalties attached to them. They are often committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or deep personal frustration or anger. The "knowledge of the possibility of the death penalty" does not stop the crime.
  • Insofar as penalties can deter, the certitude of life imprisonment without parole deters more than the occasional death penalty. Crimes met more consistently with certain arrest, conviction, and imprisonment deter more than the remote possibility of a death sentence. This type of deterrence, however, involves cleaning up our justice and penal system and not avoiding this cleansing through a death panacea. Deterrence need not disrespect the value of the human life it propounds to protect.

39. Is the death penalty just retribution for a capital offense?

  • No. Since the punishment is supposed to be proportionate to the offense, it was held that the appropriate penalty for murder was death. It was held that having taken the life of another, the murderer forfeits his right to life.
  • But this is not so. Having committed a serious crime, the murderer deserves serious punishment. But he never forfeits his life. The Lord of life is God. He calls the sinner to repentance, not death.
  • Death used as retribution for sin concentrates all punishment on the person executed. It kills in the conviction that the convicted criminal is totally responsible for the heinous crime he committed.
  • Yet this is not the case. Many criminals commit their crimes as victims of the unpunished crimes of others. The person who kills under the influence of drugs is the victim of the unpunished pusher; the hired killer is victim of his poverty and the person who hires him; the incestuous rapist is victim of the squalor of his slum area and the skewed system of housing production and land-use in the country.
  • This does not deny the criminal's responsibility for his crime, for which he is rightly punished. It denies his sole responsibility. It denies the appropriateness of the death penalty.
  • Killing the criminals does not solve these real problems. As the bishops of the Philippines recommend in first place against heinous crimes is the relentless pursuit of the war against poverty.

Forgiveness and Defense of Society

40. If Jesus Christ taught us forgiveness, should we not forgive all criminals?

  • Jesus Christ did teach us to forgive, as we are forgiven. John Paul II modeled this dramatically when he went to his imprisoned assassin to forgive him.
  • Forgiving the sinner, however, does not necessarily free him from human punishment. Part of punishment as deterrence involves effectively preventing the criminal from further harming society or any of its members. This is normally achieved through imprisonment - which, when necessary, can be life long. In the Philippines, it certainly does not necessitate the death penalty.

41. Is the position of the Church on the death penalty final?

  • The position of the Church against the death penalty is becoming increasingly strong against the death penalty. It has moved from situations where she herself used cruel forms of the death penalty against heretics, to where she allowed it for "medicinal" purposes against sick members of society (in retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence), to where for the defense of society she allowed it in cases of "extreme gravity," to where she now conceives it possible only in cases of "absolute necessity" which are "rare, if not practically non-existent." Stronger formulations in favor of life are still possible.

42. What are some forward looking positions on the abolition of the Death Penalty?

  • Many bishops, especially in developed countries, think the present position should be stronger against the death penalty. Many countries in Europe have abolished the death penalty; their societies survive in peace and prosperity.
  • The bishops of the USA have long been struggling against the death penalty, still without success. The following text from a Joint Pastoral Letter of Bishops James Niedergeses of Nashville and J. Francis Stafford of Memphis is an indication of a future direction:
  • "[Despite all the negative empirical data on violent crimes] "there is another story that makes claim on us – the life of Jesus our Lord.
  • "[Assumed is] a presumption in favor of life…a presupposition which binds all Christians: we should do no harm to our neighbor; how we treat our enemy is the key test of whether we love our neighbor; and the possibility of taking even one life is a prospect we should consider in fear and trembling. The cutting edge of this presumption against our doing violence, especially lethal violence, demands that we oppose the death penalty. We give a firm NO to legalized execution: It is a judgement that flows from the new commandment of Jesus. Hence, we would be negligent in our duty as bishops if we did not speak out! We are convinced that capital punishment does not cultivate an attitude of respect for the sanctity of human life in our society.
  • "[Because] we Christians must also remember that even the murderer does not forfeit the God-given right to be called "neighbor"…(and since) Jesus' radical call to conversion ever unsettles our neat categories: Can we in any honest way say that we love the murderer and still pull the lever which executes him or her? Regardless of the gravity of the crime, would you be able to execute your blood brother? …We must learn to forgive even when no spirit of contrition is shown us! …By taking a life through capital punishment, we do not reverse the cycle of violence. We do not even diminish it; we accelerate it… Capital punishment is the outward sign of an inward mindset that believes that the scales of justice can be balanced by violent means."

43. What are some desirable dimensions of a moral evaluation of capital punishment today?

  • As in the above statement, a moral evaluation of capital punishments must:
  • "Be centered on Jesus Christ
  • "Contain a presumption in favor of life.
  • "View Capital punishment not in terms of retribution, rehabilitation and deterrence, but in terms of respect for the sanctity of life
  • "Promote forgiveness, even when there is no repentence
  • "Help reverse the prevailing cycle of violence."

Unconditionally Pro-Life

44. What was Pope John Paul II's most recent, and most startling statement on the death penalty?

  • In the Trans World Dome at St. Louis on Jan. 27, 1999, the Pope urged: "Be unconditionally pro-life!" He appealed for a "consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."
  • "The new evangelization must also bring out the truth that "the Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel" (EV, 2). …
  • "The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. E.V., 27). I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

45. Is it necessary for us to promote a new culture of life against a culture of death?

  • -- This is the challenge that is given to us by Jesus Christ. This is the challenge profoundly articulated in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Evangelium Vitae:
  • "What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new because it will be able to confront and solve today's unprecedented problems affecting human life; new because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic conviction by all Christians; new because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgent need for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historical situation, it is also rooted in the church's mission of evangelization. The purpose of the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within, so that they may express the full truth about the human person and human life. We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of life within Christian communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers, even those who take an active part in the church, end up by separating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life and thus fall into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting. With great openness and courage we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families and groups of communities in our dioceses. With equal clarity and determination we must identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth. At the same time, we need to promote a serious in -depth exchange about basic issues of human life with everyone, including nonbelievers, in intellectual circles in the various professional spheres and at the level of people's everyday life" (EV 95).

46. Where are the deepest roots of the struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death?

  • Pope John Paul II locates the roots of the struggle between the culture of life and death in "the eclipse of the sense of God and man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism. When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life" (EV, 21).

47. What can we do concretely to work against the death penalty?

  • We must commit ourselves to a new culture of life. We must rediscover the value and sanctity of human life - created, loved, redeemed and nourished by God. We must not allow the sense of humanity and God to eclipse in our lives.
  • We must pray that we might grow and live in this commitment – that includes, from a deep appreciation of life, not only opposition to the death penalty, but opposition to abortion, euthanasia, contemporary institutionalized killing, war, genocide and all forms of degrading poverty that militate against the dignity of human life.
  • We must inform ourselves more about the death penalty in the Philippines (RA 7659) and allow our commitment to the dignity of the human person assess its content and implementation.
  • We must share the results of our assessments with our families, our friends, our basic ecclesial communities, our mandated organizations, our people's organizations and non-government organizations.
  • If we are then convinced, as the bishops of the Philippines are convinced, that the death penalty in the Philippines is not only bereft of moral justification, but in fact is necessarily immoral in its implementation, then we should work for its abolition. We should bring pressure on our lawmakers to repeal this law.
  • We should support and collaborate with organizations such as the Free Legal Assistance Group v dedicated to the legal defense of capital criminals and to the abolition of the death penalty.
  • In promotion of a new culture of life, we should overcome all that belongs to a culture of death - including the death penalty in the Philippines. Jesus Christ was sentenced to death and died by crucifixion—the death penalty of His time. This fact alone should tell us much about how we Christians of today should regard the death penalty—and the easy way, as was noted above, it is composed on the "least of His brethren".


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