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Sunday, July 14, 2019

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Maybe we ought to rethink our position on the death penalty

Maybe we ought to rethink our position on the death penalty

On March 5, the four publications – America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor – simultaneously posted this following editorial on their respective websites. The editors of these four diverse Catholic journals urged their readers and all people of faith to stand with them and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Glossip vs. Gross, a case out of Oklahoma that challenges the most widely used lethal-injection protocol as cruel and unusual punishment. The court took up the case in January after a year of three high-profile, problematic executions in three states. Our hope is that it will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami praised the decision, saying, “The use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say: We cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

The chair of the Pro-Life Activities committee, Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, also praised the court’s decision to hear the case. “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty. We pray that the court’s review of these protocols will lead to the recognition that institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life. Capital punishment must end.”

The Church has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a prohibition against capital punishment (2263-2267).

Last year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.

The practice is insanely expensive, as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less atrocious crime.

Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has postponed all seven executions in the state scheduled for 2015 pending further study. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called ‘a flawed system, ineffective, unjust and expensive.

Both governors also cited the growing number of death-row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.

In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life, we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

When considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that we are acting through our government as the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed a crime and has answered for it in this life, just as he will answer for it before God. But it is the government, acting in our name, that orders the executions. It is we choose violence rather than healing.

Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim’s family. But advocates who walk with the families of victims, like Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, tell a different story. “I think the mothers who attend our annual service for Families Murder Victims tell us they do not want the death penalty. Their reason: “I wouldn’t want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.” Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity.

We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty.”