The Death Penalty

“If bloodless means are sufficient . . .” (Catechism, n. 2267)

prayer for repeal

Prayer for Repeal

(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005)

The Catholic bishops in the United States have been calling for an end to the use of the death penalty for more than twenty-five years.

 Life Matters: The Death Penalty
– From the U.S. Bishops – 2013
From the document: “And today it is clear that the death penalty no longer serves a useful purpose in protecting the sanctity of human life.”

Praying for Mercy – Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

On Saturday, October 4, 2014, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a special Mass was offered at St. Patrick Church.  We prayed for mercy for all in our society, praying especially for victims of violence and an end to the death penalty.  The Gospel and homily can be heard here:

‘Tell the People’ interview

In August 2014, Fr. Keith LaBove was interviewed by Trista Littell of the Diocesan Pro-Life Apostalate on the topic of the death penalty.  This interview aired on the Diocesan TV program ‘Tell the People’ on August 17, 2014.  The interview is available here (about 7 minutes).  Interview on the Death Penalty

Praying for Mercy

A special Mass Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Life was held on Saturday, May 3rd, 2014 at St. Patrick Church.  Prayer was offered for victims of violence, perpetrators, and especially an end to the death penalty.  The Gospel and Homily can be heard here:

Innocent Dead Man Walking

An October 2012 article about the injustice and unjustifiability of the death penalty.
Do you know how many innocent people are “dead men walking”, condemned to death by our “justice” system?

Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

The Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a grassroots coalition dedicated to achieving non-violent and effective alternatives to the death penalty. We recognize that Louisiana’s death penalty is socially, racially and economically unjust. We believe that the state’s limited resources should be channeled into local communities to prevent crime and better support families affected by murder.

Catholic Mobilizing Network

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty (CMN) proclaims the Church’s unconditional pro-life teaching and its application to capital punishment and restorative justice. CMN works in close collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare Catholics for informed involvement in campaigns to repeal state death penalty laws and expand or inaugurate restorative justice programs.

Some Facts About the Death Penalty

  • 34 states have the death penalty; 16 do not.
  • Recent Supreme Court decisions have limited the use of the death penalty by declaring it unconstitutional to execute persons with mental retardation and juveniles under the age of 18, or to impose the death penalty when no murder occurred or was intended. The court has also ruled that defendants are entitled to have a jury decide whether to impose the death penalty.
  • Approximately 3,261 inmates are on death row in 37 state, military, and federal prisons.
  • Since 1973, there have been 138 exonerations of death row inmates.
  • Since 1976, there have been a total of 1,246 executions in the United States, including 12 in the first few months of 2011.
  • The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005).
    *Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Questions and Answers for Catholics

The Death Penalty in 2012: Year End Report
From the Death Penalty Information Center

Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty
from the Death Penalty Information Center 

The Innocence Project

The Death Penalty in Our Time
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s Address to Criminal Law Committee
Criminal Court of Cook County — May 14, 1985

Let Justice and Mercy Meet, from the Louisiana Bishops – 2002

Life Matters: The Death Penalty – From the U.S. Bishops – 2013

A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, U.S. Bishops – 2005

Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, U.S. Bishops – November 2000

A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty – U.S. Bishops – 1999

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 56)

Questions and Answers

What is the Catholic Church’s position on the use of the death penalty?
At the heart of Catholic teaching on the death penalty is the belief that “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end…” (Catechism, No. 2258).
Regarding the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (#2267).
Catholic teaching says that the situations in which the death penalty can be used are “rare, if not practically non-existent.” Wouldn’t cases of heinous crimes, such as 9/11, be examples of the “rare” cases?
The test of whether the death penalty can be used is whether society has alternative ways to protect itself, not how terrible the crime was. Life in prison without parole provides a non-lethal alternative to the death penalty. We can’t know whether God has a purpose for a person’s life, even one who has committed a terrible crime and must spend his or her life behind bars.

Does life in prison without parole really work or are those convicted sometimes released?
Life in prison without parole means that the convicted person is not eligible for parole and cannot be released.

I understand that in the past innocent people were sentenced to death, but now that DNA is available, isn’t this avoidable?
DNA evidence only exists in about 5-10% of criminal cases (10-15% of death penalty cases). Where it is available, it is still subject to contamination and human error. The risk of an erroneous conviction is still significant.

A Prayer to Abolish the Death Penaltyprayer for repeal

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A Poem

One Crucifixion is recorded—only—
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics—
Or History—

One Calvary—exhibited to Stranger—
As many be
As persons—or Peninsulas—

Is but a Province—in the Being’s Centre—
For Journey—or Crusade’s Achieving—
Too near—

Our Lord—indeed—made Compound Witness—
And yet—
There’s newer—nearer Crucifixion
Than That— 

Emily Dickinson

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