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VATICAN-DEATH Feb-7-2007 (380 words) xxxi

Vatican paper condemns death penalty as affront to human dignity

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The death penalty "is not only a refusal of the right to life, but it also is an affront to human dignity," the Vatican said in a position paper.

The paper was prepared for the Feb. 1-3 World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris and was released Feb. 7 by the Vatican press office.

"The Holy See takes this occasion to welcome and affirm again its support for all initiatives aimed at defending the inherent and inviolable value of all human life from conception to natural death," it said.

Echoing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paper recognized the obligation of governments to protect their citizens, but it also said that "today it truly is difficult to justify" using the death penalty when other means of protection, including life imprisonment for murderers, are possible.

Citing appeals made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for clemency for people condemned to die, the paper said the Vatican supported international campaigns to proclaim a universal moratorium on the use of capital punishment and the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

It also noted concerns raised in many parts of the world over "recent executions," obviously referring to the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other former officials of Iraq.

"Consciences have been awakened by the need for a greater recognition of the inalienable dignity of human beings and by the universality and integrity of human rights, beginning with the right to life," it said.

The paper said every decision to use the death penalty carries "numerous risks," including "the danger of punishing innocent persons" and the possibility of "promoting violent forms of revenge rather than a true sense of social justice."

A capital execution, it said, is "a clear offense against the inviolability of human life" and can contribute to "a culture of violence and death."

"For Christians," the Vatican said, "it also shows contempt for the Gospel teaching on forgiveness."

While an execution "temporarily may alleviate an appetite for revenge," it said, taking the life of the criminal makes it impossible to fulfill the obligation of justice, which calls for penalties that punish and may help rehabilitate an offender.


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