Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Season of hope?

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Jurors think John Allen Muhammad ought to die.

Seven women and five men made the recommendation last week that Muhammad, convicted of orchestrating the D.C. sniper killing spree, be given the death penalty. The formal sentencing takes place next February. Although the judge has the option of going against the sentencing recommendation, it’s unlikely.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert agreed with the sentencing recommendation, which he said was appropriate for “the worst of the worst.” Someone like John Allen Muhammad.

Ebert also said Muhammad is “the kind of man that doesn’t need to be in society.”

There are plenty of arguments about the use of the death penalty in the United States. For and against.

Here’s what the 1994 Catechism of the United States has to say about it:

“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. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.

“The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally punishment has medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

“If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and 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.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2266-2267)

“The common good.” It does not serve us as a society to execute those we find guilty of crime, whatever that crime might be. A doctor performing abortions does not deserve to be assassinated. An assassin does not deserve to be executed. It is a violation of the intrinsic value of each and every human life – from the preborn to the dying. From the cradle to the grave. A seamless garment of life.

We have the means of protecting society from those convicted of crime. To suggest that we improve society by eliminating those we find – let’s face it: inconvenient – ultimately harms society.

And not just because it lessens our understanding of this very difficult teaching – and it is difficult – regarding the treasure that is human life.

Ultimately, the death penalty is a sin against hope. By executing someone we declare there is no hope: there is no hope that society can protect itself; there is no hope that this individual can possibly use the rest of the life span God allots to do any good, in any way, to anyone, for anyone. That there is no hope for change, there is no hope for reformation of life. There is no hope.

Surely we can do better than to give institutional testimony to despair. Especially during this season of Advent – the season of hope.

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