I can understand how Catholic prosecutors or judges might argue that, since the church's historical position on the death penalty has not been categorical and absolute, they should be free to carry out the responsibilities of their jobs...
Q. As you can see from the envelope, I am in prison. Since the church opposes the death penalty, I am trying to understand how a Catholic prosecutor can be allowed to argue repeatedly in favor of it.
From my side of the prison wall, I can tell you that the death penalty would be so much easier for me than living in a prison cell for 40 or 50 years with no chance of parole. Right now, I am coming up on 23 years.
So my second question is this: Is life without parole a justifiable sentence in Jesus' eyes or the church's? (Jefferson City, Missouri)
A. The Catholic Church today clearly and strongly opposes the death penalty. In June 2016, in a video message to an international congress against capital punishment, Pope Francis called for "a world free of the death penalty."
The pope's words in that message were perhaps the most definitive yet in the church's growing opposition to the execution of criminals. "Nowadays," the pope said, "the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church stops somewhat short of that, saying that "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" (No. 2267).
The catechism quickly adds, though, that in contemporary society, cases in which execution is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." Interestingly, of the 195 independent nations recognized by the United Nations, more than two-thirds have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
I can understand how Catholic prosecutors or judges might argue that, since the church's historical position on the death penalty has not been categorical and absolute, they should be free to carry out the responsibilities of their jobs; but given the clarity of the church's current position, I would think it more proper for such officials to recuse themselves when the death penalty is on the table.
As for "life without parole," in 2013 a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked for an end to the practice (in 38 states) of imposing such a sentence on offenders under the age of 18. The bishops did not extend the argument to adult offenders, but in October 2014, speaking to a delegation from the International Association of Penal Law, Pope Francis called a life sentence "just a death penalty in disguise." His words seemed to indicate that he was expressing a personal opinion on this, not a definitive church teaching.
Q. My husband has broken his marriage vows, having been unfaithful with another woman. (She is also married.) All during this time, he was going to Mass and receiving Communion.
The situation is not uncommon, and I know of many other women similarly hurt. While individual priests have been very kind to me during this time, I don't understand why marital infidelity is rarely addressed from the pulpit. Adultery is a full-out assault on the family; it leaves a woman broken and the children damaged.
Yet even though marriages are failing in record numbers, I never hear this issue addressed in church. Would you include in your answer advice about staying in the marriage -- because the majority of wronged spouses whom I know want to forgive and to salvage their families, but the pain is very great and much guidance is needed.
By the way, I am pretty tired of hearing the Gospel story of the women caught in adultery, followed by a sermon on forgiveness and not being judgmental. There is a last line in that reading, where Jesus says, "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore." (Northwestern New Jersey)
A. Sometimes I choose to run a letter in this column not so much for the chance to answer it, but because the letter itself makes a valuable point. Yours is a moving description of the widespread hurt caused by marital infidelity. (For one thing, adultery says to the innocent spouse, "You were not good enough for me.")
I agree that the issue should be addressed more frequently from the pulpit, even though it is a bit awkward with children in the congregation. (I also feel that more should be said about pornography, which is a rampant addiction: Some studies have shown that 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites and that 35 percent of all internet downloads are related to pornography.)
With regard to staying in a marriage after one spouse has strayed, I believe that if the relationship can be put back together, that is always the best option -- especially for the children; but to do so, you'd be best advised to see a marriage counselor to help you through the process.
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.
Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service
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