The trial of Saddam Hussein gave us a chance to realize once again what the past in Iraq was, the brutality, the tyranny, the hundreds of thousands of people he killed, the wars in which there were a million casualties.
Saddam's death sentence in an Iraqi court last Sunday was celebrated by some as justice deserved, but denounced by others as a political ploy two days before the critical U.S. midterm congressional elections.
Saddam a martyr?
They went so far as to say Saddam is a criminal and should not be allowed to become a martyr.
Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in a radio address that killing the former Iraqi leader was against Christian teaching. "God gave us life and only God can take it away," he said, adding that had Saddam been put in the hands of an international court, he would not have faced the death penalty.
"Unfortunately, Iraq is among the few countries that has not yet made the choice of civility by abolishing the death penalty," he said.
Some who support capital punishment do so because they judge that the threat of death will prevent people from committing crimes. Others judge that some crimes are so horrible that the only appropriate punishment is death.
The Old Testament allowed the death penalty for a much longer list of offences than our society would be comfortable with - such as striking or cursing a parent, adultery, idolatry. Yet there is also an attempt to limit violence and to stress mercy. The "eye-for-an-eye" mandate is actually an attempt to limit violence in early Hebrew culture.
In the New Testament, Jesus' life and teachings focus on mercy, reconciliation and redemption. Jesus' death was an application of the death penalty. The basic thrust of the gospels supports opposition to the death penalty.
In the early Church, Christians were not to participate in capital punishment. Later, after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, opposition to the death penalty declined. St. Augustine recognized it as a means of deterring the wicked and protecting the innocent. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas reaffirmed this position, and today, the new catechism states that the death penalty is possible in cases of extreme gravity.
As Christians who claim to uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we oppose the death penalty, except in certain circumstances.
Abolition of capital punishment is a manifestation of belief in the unique worth and dignity of each person from the moment of conception, a creature made in the image and likeness of God." This belief applies to all people, including those who have taken life.
Abolition of the death penalty is further testimony to our conviction, a conviction which we Catholics share with the Judaic and Islamic traditions, that God is indeed the Lord of life, all life. Human life in all its stages is sacred, and human beings are called to care for life.
Despite all this, many people may still be caught up in the anger and outrage over violent crime. Gut-level reactions may cry out for vengeance, but Jesus' example invites all to develop a new and different attitude.
A country such as Iraq, ravaged by violence and death, does not need more violence and especially not a state-orchestrated execution. The Iraqi government must find a political solution to promote and protect the lives of all its citizens and the value of human life in general.