1) The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and two thousand years of traditional teaching are clear, the Church supports capital punishment to protect the innocent, completely examined in my book, Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support. and as the Catechism section on legitimate defense notes:
“2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."
“2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.
“2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
“2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, 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.
“2267 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.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2263-2267)
2) Unfortunately however, many bishop’s conferences have interpreted this—following the policies of the secular-humanistic factions some American conferences have long been aligned with, noted in a previous post—as cause for the abolition of capital punishment, as this recent case in California, reported by Catholic San Francisco Online, does.
“The Catholic bishops of California, just two days prior to a scheduled execution at San Quentin State Prison, this week called for a moratorium on use of the death penalty in the state in order to evaluate whether its use “serves the common good and safeguards the dignity of human life.”
“The bishops said they are convinced it does not, and in a statement they implored all Californians “to ask themselves what good comes of state-sanctioned killing.”
“The bishops spoke as the California Catholic Conference, representing the state’s 12 dioceses and 11 million Catholic faithful, reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty and asked for clemency for any individual on death row.
“The statement by Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and CCC president, was issued as lawyers for the state and condemned killer Albert Greenwood Brown sought eleventh-hour court orders that would either allow or postpone Brown’s scheduled execution Thursday at 9 p.m.
“We recognize the profound pain of those who lost a loved one to violence and offer them our prayers and our consolation,” Bishop Wilkerson said. “However, nothing can undo what was done – even taking the life of the convicted killer. The infliction of the death penalty does not make for a more just society.”
“Brown’s execution was to be the first in nearly five years in California. He was convicted and sentenced in 1982 for the 1980 rape and murder of Susan Jordan, 15, attacked while walking to school in Riverside. After the murder, Brown called the girl’s parents and told them they would never see her alive again. He directed them to the orange grove where her body was found. Just four months before he killed Susan Jordan, Brown had been paroled from state prison after being convicted of a 1977 rape of a 14-year-old girl.”