Death penalty not an end to prolife
Death penalty may not be identical to prolife but the two concepts are related; they do not necessarily exclude each other. Even if the death penalty were to be approved, it would not mean the end of the prolife movement.
Prolife is much, much broader than the death penalty issue which is only one of the aspects—albeit an important one—of the prolife stand. The “Catechism for Filipino Catholics” (CFC), even considers its rationality in No. 1041. (CFC was approved by the Vatican on March 6, 1997.) No. 1041 concludes: “The Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines (CBCP) in 1979 supported abolishing the Death Penalty, and this stand against capital punishment was repeated in 1991 ‘in consonance with the spirit of the Gospel and of Jesus Christ.’”
However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) does “not exclude the death penalty in cases of extreme gravity” (CCC 2266). Surely, the Christian ideal is, to be able to abolish the death penalty out of respect for human life. But actual societal conditions in some countries may not
be such as to make this ideal feasible.
Nevertheless, it remains a serious Christian task to work precisely toward changing social conditions so that the abolition of capital punishment becomes an actual possibility. It must be noted though that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as a whole and its member-bishops in their individual capacities have in recent months issued statements against the restoration of the death penalty.
Still, it would not appear right for our Church to chastise our elected officials should they restore the death penalty. We elected them and any decision of theirs, we are sure, would be well-measured and well-discerned considering the many pronouncements various church and religious groups have made against the death penalty.
The common tendency to “threaten” those who voted in favor of reinstating the death penalty is unbecoming, to say the least; it assumes a claim to superiority over our elected officials. Which disrespects their consciences and freedom to think on their own. People do not have to agree with us for them to be good. We are not the standard of goodness or righteousness, otherwise we lend credence to charges that we are today’s Pharisees.
Our broad prolife stand encompasses our condemnation of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, physical torture, hostage-taking, drug abuse and willful suicide. Write on the list, as well, assaults on human integrity—mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressure, aside from the subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation and prostitution that a great number of our people are subjected to. The questions about the death penalty and a just war are “food” for the ongoing moral reflection within and without the Church (CFC 1058).
The listed issues are not exhaustive as they do not include graft and corruption, extrajudicial killings, human trafficking, the exploitation of children, the abuse of the environment, etc. That it is the Church’s responsibility to denounce such abuses cannot be overstated, but we have to bear in mind we are an intercultural and interreligious society, so not one ideology or religion should predominate over the others. A consensus should be reached instead, in the spirit of true dialogue, which the Church advocates today as essential to the work of evangelization. We are called to serve, not to be served, much less to lord it over the rest.
How can we help to improve the quality of life? It is not enough to make statements and manifest our values in public; we must give convincing testimonies and examples of how to change “social conditions so that the abolition of capital punishment becomes an actual possibility” (CFC 1041), and the sacredness and quality of ALL LIFE may be affirmed, respected, defended and promoted.
Antonio Maria Rosales ([email protected]), a Franciscan, served as a parish priest in Forbes Park, Makati. Currently based in St. Francis Friary, Punta Princesa, Cebu City, he teaches part-time at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute, Davao City. He recently launched his 10th book, “The Encounter That Changed Missions Forever.”