Father Mikalai Tsikhanovich: modern Catholic Church calls for the abolishment of the death penalty
professor of moral theology at the High
Seminary of the Roman Catholic Church in Hrodna,
was one of the participants of the round table "Religion and the
death penalty", organized by the Council of Europe on 21
June in Minsk. At this event
presented the position of the Catholic Church on the death
The priest explains why the Christian morality can not co-exist with the death penalty.
“What is the general position of the modern Catholic Church in regard to the death penalty? How has this position evolved?”
“The traditional teaching of the Church was based on the fact that the death penalty is not contrary to God's law , but it is not its prescription either. The need for capital punishment was assessed according to the circumstances of life. Analyzing these circumstances, Catholics and spoke both for and against the death penalty. But over time the position of the Church has changed. Now the Church very clearly calls on the international community to abolish the death penalty in order to abandon such a "method of justice". The church was lit by this spirit by Blessed John Paul II, who in 1998, at Christmas, for the first time in the modern history of the Church has publicly opposed the death penalty. He stressed that that in today's world there are numerous opportunities to ensure and guarantee peace in the world and to protect the modern society from aggressors, that's why the society should find other means than the death penalty. In 1999 in the United States, John Paul II reiterated his call to abolish the death penalty. And the climax was when the jubilee year, 2000, he called to refuse from the death penalty in general as a means of social justice. This is a great progress towards a humanistic approach to the issue of the death penalty. The position of the Church emphasizes the spirit of the Gospel – the commandment of love, taught by Jesus. Also in 1999, the Papal Nuncio Renato Martini, speaking in the U.S. on Christmas Day, made an official appeal to the World Organization of the UN that all peoples should proceed towards the abolition of the death penalty. This is an evolutionary trend, the Church calls all modern citizens, especially Christians, to abandon this method of measuring justice.
“Believers ask you, Catholic priests, theologians, different questions ... What are the arguments you normally use when considering the issue of the death penalty?”
“As always in history, there are many people among the believers who are for the death penalty as well as those who are against it. But we argue, first of all, that the dignity of human life, is a virtue that comes from God himself. God is the source of life, the giver of life. Only God can decide – to give the person a life or to take it away. A man has no right to take his life or the life of another person. Here is the first argument: human life is a gift from God, the man is only the administrator of this life. And then, proceeding in the direction of the Gospel, we remember the preaching of Jesus Christ, called not to treat people with revenge. He called people to love their neighbors, pray for enemies and forgive. Jesus brings compassion and love. Even in moral theology, which I teach in the classroom at the High Seminary, I also show the God's law of the Decalogue in the New Testament perspective, where we consider God's law in the spirit of the preaching of Jesus Christ, who emphasizes the dignity of human life, not going in the direction of revenge and aggression. And we call upon believers to review their attitude to the death penalty. Revenge , anger and hatred are not a measure of justice.
“There are some subtle psychological factors. Those people who carry out the sentence , what happens to their soul from the point of view of the Catholic church? Do these people have a chance for repentance and salvation of the soul? Or is it not treated as a homicide, as the executioner implements the will of others and his professional duty?”
“We cannot but view this aspect as well. You must understand the situation of people who carry out the sentence and even the physicians who state the death of the executed. This aspect is very important, as the conscience is the voice of God, and it does not depend on whether the persons is a believer or not a believer. Everyone understands that life is a gift and that life should be valued. And we must also take into account this aspect. I believe that people who are forced to carry out the death penalty have large internal psychological problems. Man can not remain indifferent towards the fact what he does to a human life. Of course, such a person has a chance of forgiveness, the mercy of God.
“According to our law, the bodies of the executed are not issued to their relatives for burying...”
“This is contrary to the Christian worldview. According to the Christian viewpoint, the body has the right to respect and a Christian burial after the death, has the right to be buried in the ground. Christian burial is one of the most important rituals of respect for the man who passed away, but his body has the right to be respected. This aspect of the non-issuance of the bodies of the convicts must be eliminated from the society. There are also social conflicts related to the family. People have the right to come to the graves of their relatives to pray for the salvation of their souls. And how can you come to the grave if you do not know where the body is buried?
“Let us recall the history of the 20th century, when mass executions were conducted in the Soviet Union. What was this time from the point of view of the Church, why did this happen?”
“This is the problem of the Soviet atheism. If the person is not a bodily-spiritual person (as in the Christian teaching), but only material, its dignity which derives precisely from spirituality, is ignored. The Bible teaches that man is a being who has the image and likeness of God to him. Mass murder and disrespect for human dignity have been associated with a change in the view on the man. According to the Communist views, a man is a "highly organized matter ," which can be destroyed if it is "not needed by the society".
“What was the Inquisition from the modern point of view of the Catholic church?”
“This is one of the most painful sides of the Church, for which John Paul II asked forgiveness from all over the world in the year 2000. He asked for forgiveness for all the sins and errors of the Catholic Church throughout history. People often forget that the Church is a divine-human establishment, and this human aspect is important. Yes, there were times when the Church did not take into account the human aspect. This is a mistake of the Church. Now we understand it in the historical context, and apologize for it. There was an evolution of the Church. And now the Church calls for the abolition of the death penalty.
Pope Francis wrote a telegram to the participants of the congress against the death penalty in Madrid, which I quote: "The death penalty has to be replaced by another kind of punishment, which would provide a chance for the offenders to reflect on their sins and improve, and give innocent ones a hope for justice". And my own view ... If you put such a question: is it possible to combine the Gospel with the death penalty ? I answer: the death penalty and the Gospel are incompatible.”
Interviewed by Palina Stsepanenka, exclusively for the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty”.