by Bishop Daniel Flores in America Magazine
Much of the discussion, often rancorous, within the church about the inadmissibility of the death penalty centers around the historical fact that Scripture and tradition acknowledge the authority of the civil authority to administer it. How, then, can the church say it cannot justly be administered today by the public authority?
It seems clear that Pope Francis, developing an impulse already evident in the teaching of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, teaches that the death penalty is a violation of a prior, ineradicable human dignity granted by God, and that the conditions no longer exist wherein the state may justly condemn a person to death.
First of all, even when the church acknowledged in principle the authority of the state in this matter, it did often intervene on behalf of those considered unjustly condemned. Appeals for the life of St. Thomas More, or more recently Jacques Fesch in France in 1957, come to mind. This makes the point that the authority of the state was never considered to have no limits, nor was it considered immune from the moral judgment of the church.
If the church can condemn an unjust use of the death penalty in particular cases, it may do so in general by indicating that the conditions for just administration are not fulfilled in contemporary society. Further, the good of protecting others can be addressed in other ways…