On May 13, after seven days of deliberations, a federal jury has found abortionist Kermit Gosnell guilty of three counts of first-degree murder (in the deaths of Babies A, C and E, who were born alive and then killed by having their spinal cords “snipped” with scissors) and one count of second-degree murder (in the death of an adult woman). Baby A, the largest, was estimated to be 29 weeks gestation, and was so large that clinic workers took photographs before his life was snuffed out by Gosnell’s scissors.
Granted, the shocking murders are only the tip of the iceberg, and hundreds or thousands of others likely met a similar death in his grimy clinic. But now what? What penalty should be assessed against this brutal killer who held innocent human life in such disregard?
One option facing Gosnell is the death penalty. If you’re a Catholic, however, your preference should be that the man responsible for the grisly deaths of newborns be given a life sentence. In the face of such abject evil, a desire for vengeance is certainly understandable.
Capital punishment, however, does nothing to restore the victims to life; but it does potentially impede the action of God in the heart of the offender. When we are injured, Jesus asks that we turn the other cheek; likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church insists that capital punishment not be used unless there is no other recourse.
In a nutshell, the Church asserts that:
- The State has a right and responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, and to preserve the common good.
- Legitimate public authority (a police force) may inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. This penalty serves the purpose of redressing the disorder, and—as much as possible—should help in restoring the offender.
- In certain situations (such as during wartime), when capital punishment is the only practical way to defend human lives against the aggressor, it is not wrong to employ the death penalty.
- However—and this is most important—if bloodless means are available to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means.
- In contemporary American society, when the option of secure imprisonment is available, cases of absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
The Church hopes with Christ that the sinner—even the very great sinner—will freely repent and be reconciled with Christ. To forcibly take the life of a criminal, thereby taking from him the opportunity for repentance, would be wrong.