U.N. Death Penalty Moratorium "Significant"

But Holy See Officials Urge Respect for Life in Wider Context

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The United Nation's approval of a moratorium on the death penalty is a good start, but needs to be followed by an effort to protect life in all its stages, said the representative of the Holy See at that international body.

The U.N. moratorium was approved Tuesday, by a vote of 104-54, with 29 abstentions. Though the moratorium has more symbolic than political or juridical weight, it is considered an indication of a growing worldwide opposition to capital punishment.

For Archbishop Celestino Migliore, though, the approval is bittersweet. In statements today in L'Osservatore Romano, the archbishop emphasized the Holy See's satisfaction, saying one can now speak of a "maturation of the sense of the importance of the value of life."

He recalled, however, the Vatican's constant effort in "opening a wider debate" on the theme of life.

"We have insisted often and we will continue to insist, so that the theme of the death penalty is inserted in a wider framework of promoting and defending life in all its phases, in all its moments, from conception until its natural end," Archbishop Migliore affirmed. "I believe that this maturation should still progress and take important steps toward a vision of man which considers all its aspects and stages."

Fight for civilization

Archbishop Migliore's predecessor at the United Nations, Cardinal Renato Martino, now president of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and for Migrants and Travelers, agreed. It is "certainly a significant moment," he said, "but does not end what is in every way a fight for civilization."

Cardinal Martino, who represented the Holy See at the United Nations for 16 years, added that there is concern about the application of the moratorium and the fact that 29 countries abstained from voting.

"Not only, therefore, was there no general consensus, but instead, as often happens, specific and contingent interests threatened to prevail over ideal visions," he said.

The cardinal emphasized the Church's determination in the effort to increase awareness at an international level of the value of life. He noted the work of the Catholic lay Community of Sant'Egidio, as well as the "constant action in education, assistance and witness of many other Catholic initiatives that continually fight to serve man" and "to teach human rights, beginning with the first of these, the right to life."

He noted how several countries defend rights, but "in their laws, strongly discriminate against precisely the weakest and defenseless: the unborn. One has to reiterate that this creates a type of schizophrenia in those who recognize the specific rights of the unborn, in heredity and other matters, and then deny the primary right -- that of living."

In the coming months, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will write a report about respecting the moratorium. The report will be presented to the General Assembly.

To the question of whether this can be a first step toward definitive abolition of the death penalty, Archbishop Migliore told Vatican Radio, "Obviously these are decisions that will mature in different national contexts. [...] Certainly this resolution sends a very important signal and will be increasingly a point of reference in national debates, in parliaments and among legislators."