View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

U.S. Bishops call for rejection of the death penalty

The Bishops have come out with a statement on the death penalty that is sure to annoy some conservatives.

New statement calls for rejection of 'illusion' of death penalty
By Patricia Zapor

Washington (CNS) -- A new statement on the death penalty that calls on society to "reject the tragic illusion that we can demonstrate respect for life by taking life, was approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops Nov. 15 in a nearly unanimous vote.

The statement, "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death," builds upon the 1980 statement by the bishops that called for the abolition of capital punishment.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., notes that. ”While this statement represents a major step forward for us as a body of bishops, it does not represent new teaching."

It uses teaching from the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the Social Doctrine Compendium and Pope John Paul II's encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life").

So the conservatives will have to take on JP II on this one.

The CNS article goes on to note:

“The United States should stop using the death penalty for four reasons, it says:

-- Other ways exist to punish criminals and protect society.
-- The application of capital punishment is "deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation and where the crime was committed."
-- State-sanctioned killing diminishes all people.
-- The penalty of execution undermines respect for human life and dignity.”

Some folks argue that in other nations where the murderers can’t be contained, the death penalty should still be permitted.

Perhaps. The Church certainly has not completely ruled it out.

But this argument is not applicable to the U.S.

As for the death penalty being needed to protect guards or other inmates, or because the killers will “teach others,” I contend we can isolate the killers. We already do that with some dangerous criminals, and in order to protect some inmates from the rest of the prison population.

Moreover, I think the culture of violence engendered by movies, television and music, and the environments in many homes and neighborhoods, do far more to educate young people about violence.

For the full statement go to to


Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

So the conservatives will have to take on JP II on this one.

I'm a conservative, and I support the legislative abolition of the death penalty (that is, I believe that through our democratic mechanisms, we as a people should abolish the death penalty, not that courts should declare it abolished).

I believe that the crux of the church's teaching on this matter is that when we intentionally shorten a life, we are, in a sense, depriving God of the time He may want to bring a bad person around to salvation.

However, I believe that is the decision of the sovereign authority of a nation (in the U.S., the voters) to decide if their nation is rich enough to afford alternatives. Just as it is up to the leaders of a nation to decide whether circumstances at the time meet the qualifications for a just war.

In neither case is it up to the Church to certify decisions, but rather to give sound moral teaching. When Pope John Paul said that the war in Afghanistan was just, or that the war in Iraq was not, that was his opinion, not the teaching of the Church.

I believe that bishops who call on the President to appoint Justices who will oppose the death penalty (as some recently did) have fundamentally misunderstood how policy should be set in a democratic nation.

What I fail to understand is that the death penalty takes, what? 35 or 40 lives each year?

1.5 million lives are lost to abortion in the U.S. each year. Where is the bishops' statement on that holocaust?

BTW, Lee, tag.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Just as it is up to the leaders of a nation to decide whether circumstances at the time meet the qualifications for a just war.

Just a minor qualification here. I think you recognize that in each case, there is an objective answer to that question; the leaders of a nation can decide it wrongly, and can decide based on factors which the visible Church might clearly see.

Even though JPII was not speaking infallibly on the matter of particular wars, his opinion deserved respect and serious consideration. Of course, I have no reason to believe that you withheld that respect, Paul, and it's perfectly permissible to come to a different moral conclusion after weighing that factor.

I just worry that some Catholics believed it fine to dismiss entirely anything the Church said on prudential judgments if they disagreed.

9:05 PM  

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