To the editor:
In a letter last week, Brandon Ruth expressed his belief that Pope John Paul II's statements on the death penalty reflect the pope's personal beliefs and not the "true teaching" of the Roman Catholic Church. The church's teaching on the death penalty, like many other moral teachings, has evolved over time after further reflection and greater understanding. Throughout history, church teaching on significant issues has evolved as its understanding of God's revelation has increased. Changing social and economic situations, scientific advances, human experience and greater moral sensitivity have led to reconsideration of church teaching on significant issues like slavery and charging interest on loans.
Rather than focusing on retaliation and retribution, we need to look at the underlying principles upon which church teaching is based. The law of love, especially of respect for human life and love for one's enemies, is a fundamental principle of Christianity that has not changed throughout time. Considering modern criminal-justice systems that provide greater protection to society, the church wisely sees the death penalty as unnecessary.
The pope is not alone in his beliefs on the death penalty. For over 25 years, U.S. bishops have expressed opposition to the death penalty. In 2001, the Holy See declared its opposition to the use of capital punishment. I hope that, with continued strong church leadership, all citizens will reconsider their personal beliefs on this issue.
Missouri Catholic Conference
Jefferson City, Mo.