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A History of the Catholic Church on the Death Penalty

Despite preaching immense love and respect for humanity, Catholicism exhibited extreme views on the death penalty. Going back to the earliest times, Christianity adhered to the concept of vengeance instead of forgiveness. An eye for an eye, life for life, limb for limb had been the doctrine of olden times Christianity. This was the doctrine of the churches and all the popes had been following it until The Church published its approved catechism in 1992 for the first time in over four centuries. Pope John Paul II described death penalty in these words: the right and duty of the 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 1992 text then asserts that the primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. Finally, it states, 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 second publication came in Latin in 1997 and to its readers’ surprise, the second version of catechism contained a significant change in the definition of the death penalty. But even before that Pope John Paul II issued a letter titled On Human Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995). The letter emphasized the importance of the human life and reverence. It also arose many moral issues related to the death penalty. Although Pope John Paul had been favoring the death penalty as per the Capital Laws in the past this new shift surprised the Church’s followers to a great extent. Finally in the 1997 version death penalty was acceptable only in the extreme case of protecting one from the aggressor.