Christian Leaders Mostly Condemn Hussein Execution
Today's Top Ten
1. Vatican: Execution punished 'a crime with another crime'
While the Islamic world's debate on Saddam Hussein's execution seems largely centered on its timing, initial responses from Christian leaders seem to largely recycle the longstanding debate on whether capital punishment can ever be used. The Vatican's line on the subject seems unequivocal. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican's press office, issued this official statement:
Capital punishment is always tragic news, a motive of sadness, even when it's a case of a person guilty of grave crimes.
The position of the Catholic Church against the death penalty has been confirmed many times.
The execution of the guilty party is not a path to reconstruct justice and to reconcile society. Indeed, there is the risk that, on the contrary, it may augment the spirit of revenge and sow seeds of new violence.
In this dark time in the life of the Iraqi people, it can only be hoped that all the responsible parties truly will make every effort so that, in this dramatic situation, possibilities of reconciliation and peace may finally be opened.
The National Catholic Reporter has other Catholic officials' comments. Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said the execution answered "a crime with another crime. No one can give death, not even the state."
"It's not that we don't recognize Saddam was guilty of horrendous crimes," an unnamed senior Vatican official said. "But we don't believe that the death penalty is justified, even in such cases."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a bit more nuanced:
The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender today are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
Jonathan Gledhill, the Church of England's Bishop of Lichfield, seems to be the firstand perhaps onlymainline Christian leader to publicly argue that Hussein's execution was just. The Telegraph reports that Gledhill
said that anyone who deliberately murdered another human being "immediately forfeited his or her right to life."
The bishop said that there were good reasons to oppose the death penalty but Saddam's execution could not be criticized as unjust because he had been afforded a fair trial and an opportunity to appeal.
Gledhill's colleagues disagreed, with Bishop of Ripon and Leeds John Packer saying:
Maybe it will raise in the public mind how offensive and morally unacceptable this form of justice is. The element of forgiveness central to Christianity is lost in execution. Humiliating a human being in this way can only lead to increased disrespect and increased violence. The photographs of the execution seemed inappropriate.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams weighed in during a BBC interview before the execution:
I'm not a believer in the death penalty as a general principle. He's being tried under a jurisdiction which has the death penalty; he seems to be undoubtedly guilty of what he's been charged with but I think I'd have to separate out the morality of the death penalty from 'should Saddam Hussein be hanged?', because I don't believe in the death penalty. I think that Saddam Hussein is manifestly someone who has committed grave crimes against his own people and grave breaches of international law. I think he deserves punishment, and sharp and unequivocal punishment; I don't think that he should be at liberty, but I would say of him what I have to say about anyone who's committed even the most appalling crimes in this country; that I believe the death penalty effectively says 'there is no room for change or repentance'.
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