To the editor:
Brandon Ruth's letter, "Catholic Church has always upheld the death penalty," is correct in its assertion that the traditional teaching of the church allows legitimate civil authorities the right to protect themselves, including recourse to the death penalty "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."
Where Ruth makes departs from Catholic teaching, however, is in his attempt to freeze the legitimate teaching authority of the church somewhere around the era of 1952. Catholics believe their bishops to be the official teachers of the church. None of them acts alone. In fact, no Catholic really ever acts alone if he understands who he is as member of the Body of Christ.
Our current teaching, as it has evolved, is that the death penalty ought not be used except in cases of extreme necessity, and that "today É such cases are very rare if practically nonexistent" (Pope John Paul II). Simply put, we believe that there are better ways of protecting our people from violent crimes. Moreover, we believe the application of the death penalty has been discriminatory toward the poor, the indigent and racial minorities. Our commitment to the value of human life leads us to oppose the use of the death penalty. While many people, including Catholics, struggle with this teaching, it is not the result of moral relativism, but the ongoing attempt of an imperfect church to be faithful to Christ.
The REV. J. FRIEDEL
Catholic Campus Ministry
Southeast Missouri State University