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Bishop Christopher Saunders, writing in relation to the execution of Saddam Hussein (Catholic Weekly, 28 January 2007), refers to 'the pointlessness and obscenity of the death penalty.'
With respect to Bishop Saunders, the Church's position on capital punishment is not clear-cut.
In his Catechism, Pope St Pius X stated, 'It is lawful to kill ... when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment for a crime' (Fifth Commandment, Question 3).
Father John Hardon SJ points out that 'it is certain from Scripture that civil authorities may lawfully put malefactors to death ... Among the errors of the Waldenses condemned by the Church in the early 13th century was the proposition that denied the lawfulness of capital punishment (Argentré Collectio de Novis Erroribus, 1, 86) ... St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) defends capital punishment on the grounds of the common good' (Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 81).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2266) sets out the Church's position as follows: 'Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty ...'.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 20 No 3 (April 2007), p. 16
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