HOMILY ON THE DEATH PENALTY
(After a summary of the Gospel readings, and if possible, look for an entrance into the topic of the Death Penalty. The purpose of this homily is to clarify with parishioners the Church’s teaching in the Catholic Catechism in paragraph 2267. Pope Francis brought recent church development on the topic to a clear and definite teaching.)
I would like to reflect with you today on the recent statement by Pope Francis in advancing the teaching of the Catholic Church in article 2267 of the Catholic Catechism, saying: "The church teaches, in the light of the gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible."
Many of us have always presumed that the death penalty was in conformity with the Bible and the Church’s traditions. We want to reflect for a moment on the development of the concept through the Old and New Testaments and church tradition.
In the Old Testamentin the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy there is the teaching known as the "Talionis Law"-"an eye for an eye". This precept was not seeking vengeance but rather a limit for the punishment, to assure that it corresponded to the crime. In the book of Dt. there were up to 20 offenses that deserved the death penalty.
The mentality of that time was that the crime of one required an atoning sacrifice because God could blame the whole community and therefore the crime of killing someone needed community cleansing.
It is something that the some defenders of the death penalty today feel about the execution of one who has taken the life of another requires an execution to balance justice. It was a bit like the Jewish tradition of atonement sacrifice.
According to this custom a sense of atonement required that a goat be sent to the desert to die for the sins of the people. Our saying of a “scapegoat” comes from this tradition. The teaching of the scribes was developed until in the time of Christ an execution carried out by the Jews was almost impossible. They had noticed that in Gen. 4 God showed mercy to Cain. In Ezequiel 33 God said to the Prophet: "I do not want the death of the sinner, but that he repent and be saved."
The Jews and we Catholics are faithful to our traditions.It turns out that a large source of our tradition is the liturgy that contrasts with the literal teaching of "an eye for an eye" and retributive justice. Liturgy shows a perspective of development or progress in its expression. Although the liturgy does not include all of Christian life, the whole Christian life must be saturated by the spirit of the liturgy. Christ said, "I have not come to abolish the law and tradition but to bring it to completion."
The first covenant based on animal offerings and their blood for sins is fulfilled once and for all in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins. Karl Barth, a Protestant theologian said: "If Christ was nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, how can we continue to use the idea of atonement to establish the death penalty?" The development of church theology throughout the 20th century was increasing support of the death penalty.
The debate on the death penalty has been very strong and has divided Catholic parishioners and the whole society. In 2016, 46%of Catholics in the United States opposed the death penalty, while 43%supported it.
The bishops of the United States pronounced against the death penalty in 1974. In 1992 the Catholic Catechism “permitted” the use of the death penalty In cases of extreme gravity and in 1997 allowed if it was the only way to effectively defend human lives. It was the publication of "The Gospel of Life"by Pope John Paul II in 1995 that emphasized human dignity and the sanctity of all life, as opposed to not only abortion and euthanasia, but also to the death penalty. The last three popes have given this broad approach to Pro-life. It is sometimes referred to as life "from the womb to the tomb." The same principle has to be applied in all practices related to human life, without exception, although this is not intended to put abortion on the same plane as other threats to life.
Only this year 2018 Pope Francis,following the growing development of opposition to the death penalty and in conformity with all scripture and tradition (such as the liturgy) stated in paragraph 2267 that "the church teaches in the light of the gospel that death penalty is inadmissible."The bishops of the United States welcomed the statement saying: "All human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and the dignity given to them by the creator cannot be extinguished, even by grave sin”.Cardinal Cupich of Chicago with respect to human dignity applied it to other matters that also threaten human life, such as the sale of human organisms, hostility to immigrants, abortion, and terrorism, all without making the death penalty equal to the serious evil of abortion.
In summary, Pope Francis in his statement takes the development of the Church's teaching on the death penalty to its termination in paragraph 2267 of the Catholic Catechism clarifying: "The Church teaches in the light of the gospel that the death penalty is inadmissible."