A certain man who has devoted his life to preaching the word of God had recent comments about human dignity. He said (with a few ellipses):
people must not be identified with our urges, our flaws, our status, our possessions, our utility, but each seen as a child of God, his creation, modeled in his own image, destined for eternity.
My identity, my personhood ... does not depend on whether or not I have a green card, a stock portfolio, a job, a home or even a college diploma. Nor does my identity depend upon whom I am sexually attracted to, or to race, religion, gender, social status, bank account, passport or health insurance, but on my essence as a child of God.
The doctrine of human dignity dictates the church's position on abortion, immigration and the death penalty, among other topics.
If the preborn baby in the womb, from the earliest moments of his or her conception, is a human person -- an 'is' that comes not from the catechism but from the biology textbook used by any sophomore in high school -- then that baby's life ought to be cherished and protected.
If an immigrant from Mexico is a child of God, ... then we ought to render him or her honor and a welcome, not a roar of hate, clenched fists and gritted teeth in response to the latest campaign slogan. If even a man on death row has a soul, is a human person, an 'is' that cannot be erased even by beastly crimes he may have committed, then we ought not to strap him to a gurney and inject him with poison.
So my question is this: is the speaker suggesting that abortion and immigration and the death penalty bear on the question of human dignity in the same way?
The speaker (let's call him Tim) appears to be saying that using the death penalty simply violates the human dignity of the criminal. The rationale given applies to all criminals everywhere, regardless of their crime or other condition: each one is a person, an 'is' that cannot be erased. This rationale does not seem to admit of alternatives or exceptions.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:
2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility 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 to the dignity of the human person.
I submit that Tim and the Catechism are not really working well together on this. The Catechism clearly makes room for the death penalty, and Tim simply doesn't. One can suppose as a possibility that Tim merely omits the "exceptions" that apply, namely when we cannot keep people safe from the criminal. But that's an assumption that is not easy to draw out of what he does say, because his rationale against the death penalty doesn't provide any room for this exception. He seems to be saying that the "we ought not" rests on the personhood and that personhood establishes the point. in question without further consideration.
Tim is a person who would be horrified if someone authoritatively informed him that he was speaking in contradiction to the Catechism. He more than likely conceives of his position as merely adding to the formal teaching with a substructure that explains it more fully. But if all of the explanations that are used to support it are full of these little problems, what does that say for the consistency of the message?