Catholic Social Teaching and Death Penalty in the US

Today, the problems that the modern world faces have become more evident – problems, first of all, social, psychological, and spiritual. The appeal to traditional religions is understood as an integral part of the experience accumulated by a person. Of particular interest is the analysis of the positions of Christian denominations in solving such social issues as the use of the death penalty in the United States. Many consider such punishment worthy and suitable, but religion considers such measure unnecessary, pointing out that only God can choose whom to live and whom to die and that the death penalty is a crime against the sanctity of life and the human person’s dignity.

The Catholic Social Teaching is a set of socio-political, economic, and ethical concepts. A specific feature of the Church’s social doctrine is its philosophical, sociological, and ethical justification and its obligatory theological argumentation and references to biblical texts (Wright 32). The teaching of Catholicism is based on the bible and traditions of the Catholic Church. The main four unshakable principles of the social teaching of the Catholic Church are the dignity of the human person, the common good, the principle of subsidiarity, and solidarity (Brigham 35). An important place in Catholicism’s social doctrine is occupied by describing the crisis state of modern civilization, based on a secular humanistic rather than Christian culture. It is believed that the deprivation of human spirituality people will put itself in danger of destruction.

Catholic social teaching takes a firm stand on human dignity issues related to the beginning and end of life, such as the death penalty. In the United States of America, this problem is particularly acute, since today, in a country where twenty-two percent of the population is Catholic, criminals can be executed in thirty one states. In most cases, the death penalty is applied for murder, but in some states, such as Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, new laws have been passed that provide for the death penalty for the rape of a child. The execution remains at the federal level, the right to pardon those sentenced belongs to the governor of the state, and the cassation and supervisory review of such sentences is the prerogative of the State Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court (Garrett and Kovarsky 25). This measure of punishment is considered more than deserved and justified for many people and, because of society’s support, the death penalty is still practiced in most American states.

However, in Catholic social teaching death penalty, it is considered an affront to human dignity, which is based on racial and economic preconception (A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty 1). Death in the Catholic teaching is a natural process in the sense that human nature is mortal, and the soul can separate from the body (Levada 1). However, it is also known that death is the fruit of sin: God gave the first people the gift of immortality, but by committing original sin, they lost this gift for themselves and their descendants. Christ died in complete and free obedience to His Father’s will. Those who die with a wholly purified soul will live with Christ forever, and the souls of those who die of mortal sin are immediately descended to hell, where they are exposed to eternal torment (Catholic Holy Bible Reader’s Edition, Timothy 2:2-11). The Lord makes it clear that the torments of hell are endless. No one can independently choose whether to live or die, and only God can make such decisions.

The social teaching of Catholicism is faced with the essential tasks: to continually emphasize the natural and spiritual dignity and rights of man, to critically evaluate any solutions to social problems that contradict the principles of this teaching, and to seek, taking into account the conditions of the place, time and human possibilities, a solution to these problems that would contribute to the improvement and development of man (McKenna 16). Catholics believe that such crucial punishment is unacceptable and consider it to be a crime against the tasks which are faced by religion. Faith offers a unique perspective on crime and punishment based on mercy and salvation rather than a sentence passed. Catholic social teaching believes that if a society can protect itself without destroying human life, then, having this ability, it is obliged to do so regardless of the severity of the crime. It also emphasizes that we are all sinners, but through the redemptive power of His Cross, Jesus Christ gave us eternal life (Francis 143). The death penalty, in turn, deprives any prospect of transforming the soul of the condemned person to a new life.

Catholic social teaching is a specific view of society, created to explain it through Christian religion and assess various social establishments and phenomena. It is a part of theology that addresses society and tries to give it a theological justification. Social doctrine theorists view this teaching as part of anthropology, the doctrine of man. Thus, the teaching is rooted towards charity and the protection of life itself, so it leaves a chance to convert even the most hardened sinners in the death penalty cases.

Works Cited

Brigham, Erin. See, judge, act: Catholic social teaching and service learning. Anselm Academic, 2018.

Catholic Holy Bible Reader’s Edition. Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Francis. Apostolic exhortation evangelii gaudium of the holy father Francis to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. Vatican Press, 2014, pp. 110-155.

Garrett, Brandon and Lee Kovarsky. The death penalty. Foundation Press, 2018.

Levada, William Card. Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical questions. Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, 2008. Web.

McKenna, Kevin E. A concise guide to Catholic social teaching. Ave Maria Press, 2019.

“Statement by USCCB A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty”. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1999.

Wright, Karen Shields. The principles of Catholic social teaching: A guide for decision making from daily clinical encounters to national policy-making. The Linacre Quarterly, vol. 84, no. 1, 2017, pp. 10-22. doi/abs/10.1080/00243639.2016.1274629

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DemoEssays. "Catholic Social Teaching and Death Penalty in the US." September 19, 2022.