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Part Three

unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold

authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against

the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.


The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harm­

ful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond

to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate

public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment

proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the pri­

mary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.

When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the

value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending pub­

lic order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as

far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty




Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibil­

ity have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the

Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the

only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the

unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and

protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself

to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete

conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the

dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which

the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who

has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without defin­

itively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming him­

self—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute

necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”


67 Cf.



68 John Paul II,

Evangelium vitae