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November 2 2017

article by Andrea Riccardi

Death Penalty: Horror or Injustice

(Famiglia cristiana) translated in English

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With all its horror and its inherent injustice, the death penalty can never have justifications, neither political, neither legal, neither religious. About this, the traditional teaching of the Church is also changing.
Andrea Riccardi speaks in an editorial about Christian Families, starting with the drama of Ahmadreza Djalali researcher and doctor, condemned to death in Iran. Ahmadreza Djalali, a 45 year-old researcher and Iranian doctor, an expert in emergency medicine, was condemned to death in his country, accused of espionage.
The trial, which is followed by the condemnation, was done without guarantees, while the accused had known terrible conditions in prison. Many in Europe, among which many in the Italian University, have been mobilized for him. Such a choral testimony in favour of Djalali (220,000 signatures were collected), should prompt the Iranian authorities to rethink things. We hope so.
Also in this case, we measure the horror and injustice of the death penalty, when the state directly decides about the man’s life. Unfortunately, capital punishment is allowed in big countries, like the United States and China, but also in many Muslim countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, where it is justified by Islamic law.
However, the case of Ahmadreza Djalali imposes again a reflection. In front of the life of the man, the drama of his family, the pain of his children, the death penalty never has justification: neither political, neither legal, much less religiously. In this sense, our generation has understood profoundly, something the previous ones had unfortunately undervalued.
Recently, Pope Francis voiced this concern, “It is in itself contrary to the Gospel”. Clear words: finally, clarity of the ambiguities of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which for the need for continuity with the traditional teaching, had retained the possibility of the death penalty, while surrounding it with caution and distinction. It reads in the Catechism: ‘The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude (…) the use of the death penalty, when this was the only practical way’ even though now ‘the cases in which it is necessary to suppress the inmate are very rare if not practically non-existent’.
These statements did not convince of the light of the Gospel. Francis acknowledged that the death penalty was passively accepted by Christians. ‘Here’, he said, ‘we are not in the presence of any contradiction of the teaching of the past, because the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death, has always been found in the teaching of the Church with a consistent and authoritative voice. The change is a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the Christian message. Pope John XXIII affirms, ‘It’s not the Gospel that changes, it is us that begin to understand better.’
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