The death penalty

Question: While the Catechism of the Catholic Church technically permits the death penalty, the Catechism and the bishops foresee its use as rare if ever. If capital punishment is foresworn in all cases, a criminal often lives to commit another atrocity. Is society not left helpless? I write as one who has been robbed at gunpoint.

Danny House, via email

Answer: There are many complexities in discussing the death penalty, because there is some tension between the traditional doctrine regarding it and the modern pastoral setting. Unlike abortion, capital punishment is not an intrinsic moral evil for a couple of reasons. First, in certain settings, the use of the death penalty has served the common good, ensuring that dangerous criminals are no longer able to cause harm. In punishing grave offenders, others can be deterred from capital crimes, too. Second, Scripture does not forbid the practice. Even in the New Testament, St. Paul speaks to the state’s right to punish grave offenders in this way, and even indicates that, in so doing, it acts as a minister of God’s justice on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4).

The Church cannot simply overrule Scripture and declare intrinsically evil what God permits in certain circumstances. However, that Scripture permits the death penalty in certain circumstances does not mean that it is always wise or prudent to promote such punishment.

In the modern pastoral setting, recent popes — and the bishops of the world — have taught that recourse to the death penalty should be rare, if ever. A significant part of this prudential judgment is rooted in concern for what Blessed John Paul II called the “culture of death.” The culture of death is a mindset wherein the death or nonexistence of human beings is increasingly proposed as a solution to problems. Abortion, euthanasia and quick recourse warfare or other violent means, along with the anti-life mentality of contraception, are widely promoted in our culture as a way to solve problems. The Church stands foursquare against such thinking.

And even though the death penalty has received reluctant approval in the past, the current pastoral setting seems to require that the Church stand consistently against yet another way wherein death is proposed as a solution to the regrettable problem of crime.

Catholic-Orthodox union

Question: I have a friend who grew up in the Russian Orthodox Church. She married a man from the Roman Catholic Church. They had a Catholic wedding and she now practices Roman Catholicism. She said she did not have to do any thing to become Catholic. Is that correct?

Thomas Pohlen, via email

Answer: No. She should speak to her pastor and request formal acceptance into full communion with the Catholic Church. There are also some protocols that are observed in receiving members from the Orthodox churches that will need some attention. While she would not need to receive sacraments, her formal reception into the Catholic Church is covered by these norms and protocols, which exist to show respect for the rite from which she came.

If she wishes to practice the Latin rite, that can be done, but there are procedures to be followed.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.