Is the Death Penalty Moral?
Further to the recent terrible news of the shooting in Colorado at a screening of the new Batman film there has been a considerable amount of discussion regarding whether the perpetrator, James Holmes, should face the death penalty or not.
Perhaps the best way to start is to consider what the Church teaches about good and evil acts. Let’s look at the Catechism of the Catholic church, which presents an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic teaching, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition (cf. CCC 11).
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.
We see this explained in CCC 2266: punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense and if willingly accepted by the perpetrator, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (cf. Luke 23:40-43; CCC 2266).
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, 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.”