Evangelium vitae 43
44 Human life finds itself mostvulnerable when it enters the world and when it leaves the realm of time toembark upon eternity. The word of God frequently repeats the call to show careand respect, above all where life is undermined by sickness and old age.Although there are no direct and explicit calls to protect human life at itsvery beginning, specifically life not yet born, and life nearing its end, thiscan easily be explained by the fact that the mere possibility of harming,attacking, or actually denying life in these circumstances is completelyforeign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the People of God.
In the Old Testament, sterility is dreaded as a curse,while numerous offspring are viewed as a blessing: "Sons are a heritagefrom the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward" (Ps 127,3 cf. Ps Ps 128,3-4).This belief is also based on Israel's awareness of being the people of theCovenant, called to increase in accordance with the promise made to Abraham:"Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them... so shall your descendants be" (Gn 15,5). But more than anything else,at work here is the certainty that the life which parents transmit has its originsin God. We see this attested in the many biblical passages which respectfullyand lovingly speak of conception, of the forming of life in the mother's womb,of giving birth and of the intimate connection between the initial moment oflife and the action of God the Creator.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, andbefore you were born I consecrated you" (Jr 1,5): the life of everyindividual, from its very beginning, is part of God's plan. Job, from the depthof his pain, stops to contemplate the work of God who miraculously formed hisbody in his mother's womb. Here he finds reason for trust, and he expresses hisbelief that there is a divine plan for his life: "You have fashioned andmade me; will you then turn and destroy me? Remember that you have made me ofclay; and will you turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk andcurdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me togetherwith bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love; and yourcare has preserved my spirit" (Jb 10,8-12). Expressions of awe and wonderat God's intervention in the life of a child in its mother's womb occur againand again in the Psalms. 35
How can anyone think that even a single moment of thismarvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wiseand loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly themother of the seven brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God,both the source and guarantee of life from its very conception, and thefoundation of the hope of new life beyond death: "I do not know how youcame into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor Iwho set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of theworld, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things,will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forgetyourselves for the sake of his laws" (2 Mac 2M 7,22-23).
45 The New Testament revelationconfirms the indisputable recognition of the value of life from its verybeginning. The exaltation of fruitfulness and the eager expectation of liferesound in the words with which Elizabeth rejoices in her pregnancy: "TheLord has looked on me ... to take away my reproach among men" (Lc 1,25).And even more so, the value of the person from the moment of conception iscelebrated in the meeting between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth, and betweenthe two children whom they are carrying in the womb. It is precisely thechildren who reveal the advent of the Messianic age: in their meeting, theredemptive power of the presence of the Son of God among men first becomesoperative. As Saint Ambrose writes: "The arrival of Mary and the blessingsof the Lord's presence are also speedily declared ... Elizabeth was the first tohear the voice; but John was the first to expe- rience grace. She heardaccording to the order of nature; he leaped because of the mystery. Sherecognized the arrival of Mary; he the arrival of the Lord. The womanrecognized the woman's arrival; the child, that of the child. The women speakof grace; the babies make it effective from within to the advantage of theirmothers who, by a double miracle, prophesy under the inspiration of theirchildren. The infant leaped, the mother was filled with the Spirit. The motherwas not filled before the son, but after the son was filled with the HolySpirit, he filled his mother too".36
46 With regard to the last momentsof life too, it would be anachronistic to expect biblical revelation to makeexpress reference to present-day issues concerning respect for elderly and sickpersons, or to condemn explicitly attempts to hasten their end by force. Thecultural and religious context of the Bible is in no way touched by suchtemptations; indeed, in that context the wisdom and experience of the elderlyare recognized as a unique source of enrichment for the family and for society.
Old age is characterized by dignity and surroundedwith reverence (cf. 2 Mac 2M 6,23). The just mandoes not seek to be delivered from old age and its burden; on the contrary hisprayer is this: "You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth... so even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till Iproclaim your might to all the generations to come" (Ps 71,5). Theideal of the Messianic age is presented as a time when "no more shallthere be ... an old man who does not fill out his days" (Is 65,20).
In old age, how should one face the inevitable declineof life? How should one act in the face of death? The believer knows that hislife is in the hands of God: "You, O Lord, hold my lot" (cf. Ps16:5), and he accepts from God the need to die: "This is the decree fromthe Lord for all flesh, and how can you reject the good pleasure of the MostHigh?" (Si 41,3-4). Man is not the master of life, nor is he the masterof death. In life and in death, he has to entrust himself completely to the"good pleasure of the Most High", to his loving plan.
In moments of sickness too, man is called to have thesame trust in the Lord and to renew his fundamental faith in the One who"heals all your diseases" (cf. Ps Ps 103,3). When every hope of goodhealth seems to fade before a person's eyes-so as to make him cry out: "Mydays are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass" (Ps 102,11)-even then the believer is sustained by an unshakable faith in God's life-givingpower. Illness does not drive such a person to despair and to seek death, butmakes him cry out in hope: "I kept my faith, even when I said, ?I amgreatly afflicted' " (Ps 116,10); "O Lord my God, I cried to you forhelp, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol,restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit" (Ps 30,2-3).
47 The mission of Jesus, with themany healings he performed, shows God's great concern even for man's bodilylife. Jesus, as "the physician of the body and of thespirit",37 was sent by the Father to proclaim the good news to thepoor and to heal the brokenhearted (cf. Lk Lc 4,18 Is 61,1). Later,when he sends his disciples into the world, he gives them a mission, a missionin which healing the sick goes hand in hand with the proclamation of theGospel: "And preach as you go, saying, ?The kingdom of heaven is at hand'.Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Mt 10,7-8; cf. Mc 6,13 Mc 16,18).
Certainly the life of the body in its earthly state isnot an absolute good for the believer, especially as he may be asked to give uphis life for a greater good. As Jesus says: "Whoever would save his lifewill lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will saveit" (Mc 8,35). The NewTestament gives many different examples of this. Jesus does not hesitate tosacrifice himself and he freely makes of his life an offering to the Father(cf. Jn Jn 10,17) and to those whobelong to him (cf. Jn Jn 10,15). The death ofJohn the Baptist, precursor of the Saviour, also testifies that earthlyexistence is not an absolute good; what is more important is remaining faithfulto the word of the Lord even at the risk of one's life (cf. Mk Mc 6,17-29).Stephen, losing his earthly life because of his faithful witness to the Lord'sResurrection, follows in the Master's footsteps and meets those who are stoninghim with words of forgiveness (cf. Acts Ac 7,59-60), thus becoming the first of acountless host of martyrs whom the Church has venerated since the verybeginning.
No one, however, can arbitrarily choose whether tolive or die; the absolute master of such a decision is the Creator alone, inwhom "we live and move and have our being" (Ac 17,28).
48 Life is indelibly marked by atruth of its own. By accepting God's gift, man is obliged to maintain life inthis truth which is essential to it. To detach oneself from this truth is tocondemn oneself to meaninglessness and unhappiness, and possibly to become athreat to the existence of others, since the barriers guaranteeing respect forlife and the defence of life, in every circumstance, have been broken down.
The truth of life is revealed by God's commandment.The word of the Lord shows concretely the course which life must follow if itis to respect its own truth and to preserve its own dignity. The protection oflife is not only ensured by the spe- cific commandment "You shall notkill" (Ex 20,13 Dt 5,17); the entire Lawof the Lord serves to protect life, because it reveals that truth in which lifefinds its full meaning.
It is not surprising, therefore, that God's Covenantwith his people is so closely linked to the perspective of life, also in itsbodily dimension. In that Covenant, God's commandment is offered as the path oflife: "I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. Ifyou obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, byloving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandmentsand his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and theLord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to takepossession of" (Dt 30,15-16). What is at stake is not only the land of Canaan and the existenceof the people of Israel, but also theworld of today and of the future, and the existence of all humanity. In fact,it is altogether impossible for life to remain authentic and complete once itis detached from the good; and the good, in its turn, is essentially bound tothe commandments of the Lord, that is, to the "law of life" (Si 17,11). The good to bedone is not added to life as a burden which weighs on it, since the verypurpose of life is that good and only by doing it can life be built up.
It is thus the Law as a whole which fully protectshuman life. This explains why it is so hard to remain faithful to thecommandment "You shall not kill" when the other "words oflife" (cf. Acts Ac 7,38) with which thiscommandment is bound up are not observed. Detached from this wider framework,the commandment is destined to become nothing more than an obligation imposedfrom without, and very soon we begin to look for its limits and try to findmitigating factors and exceptions. Only when people are open to the fullness ofthe truth about God, man and history will the words "You shall notkill" shine forth once more as a good for man in himself and in hisrelations with others. In such a perspective we can grasp the full truth of thepassage of the Book of Deuteronomy which Jesus repeats in reply to the firsttemptation: "Man does not live by bread alone, but ... by everything thatproceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8,3 cf. Mt Mt 4,4).
It is by listening to the word of the Lord that we areable to live in dignity and justice. It is by observing the Law of God that weare able to bring forth fruits of life and happiness: "All who hold herfast will live, and those who forsake her will die" (Ba 4,1).
49 The history of Israel shows howdifficult it is to remain faithful to the Law of life which God has inscribedin human hearts and which he gave on Sinai to the people of the Covenant. Whenthe people look for ways of living which ignore God's plan, it is the Prophetsin particular who forcefully remind them that the Lord alone is the authenticsource of life. Thus Jeremiah writes: "My people have committed two evils:they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisternsfor themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (2:13). TheProphets point an accusing finger at those who show contempt for life andviolate people's rights: "They trample the head of the poor into the dustof the earth" (Am 2,7); "they have filled this place with the bloodof innocents" (Jr 19,4). Among them, the Prophet Ezekiel frequentlycondemns the city of Jerusalem, calling it"the bloody city" (22:2; 24:6, 9), the "city that sheds blood inher own midst" (22:3).
But while the Prophets condemn offences against life,they are concerned above all to awaken hope for a new principle of life,capable of bringing about a renewed relationship with God and with others, andof opening up new and extraordinary possibilities for understanding andcarrying out all the demands inherent in the Gospel of life. This will only bepossible thanks to the gift of God who purifies and renews: "I willsprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all youruncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I willgive you, and a new spirit I will put within you" (Ez 36,25-26 cf. Jer31:34). This "new heart" will make it possible to appreciate andachieve the deepest and most authentic meaning of life: namely, that of being agift which is fully realized in the giving of self. This is the splendidmessage about the value of life which comes to us from the figure of theServant of the Lord: "When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shallsee his offspring, he shall prolong his life ... he shall see the fruit of thetrav- ail of his soul and be satisfied" (Is 53,10).
It is in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth that the Lawis fulfilled and that a new heart is given through his Spirit. Jesus does notdeny the Law but brings it to fulfilment (cf. Mt Mt 5,17): the Law and the Prophets are summed upin the golden rule of mutual love (cf. Mt Mt 7,12). In Jesus theLaw becomes once and for all the "gospel", the good news of God'slordship over the world, which brings all life back to its roots and itsoriginal purpose. This is the New Law, "the law of the Spirit of life inChrist Jesus" (Rm 8,2), and its fundamental expression, following theexample of the Lord who gave his life for his friends (cf. Jn Jn 15,13), is thegift of self in love for one's brothers and sisters: "We know that we havepassed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 Jn 1Jn 3,14).This is the law of freedom, joy and blessedness.
50 At the end of this chapter, inwhich we have reflected on the Christian message about life, I would like topause with each one of you to contemplate the One who was pierced and who drawsall people to himself (cf. Jn Jn 19,37 Jn 12,32). Looking at "thespectacle" of the Cross (cf. Lk Lc 23,48) we shalldiscover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation ofthe whole Gospel of life.
In the early afternoon of Good Friday, "there wasdarkness over the whole land ... while the sun's light failed; and the curtainof the temple was torn in two" (Lc 23,44). This is thesymbol of a great cosmic disturbance and a massive conflict between the forcesof good and the forces of evil, between life and death. Today we too findourselves in the midst of a dramatic conflict between the "culture ofdeath" and the "culture of life". But the glory of the Cross isnot overcome by this darkness; rather, it shines forth ever more radiantly andbrightly, and is revealed as the centre, meaning and goal of all history and ofevery human life.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross and is lifted up from theearth. He experiences the moment of his greatest "powerlessness", andhis life seems completely delivered to the derision of his adversaries and intothe hands of his executioners: he is mocked, jeered at, insulted (cf. Mk Mc 15,24-36). And yet,precisely amid all this, having seen him breathe his last, the Roman centurionexclaims: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mc 15,39). It is thus,at the moment of his greatest weakness, that the the Son of God is revealed forwho he is: on the Cross his glory is made manifest.
By his death, Jesus sheds light on the meaning of thelife and death of every human being. Before he dies, Jesus prays to the Father,asking forgiveness for his persecutors (cf. Lk Lc 23,34), and to the criminal who asks him toremember him in his kingdom he replies: "Truly, I say to you, today youwill be with me in Paradise" (Lc 23,43). After his death"the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallenasleep were raised" (Mt 27,52). The salvation wrought by Jesus is thebestowal of life and resurrection. Throughout his earthly life, Jesus hadindeed bestowed salvation by healing and doing good to all (cf. Acts Ac 10,38). But hismiracles, healings and even his raising of the dead were signs of anothersalvation, a salvation which consists in the forgiveness of sins, that is, insetting man free from his greatest sickness and in raising him to the very lifeof God.
On the Cross, the miracle of the serpent lifted up byMoses in the desert (Jn 3,14-15 cf. Num21:8-9) is renewed and brought to full and definitive perfection. Today too, bylooking upon the one who was pierced, every person whose life is threatenedencounters the sure hope of finding freedom and redemption.
51 But there is yet anotherparticular event which moves me deeply when I consider it. "When Jesus hadreceived the vinegar, he said, ?It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gaveup his spirit" (Jn 19,30). Afterwards, theRoman soldier "pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came outblood and water" (Jn 19,34).
Everything has now reached its complete fulfilment.The "giving up" of the spirit describes Jesus' death, a death likethat of every other human being, but it also seems to allude to the "giftof the Spirit", by which Jesus ransoms us from death and opens before us anew life.
It is the very life of God which is now shared withman. It is the life which through the Sacraments of the Church-symbolized bythe blood and water flowing from Christ's side-is continually given to God'schildren, making them the people of the New Covenant. From the Cross, thesource of life, the "people of life" is born and increases.
The contemplation of the Cross thus brings us to thevery heart of all that has taken place. Jesus, who upon entering into the worldsaid: "I have come, O God, to do your will" (cf. Heb He 10,9), madehimself obedient to the Father in everything and, "having loved his ownwho were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13,1), giving himselfcompletely for them.
He who had come "not to be served but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mc 10,45), attains on the Cross the heights oflove: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life forhis friends" (Jn 15,13). And he died forus while we were yet sinners (cf. Rom Rm 5,8).
In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds itscentre, its meaning and its fulfilment when it is given up.
At this point our meditation becomes praise andthanksgiving, and at the same time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in hisfootsteps (cf. 1 Pt 1P 2,21).
We too are called to give our lives for our brothersand sisters, and thus to realize in the fullness of truth the meaning anddestiny of our existence.
We shall be able to do this because you, O Lord, havegiven us the example and have bestowed on us the power of your Spirit. We shallbe able to do this if every day, with you and like you, we are obedient to theFather and do his will.
Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open andgenerous hearts to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus weshall learn not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but alsoto revere life, to love it and to foster it.
52 "And behold, one came up tohim, saying, ?Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?' "(Mt 19,6). Jesus replied, "If you would enter life, keep thecommandments" (Mt 19,17). The Teacher isspeaking about eternal life, that is, a sharing in the life of God himself.This life is attained through the observance of the Lord's commandments,including the commandment "You shall not kill". This is the firstprecept from the Decalogue which Jesus quotes to the young man who asks himwhat commandments he should observe: "Jesus said, ?You shall not kill, Youshall not commit adultery, You shall not steal...' " (Mt 19,18).
God's commandment is never detached from his love: itis always a gift meant for man's growth and joy. As such, it represents anessential and indispensable aspect of the Gospel, actually becoming"gospel" itself: joyful good news. The Gospel of life is both a greatgift of God and an exacting task for humanity. It gives rise to amazement andgratitude in the person graced with freedom, and it asks to be welcomed,preserved and esteemed, with a deep sense of responsibility. In giving life toman, God demands that he love, respect and promote life. The gift thus becomesa commandment, and the commandment is itself a gift.
Man, as the living image of God, is willed by hisCreator to be ruler and lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes that "God mademan capable of carrying out his role as king of the earth ... Man was createdin the image of the One who governs the universe. Everything demonstrates thatfrom the beginning man's nature was marked by royalty... Man is a king. Createdto exercise dominion over the world, he was given a likeness to the king of theuniverse; he is the living image who participates by his dignity in theperfection of the divine archetype".38 Called to be fruitful andmultiply, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over other lessercreatures (cf. Gen Gn 1,28), man is ruler and lord not only over things but especiallyover himself, 39 and in a certain sense, over the life which he hasreceived and which he is able to transmit through procreation, carried out withlove and respect for God's plan. Man's lordship however is not absolute, butministerial: it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship ofGod. Hence man must exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundlesswisdom and love of God. And this comes about through obedience to God's holyLaw: a free and joyful obedience (cf. Ps Ps 119), born of and fostered by anawareness that the precepts of the Lord are a gift of grace entrusted to manalways and solely for his good, for the preservation of his personal dignityand the pursuit of his happiness.
With regard to things, but even more with regard tolife, man is not the absolute master and final judge, but rather-and this iswhere his incomparable greatness lies-he is the "minister of God'splan".40
Life is entrusted to man as a treasure which must notbe squandered, as a talent which must be used well. Man must render an accountof it to his Master (cf. Mt Mt 25,14-30 Lc 19,12-27).
53 "Human life is sacredbecause from its beginning it involves ?the creative action of God', and itremains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its soleend. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no onecan, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly aninnocent human being".41 With these words the Instruction DonumVitae sets forth the central content of God's revelation on the sacredness andinviolability of human life.
Sacred Scripture in fact presents the precept"You shall not kill" as a divine commandment (Ex 20,13 Dt 5,17). As I havealready emphasized, this commandment is found in the Deca- logue, at the heartof the Covenant which the Lord makes with his chosen people; but it was alreadycontained in the original covenant between God and humanity after the purifyingpunishment of the Flood, caused by the spread of sin and violence (cf. Gen9:5-6).
God proclaims that he is absolute Lord of the life ofman, who is formed in his image and likeness (cf. Gen Gn 1,26-28). Human lifeis thus given a sacred and inviolable character, which reflects theinviolability of the Creator himself. Precisely for this reason God willseverely judge every violation of the commandment "You shall notkill", the commandment which is at the basis of all life together insociety. He is the "goel", the defender of the innocent (cf. Gen4:9-15; Is 41,14 Jr 50,34 Ps 19,14). God thus showsthat he does not delight in the death of the living (cf. Wis Sg 1,13). Only Satan candelight therein: for through his envy death entered the world (cf. Wis Sg 2,24). He who is"a murderer from the beginning", is also "a liar and the fatherof lies" (Jn 8,44). By deceivingman he leads him to projects of sin and death, making them appear as goals andfruits of life.
54 As explicitly formulated, theprecept "You shall not kill" is strongly negative: it indicates theextreme limit which can never be exceeded. Implicitly, however, it encourages apositive attitude of absolute respect for life; it leads to the promotion oflife and to progress along the way of a love which gives, receives and serves.The people of the Covenant, although slowly and with some contradictions,progressively matured in this way of thinking, and thus prepared for the greatproclamation of Jesus that the commandment to love one's neighbour is like thecommandment to love God; "on these two commandments depend all the law andthe prophets" (cf. Mt Mt 22,36-40). Saint Paul emphasizes that "the commandment ...you shall not kill ... and any other commandment, are summed up in this phrase:?You shall love your neighbour as yourself' " (Rm 13,9 cf. Gal Ga 5,14). Taken up andbrought to fulfilment in the New Law, the commandment "You shall notkill" stands as an indispensable condition for being able "to enterlife" (cf. Mt Mt 19,16-19). In this same perspective, the words of theApostle John have a categorical ring: "Anyone who hates his brother is amurderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him"(1 Jn 1Jn 3,15).
From the beginning, the living Tradition of theChurch-as shown by the Didache, the most ancient non-biblical Christianwriting-categorically repeated the commandment "You shall not kill":"There are two ways, a way of life and a way of death; there is a greatdifference between them... In accordance with the precept of the teaching: youshall not kill ... you shall not put a child to death by abortion nor kill itonce it is born ... The way of death is this: ... they show no compassion forthe poor, they do not suffer with the suffering, they do not acknowledge theirCreator, they kill their children and by abortion cause God's creatures toperish; they drive away the needy, oppress the suffering, they are advocates ofthe rich and unjust judges of the poor; they are filled with every sin. May yoube able to stay ever apart, o children, from all these sins!". 42
As time passed, the Church's Tradition has alwaysconsistently taught the absolute and unchanging value of the commandment"You shall not kill". It is a known fact that in the first centuries,murder was put among the three most serious sins-along with apostasy andadultery-and required a particularly heavy and lengthy public penance beforethe repentant murderer could be granted forgiveness and readmission to theecclesial community.
55 This should not cause surprise:to kill a human being, in whom the image of God is present, is a particularlyserious sin. Only God is the master of life! Yet from the beginning, faced withthe many and often tragic cases which occur in the life of individuals andsociety, Christian reflection has sought a fuller and deeper understanding ofwhat God's commandment prohibits and prescribes. 43 There are in factsituations in which values proposed by God's Law seem to involve a genuineparadox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in whichthe right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else'slife are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value oflife and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a trueright to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, setforth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love ofoneself as the basis of comparison: "You shall love your neighbour asyourself " (Mc 12,31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right toself-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done invirtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into aradical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself.
Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only aright but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the commongood of the family or of the State".44 Unfortunately it happensthat the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimesinvolves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable tothe aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morallyresponsible because of a lack of the use of reason. 45
56 This is the context in which toplace the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growingtendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be appliedin a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem mustbe viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line withhuman dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. Theprimary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redressthe disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority mustredress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offenderan adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regainthe exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils thepurpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at thesame time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or herbehaviour and be rehabilitated. 47
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved,the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decidedupon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in casesof absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwiseto defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in theorganization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practicallynon-existent.
In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechismof the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficientto defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and thesafety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, becausethey better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and aremore in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48
57 If such great care must be takento respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment"You shall not kill" has absolute value when it refers to theinnocent person. And all the more so in the case of weak and defenceless humanbeings, who find their ultimate defence against the arrogance and caprice ofothers only in the absolute binding force of God's commandment.
In effect, the absolute inviolability of innocenthuman life is a moral truth clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantlyupheld in the Church's Tradition and consistently proposed by her Magisterium.This consistent teaching is the evident result of that "supernatural senseof the faith" which, inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit, safeguardsthe People of God from error when "it shows universal agreement in mattersof faith and morals".49
Faced with the progressive weakening in individualconsciences and in society of the sense of the absolute and grave moralillicitness of the direct taking of all innocent human life, especially at itsbeginning and at its end, the Church's Magisterium has spoken out withincreasing frequency in defence of the sacredness and inviolability of humanlife. The Papal Magisterium, particularly insistent in this regard, has alwaysbeen seconded by that of the Bishops, with numerous and comprehensive doctrinaland pastoral documents issued either by Episcopal Conferences or by individualBishops. The Second Vatican Council also addressed the matter forcefully, in abrief but incisive passage. 50
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferredupon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of theCatholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocenthuman being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwrittenlaw which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition ofthe Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 51
The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent humanbeing of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as anend in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act ofdisobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author andguarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice andcharity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of aninnocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, anold person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who isdying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, eitherfor himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, norcan he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can anyauthority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".52
As far as the right to life is concerned, everyinnocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is thebasis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can onlybe founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and womanas a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm whichprohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being "thereare no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether oneis the master of the world or the ?poorest of the poor' on the face of theearth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutelyequal".53
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