Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."
Of course, despite this official Catholic position of the Catechism, which assumes, as it must, the moral licitness of the death penalty, our American bishops actually are much more radical:
Capital punishment is cruel, unnecessary, and arbitrary; it often has racial overtones; and it fails to live up to our deep conviction that all human life is sacred: "Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence."
This position is not consistent with Catholic moral thought, since it takes the heretical pacifist view that the state has no moral authority to protect itself by lethal force.
I am put in mind of these issues because of the recent execution-style killing of police officers in Washington state by Maurice Clemmons, a repeat violent offender, who amazingly, despite his record of violence, was granted a commutation of his sentence (an authority which to my knowledge, every state chief executive in the nation possesses), which freed him to be able to kill the four officers. Clemmons had a lengthy history of violence in and out of custody:
Another time, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, and was accused of intending to use it as a weapon. Yet another time, Clemmons took a lock from a holding cell, and threw it toward the bailiff. He missed and instead hit Clemmons' mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to records and published reports.Oh, and he was out on bond for child rape charges when he went on his killing spree.
On another occasion, Clemmons had reached for a guard's pistol during transport to the courtroom.
When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property.
Point is, when the Catechism or some bishop glibly talks about how capital punishment is uneccessary because our modern criminal justice system guarantees public safety, there's always a Maurice Clemmons out there to bring us all back to reality.