The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.
--Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999, St. Louis, Missouri
Victim Jennifer Hawke-Petit's father, Rev. Richard Hawke feels differently than John Paul II, Pope Benedict and the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the death penalty. Governor Jodi Rell, also not Catholic, feels that some crimes can only be answered with the death penalty.
Rev. Hawke's position is understandable. Even Pope Benedict has stated "While the Church exhorts civil authorities . . . to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible . . . to have recourse to capital punishment." With a crime so monstrous as the Cheshire home invasion, it's hard not to hope for the harshest retribution for the perpetrators, and to think of them, not as people, but monsters.
But the Church does look at criminals as people. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, asserts: "great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors" because of the God-created value and dignity of every life, even the lives of those who do not, themselves, value life.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267 ...the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."John Paul II's World Day of Peace message of 2001 focused on forgiveness: "No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness: I shall not tire of repeating this warning to those who, for one reason or another, nourish feelings of hatred, a desire for revenge or the will to destroy."
Nothing mirrors forgiveness and mercy more beautifully than the story of Joe Walker of Texas, whose 40 year-old daughter was brutally murdered in a home she was selling as a real estate agent. The Divine Mercy Chaplet, which Walker prayed daily, instructed him that he must forgive his daughter's killer.
From the moment his daughter's killer was named, Walker prayed for him. "People want revenge, but revenge never works. Yes, it was just a totally senseless, random act. But everyone deserves every bit of their life so they can have a chance to repent and go to heaven. I believe that totally, completely." Belief in the Divine Mercy allowed Walker to forgive.
Let us be a people of the New Testament, not rendering an eye for an eye, but granting mercy and forgiveness. In the words of John Paul II: "In these troubled times, may the whole human family find true and lasting peace, born of the marriage of justice and mercy!"