For several reasons.
Let's start with the title:
Vatican opposes Saddam’s death sentence
Unless the pope has said something or unless he has approved the release of a text by a Vatican dicastery, that statement is not accurate. There is no Vatican policy on something unless one of those two things happens. If all you've got are the apparent personal opinions of people who work at the Vatican--which is all the article suggests it has--then you need to say "Vatican officials oppose Saddam's death sentence" or something like that.
The article first turns to Cardinal Martino:
Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, said carrying out the death sentence would be an unjustifiably vindictive action, reported Reuters.
"For me, punishing a crime with another crime, which is what killing for vindication is, would mean that we are still at the point of demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," he was quoted as saying by Italian news agency Ansa.
This is the kind of sloppy language on social topics that regularly comes from some European churchmen.
First, it is grossly misleading to refer to imposing the death penalty as "punishing a crime with another crime." The death penalty is not a crime legally, nor is it one in principle morally, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates when it states: "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor" (CCC 2267).
Even if we assume that "killing for vindication" is a crime--an assumption that can be subject to extreme challenge--it does not follow that Saddam's execution is simply killing for vindication. It may, indeed, be vital to the protection of Iraqi society and ending the violence that is occurring there. Even if there is a brief flare up of sectarian violence, that may well be less than the violence that would ensue from keeping him in prison. If it is then his death may be necessary as a way of protecting Iraqi lives.
Even apart from that, it seems hard to discern a rational basis for the claim that "killing for vindication" is "a crime." If someone is himself a murderer then killing him would seem to amount not to a crime but to justice--i.e., rendering unto the person according to his merits. If you want to oppose the death penalty on other grounds--like it prevents rehabilitation or could be inflicted on the innocent accidentally--then fine. Those are extrinsic reasons to oppose the death penalty. They do not make the act itself "a crime." If you've got someone dead to rights, like Saddam, who clearly committed crimes against humanity then the act of putting him to death is intrinsically an act of justice, even if you think there are extrinsic reasons you shouldn't perform that act of justice.
This is something that the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace ought to understand.
Calling an act of justice a crime is grossly misleading and is language that does not meet the standard of high moral clarity that should be found in the public utterances of an official of the Vatican.
Furthermore, putting Saddam to death--by hanging or any other means the Iraqis are likely to use--is not remotely an "eye for an eye" situation. The lex talionis means demanding of the offender exactly what he inflicted on his victim, and given the magnitude of Saddam's crimes, the only way to begin to do to him what he has done to others would be to strap him to a table and perform surgery on him to implant electrical wires into his brain's pain center and then turn on enough voltage to leave him in constant screaming pain for years and years so that he experiences something approaching the magnitude of the suffering that he inflicted on the countless individuals who he had tortured, raped, and killed--as well as the constant fear he instilled in millions of Iraqis and the anguish of all those whose family members he had tortured, raped, or killed.
The fact that the Iraqis are simply proposing to hang him means that they are showing him considerable mercy and not actually inflicting on him something proportionate to what he did to others, meaning that this is not an "eye for an eye" situation.
So more sloppy language.
Then the cardinal makes a jaw-dropping statement:
"Unfortunately, Iraq is one of the few countries that have not yet made the civilized choice of abolishing the death penalty," he said.
Here is a map of the countries of the world based on the status of the death penalty in them. The blue countries are the ones that have banned the death penalty. All the others allow it in varying situations:
It is clearly not the case that Iraq is one of a "few" countries that have not banned the death penalty. The majority of world countries still retain it in their laws, and the remark raises serious questions about the state of Cardinal Martino's knowledge about the state of affairs in the world that are part of the subject matter of the dicastery which he oversees. It may be from a European perspective (some might say, a European cocoon) that it looks like everyone has eliminated the death penalty, but this is far from the case.
Characterizing this as "the civilized choice" displays an offensive sense of moral superiority in that it implies that those who have not banned the death penalty are uncivilized--which is manifestly not true. Not only have the vast majority of world civilizations had the death penalty--including Rome and Catholic Italy until very recently--but the majority of them today have it as well.
The article then turns to someone else:
Fr. Michele Simone, deputy director of the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, told Vatican Radio that opposing the death penalty does not mean accepting what the former leader has done.
"Certainly, the situation in Iraq will not be resolved by this death sentence. Many Catholics, myself included, are against the death penalty as a matter of principle," the Jesuit priest was quoted as saying.
"Even in a situation like Iraq, where there are hundreds of de facto death sentences every day, adding another death to this toll will not serve anything," he said.
This is simply outrageous. While Fr. Simone does not specify whether the "de facto death sentences" are those deaths brought about by terrorists or those fighting the terrorists, it is outrageous to establish a moral equivalence between the lawful execution of a convicted mass murderer--which is in itself an act of justice--and the acts of terrorists. It is further outrageous to refer to the acts of those fighting terrorists as "de facto death sentences." This applies whether the people in question are terrorists themselves or civilian casualties who are accidentally killed.
It also is fatuous to trot out the "violence doesn't solve anything" bromide in the way Fr. Simone does, telling us that "adding another death to this toll will not serve anything."
In fact, violence properly used solves quite a lot, which is why the Church acknowledges the use of lethal force in what it terms "legitimate defense" (CCC 2263-65). Violence solved the problem of the Nazis and Italian fascism, and putting Saddam to death can in fact serve several things:
1) It will at least partially serve upon him the justice that he deserves,
2) It will serve the families who are still aching after what Saddam did to them and their now-dead relatives,
3) It may well serve to pacify Iraq in the long run, and
4) It will serve as a warning to other dictators of what can happen to them.
It is hard not to wonder whether individuals such as Cardinal Martino and Fr. Simone would have similarly argued against the execution of Adolf Hitler had he been captured at the end of World War II instead of committing suicide.
In any event, these are statements unworthy of responsible churchmen. If one wants to oppose the death penalty on various grounds, fine, but these aren't worthy ones, and these kinds of deliverances do not further rational dialogue on the matter.