Smith was apparently a model inmate, and to outward appearances contrite for his crime (although denying
Smith's attorney voiced what might be the position of certain Catholics influenced by the teaching in recent years which appears to state that only those who continue to be a threat to society should be executed, if even those:
[Smith] was well-behaved and sober while in prison, causing no problems in the institution and living each day with the guilt and grief caused by his alcohol-fueled crime,” said Wilhelm, who also witnessed the execution. “While some may trumpet his execution as appropriate revenge for his crime, Ohio is no safer having executed Steven Smith than had he lived the remainder of his natural life in prison.Maybe it is true that Smith would have spent the rest of his life in prison; maybe he would never be pardoned and released; maybe he would never get the parole that is possible in Ohio. Maybe he would never escape; maybe he would never assault or kill a guard or a fellow-prisoner, despite having proven that he's capable of murderous violence.
And yet... there are crimes for which not even sitting peacefully in prison for life seems to be adequate to address the violation of society and the individual victim; for which society must proclaim by action that the crime is above and beyond a garden variety robbery or rape, for which one could also be sent to prison for life.
This intuition that some crimes are so heinous that nothing will seem to give "congruent satisfaction" to a society violated and disrupted by the crime; that there ought to be a punishment fitted to the crime to the extent that can be accomplished-- this intuition is nothing other than the natural virtue of Justice.
The Church has always recognized the State's right to execute this Justice on offenders, indeed, it is one of the fundamental and first duties of civil government.
No collection of national bishops, no ambiguous document, can overturn the natural law and 2,000 years of Church teaching about such an important issue of morality. If the Church could have been wrong about societies being authorized to use capital punishment to advance the virtue of Justice, then the Church would have failed in Her mission to reliably teach mankind about morality.