THE ITALIAN theologians and prison chaplains are to be congratulated on their questioning of the failure of the new "Universal Catechism", released later this spring in this country, to condemn the death penalty (Catholic Herald, 12 February).
Anthony Clark defends the position that the death penalty is justified "for the sake of the lives of others". But the Catechism adds that if methods short of capital punishment "suffice to defend human lives against aggressors and protect public order and the security of people, authorities should use these means, because they better conform to the concrete conditions of the common good and to the dignity of the human person".
According to a report by the Vatican City bureau of the US based Catholic News Service. Cardinal Ratzinger has stated that in evaluating the current situation. society must determine whether the "moral scope" of maintaining security and order can be achieved without the death penalty.
I would suggest that the death penalty is not an effective means of maintaining security and order. In countries where the death penalty is employed it has been proved that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime, but rather .breeds more violence since statesanctioned killing weakens respect for human life.
The death penalty is discriminatory (if a suspect is poor or a member of a minority group the death penalty is more likely to be imposed).
Moreover, the death penalty eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation and does not allow for human error.
Cardinal Ratzinger maintains that in a "clear, positive evolution" showing "a certain dynamism" the Church is, in fact. moving away from its traditional acceptance of the State's right to employ the death penalty.
I would therefore urge all who feeI that the death penaly has no place in a society that respects human life to write to the Vatican and ask for a re-evaluation of its taching in this matter.
Write also to your own bishop asking him to consider pressing for a joint statement from the bishops condemning the death penalty and in support of the many local hierarchies who have made similiar statements.
Sr Gillian Price FC St Elizabeth's School and Home Much Hadham, Hertfordshire FIRSTLY, a caveat. I have not read the new catechism and so must rely on the account contained in your paper dated 12 February. From this I gather that the death penalty is not to be excluded "in cases of extreme gravity".
Let's just consider one aspect, set aside theology and "theological controversy" and apply some common sense. Who is going to define what constitutes a "case of extreme gravity"? Is it proposed that some international body of eminent jurists should lay down the necessary criteria or will the definition be left to national governments? Imagine the likely course to be taken by backward or fundamentalist regimes or how delighted some of mu20th century monsters would have been with this concept. Consider the unfortunate Sabi-Ian Rushdie and the Ayatollah's edict.
Even countries with highly developed judical systems would not be immune from error.
Here in England in the aftermath of the horrifying Birmingham bomb outrage the British public. understandably. would cheerfully have boiled the accused in oil. As it was, six. innocent men were jailed for sixteen years.
I have not the slightest doubt but that the men would have hung had the death penalty been available. Most certainly yet his case would have come within Anthony Clark's view that "for the sake of the lives of others and only in very extreme cases can the death penalty be justified".
Effort to define restricted categories of crime which would incur the death penalty were tried in this country under the Homicide Act. 1957.
The attempt was unsuccessful and had to be abandoned.
Will we ever learn?
If this is the general standard of enlightenment achieved by the commission of 40 experts under the supervision of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in compiling the Catechism, of the Catholic Church, this writer is one catholic who will not be reading it.
Larry Murphy Hove, East Sussex