A Catholic Petition Against the Death Penalty

A group of prominent Catholic theologians has posted on the Catholic Moral Theology website a petition against the death penalty, in the wake of the execution of two men, in Georgia and in Texas.  Their statement discusses the unfair application of the death penalty: "Studies have shown that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty. In many states with capital punishment, defendants are from 3 to 5 times more likely to be executed if their victim was white. In states that retain the death penalty, 98 percent of district attorneys are white and only 1 percent are black. Execution is also irrevocable, and innocent people have likely been victims of it. Since 1973, 138 persons have been exonerated from death row, most of whom were people of color and economically poor."  It also advances the theological argument:

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that “the sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity…Its application 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. We have other ways to punish criminals and protect society.” In earlier eras, Roman Catholic tradition acknowledged the necessity of capital punishment, in rare cases, to protect citizens from threats to the common good. In recent times, with more secure prison facilities that give us the means to offer such protection without executions, our church leaders have affirmed the need to eradicate the death penalty.


There are, moreover, theological reasons for this stance, and here we speak especially to our sisters and brothers in faith. In calling for the abolition of the “cruel and unnecessary” death penalty, Blessed Pope John Paul II argued that “[t]he new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” Our theological tradition recalls that our Lord Jesus Christ was unjustly and brutally nailed to a cross to die. The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth put the matter this way: “Now that Jesus Christ has been nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, how can we still use the thought of expiation to establish the death penalty?” The Eucharistic celebration calls Catholics to remember all crucified people, including the legacy of lynching, in light of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His Gospel message of forgiveness and love of enemies presents a difficult challenge, especially to those who have lost loved ones at the hands of a murderer. Yet, the Gospel teaches us how to become fully human: love, not hatred and revenge, liberates us. We need to forgive and love both in fidelity to the Gospel and for our own well-being. The experience of groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, who advocate against the death penalty, attests to this.

The full petition is here.

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Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 6 months ago
Tomorrow (September 28, 2011) at 4PM the people of the State of Florida will kill Manuel Valle.  Our local Respect Life Office, together with Pax Christi, will stand in silent prayer before the Cathedral of Palm Beach Florida to witness our opposition to this killing - "Not in Our Name".  Our Bishop, the Most Reverend Gerald Barbarito, will stand with us.

Please remember in your prayers the family of the victim, police officer Louis Pena, and the family of Manuel, and all of us.
7 years 6 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Jim, for bringing our attention to the petition against the death penalty signed by many Catholic theologians.  I am encouraged by seeing a public face put on Catholic belief in the culture of life by a large group of prominent Catholics.  I belong to an interfaith coalition of those working to end the death penalty that is led by our diocese  In addition to advocacy for an end and for individual appeals for clemency, the group arranges visits to prisons by relatives and some members have long term written correspondence with inmates.  The Diocese also distributes pamphlets and has participated in vigils such as the one mentioned by Beth.

Beth, I want to commend you for your compassionate work and advocacy.  I will remember you and the families in my prayers tomorrow.
Dudley Sharp
7 years 5 months ago
Rebuttal of "A Catholic Call To Abolish The Death Penalty", Catholic Moral Theology
Mr. Winwright is in error on his points and/or his claims have clear challenges which he fails to present.

NOTE Confirmable fact checking upon request. sharpjfa@aol.com

1) Mr. Winwright could not have read the factual record of Troy Davis’ case. Instead, he seems to have depended upon the claims of the anti death penalty campaign, which was dominated by error. There is solid evidence that Davis’ many claims were just “smoke and mirrors”, as detailed, witness by witness, by the federal judge, in the 2010 decision, concluding Davis was not innocent.

2) The Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act DOES NOT and CANNOT create “the legal conditions for executing a man whose guilt was not established beyond reasonable doubt.”. Mr. Winwright, that is a legal impossibility.

3) There are many studies that find that there is no disparity by race of either the victim or defendant in death penalty cases. In addition, white murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers, with whites being executed more quickly.

4) It is untrue that “Since 1973, 138 persons have been exonerated from death row. . ..”. This well know fraud as been exposed for years. Several reviews, inclusive of one by the NY Times, find that from 25-40 actual innocents have been “identified and released” from death row during that time, or 0.4% of those sent to death row. The evidence supports that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

5) For nearly 2000 years the Catholic Church has well known teachings that the death penalty honors respect for human life and dignity and is a just, appropriate and, sometimes, mandatory sanction for the crime of murder. The Church’s recent change is based upon an inaccurate and secular prudential judgement, finding prison security a sufficient “defense of society” that use of the death penalty is all but unnecessary. Both forgiveness and love incorporate justice, inclusive of the death penalty, as detailed by Church teaching and reason.


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