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Cardinal Dulles clarifies his 'support' for the death penalty

In the wake of high-profile discussion of Catholic teaching on the death penalty, Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles has stressed he view that the death penalty is 'undesirable', even though it does not necessarily violate the right to life of a person who has committed a deliberate and heinous crime.

Zenit reports that the views on the death penalty of both Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Dulles have been misrepresented. It says the Holy Father has been "pilloried as outside the mainstream of Church teaching", while Cardinal Dulles has been portrayed as a supporter of the death penalty in line with papal critics.

Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience at Georgetown University that Catholic judges who oppose the death penalty should resign.

"No authority that I know of denies the 2000-year-old tradition of the Church approving capital punishment," he said. "I don't see why there's been a change."

His views were subsequently backed by columnist, TV commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

Cardinal Dulles told Zenit that he had made two points, that the death penalty is not a violation of the right to life of a person who has committed a deliberate and heinous crime, and it is generally undesirable to impose the death penalty.

"The first of these theses is a reaffirmation of Scripture and long-standing tradition; the second is a prudential application of the principles, dependent on contingent circumstances," the cardinal said.

"Pope John Paul II and the bishops, in my opinion, have never said that the death penalty is unjust in principle or that it is a violation of the criminal's right to life," he continued. "But it is their considered opinion that the death penalty should be applied only in rare and extreme cases."