On April 30, the Governor of Ohio granted executive clemency to Arthur Taylor, just days before his scheduled execution. That same day there was a botched execution in the state of Oklahoma which led the Governor of Oklahoma to declare a stay on all executions until a review of the botched execution could be completed. The ACLU and the Catholic Bishops of the United States continue to call for the abolition of the death penalty. Heated discussion about capital punishment will occur in the weeks ahead.
Public opinion on the death penalty is shifting according to the Pew Research Center. A few years ago 78% favored capital punishment and only 18% opposed it. The most recent pole shows there are 55% in favor and 37% opposed. Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia abolished the death penalty. Capital punishment presents an ethical question that will not go away.
Traditional Catholic and Christian theologies viewed capital punishment as punitive justice. The Bible (Lv 24: 20) set the principle that “The same injury that a man gives another shall be inflicted on him in return.” Other religious and cultural traditions saw capital punishment as punitive justice and a deterrent against such crimes as murder, treason and so forth.
John Paul II pushed Catholic moral teaching further with his encyclical, The Gospel of Life (March 25, 1995). In paragraph 56 he noted the growing tendency against capital punishment.
” This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society.”
In his view capital punishment is not humane for it does not allow a person a chance to repent.
After his 1995 encyclical, The Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to indicate that capital punishment should be reserved for extreme circumstances, when there is no other way to defend justice and the social order. I think we are not facing extreme circumstances today. The judicial processes of U.S. courts and our prison systems seem to be adequate ways of protecting our social order. We can do better than enshrining capital punishment in our legal codes.
I oppose the death penalty.
Image: Photoexpress Scott Maxwell