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Tuesday, 11/10/2020 at 7:00 PM

Editorial | Human dignity and the death penalty

Federal executions are counter to Catholic Church teachings

Stop the executions.

That’s the plea from Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in response to recent federal executions.

In 2018, Pope Francis revised paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that, in light of the Gospel, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and the Church works with determination for its abolition worldwide (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267).

The bishops explained that after the first murder recorded in the Bible, God did not end Cain’s life, but rather preserved it, warning others not to kill Cain (Genesis 4:15). Accountability and legitimate punishment are a part of this process, they stated. “Responsibility for harm is necessary if healing is to occur and can be instrumental in protecting society, but executions are completely unnecessary and unacceptable, as Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all articulated.”

Catholic teaching affirms that the dignity of the human person applies to both victims of crimes and offenders, the Missouri bishops wrote in September 2019 in seeking mercy in a Missouri case and citing the federal government’s announcement that it would once again use the death penalty for certain crimes. Church teaching, the bishops stated, “affirms our commitment to comfort and support victims and their families, while acknowledging the God-given dignity of every human life, even of those who do great harm. For some experiencing the loss of a loved one through an act of violence, a death sentence for the perpetrator offers the elusive hope of closure and vindication; but no act, not even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal the lingering wounds. The pain and loss caused by the death of a loved one cannot be wiped away by the state-sanctioned death of the perpetrator.”

Once thought of as acceptable in some cases to safeguard the common good, today’s circumstances show that more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

The Missouri bishops ask people to contemplate the crucified Christ, who though innocent, was executed by capital punishment. “We ask that we all take a stand for life, justice, healing and mercy by opposing the continued use of the death penalty,” they stated.

Take a stand by writing to your Congress members and other stakeholders to support Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s bill, H.R. 4052, to end the death penalty. Also, get involved in the legislative efforts of the Missouri Catholic Conference at mocatholic.org/take-action.

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