“Maryland revisits death penalty repeal” (CR, Feb. 7) included an important quotation from the Catechism, where the death penalty is appropriate “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” That principle has been totally overlooked in the many years of death-penalty debates, in which most people focus on murders committed in the general civil society.
However, there are also murders committed inside prison, and hardly anyone bothers to think about those. Someone serving a 7-year sentence can quite easily be murdered by more violent criminals who are already serving life without parole. Without the availability of the death penalty, there is no way to dissuade really bad criminals from killing lesser and weaker inmates. The penalties imposed that way upon lesser criminals are emphatically not what our society justly prescribes.
In the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II devoted under 2 pages (section 56) to the death penalty, and stated very similar words about defending society. Without a properly-functioning prison system, you don’t have a civil society that works. Without the option of the death penalty, the prison system doesn’t function properly.
March 19, 2013 CatholicReview.org