Defend Life by Taking Life?

It’s time for a new ethic—justice without vengeance.

I am a pastor who has witnessed the irreparable pain and sorrow caused by violence in our communities. I have presided at the funerals of police officers killed in the line of duty. I have sought to console and comfort families who have lost children to drive-by shootings. I have heard the concerns and fears of parents who live—day in and day out—surrounded by the violence that haunts their neighborhoods.

As a priest, I have seen the pain of those whose lives have been forever altered by the loss of a loved one to senseless murder. Their own struggles have tested not only their faith but the faith of those who walk with them. As their own quest for healing has brought them closer to God, their witness has been a light of hope to those who accompany them.

I believe that the reality of sin demands that those who injure others must make reparation. But I do not believe that society is made safer, that our communities are made whole, or that our social fabric is strengthened by killing those who kill others. Instead, the death penalty perpetuates an insidious cycle of violence that, in the end, diminishes all of us.

For centuries, the Catholic Church accepted the right of the state to take a life in order to protect society. But over time and in the light of new realities, Catholic teaching now recognizes that there are nonviolent means to protect society and to hold offenders accountable. Church teaching now clearly argues for the abolition of capital punishment.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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