Yes. The Church Is Opposed to the Death Penalty

“All Christians and men of good will are thus called to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom”
Pope Francis, October 23, 2014

Anthony Granado, USCCB

Anthony Granado, USCCB

Last week, the chairmen of the USCCB Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Pro-Life Activities, joining Pope Francis, reasserted their opposition to the death penalty. In their statement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 23, decision to review the drug protocols for lethal injections in Oklahoma. This comes after the April, 2014 botched execution of Clatyon D. Lockett, where witnesses recounted that he was seen in pain for some time before finally dying.

The case of Glossip v. Gross is being brought by three men on Oklahoma’s death row, Benjamin Cole, John Grant and Richard Glossip. They are asking the court to reject the three-drug protocol used in lethal injection in Oklahoma claiming this violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in April.

Pope Francis, building on the legacy of his predecessors, has called for the abolition of the death penalty. It was Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, who was instrumental in urging society to reconsider the death penalty. He reminded us that the Lord is not a god of death but the God of the living. He spoke of the very limited means when recourse to capital punishment may be unobjectionable, such as when there is no other way to protect the common good of civil society (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2267). But such theoretical instances in modern society, he said, “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

With scandalous frequency, people on death row have been exonerated through DNA testing of crimes for which they were convicted. It is abhorrent to hear of innocent people being put to death by the State or that botched executions have taken place resulting at times, in the slow, painful death of a human being; a person created in the image and likeness of God.

Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Wenski’s statement is consistent with over 40 years of opposition to the death penalty by the American bishops. According to Archbishop Wenski, “the bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley echoes St. John Paul II in reiterating that there are better ways to protect society without taking human life. He hopes the Supreme Court’s review of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols will lead to the realization that that state’s actions erode a reverence for human life. The only logical and life affirming conclusion he sees, is that “capital punishment must end.”

We believe and put our trust in a merciful and loving God. We are conscious of our own brokenness and need for mercy. Our Lord calls us to imitate him more perfectly by witnessing to the inherent dignity of all persons, including those who have committed evil acts. Today, instead of repaying death with death, the Church is calling us to also witness to something greater and more perfect: a Gospel of life, hope and mercy.

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Listen to Anthony’s interview last week on the Catholic Church and the death penalty on the Drew Mariani Show.
Check out the work of our collaborator, Catholic Mobilizing Network, to end the use of the death penalty.

Solidarity and Vision

October is Respect Life Month.

Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation. This is a fact of Christian belief. At the center of Catholic social teaching stands the conviction that each person is a beautiful work of the Creator, a masterpiece that elicits wonder and affection from those with eyes to see. Such a teaching is what Pope Benedict XVI calls a performative truth. It is not a truth “out there” but one that makes a claim on us. It challenges us to see the world in a particular way. How can we deepen our vision, that we might see and help others to see?

In his 2014 Respect Life Month statement, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, states that “solidarity is the antidote” to “the culture of death that flows from the extreme individualism of our age.” Solidarity heals this wound in our age, in part, because it opens our eyes to the beauty in all persons. Solidarity enables us to proclaim that each of us is a masterpiece.

Solidarity means that we act with a common purpose. It is not merely an attitude. To faintly echo St. James, if I feel badly for poor persons in my community, but contribute to a culture that ensures their invisibility, what good is my attitude? Solidarity requires that the concerns of my neighbors become my own concerns. It requires that I act with a view toward the good of others. It requires that I encounter others.

When I begin to take up the aims and struggles of my neighbors, all my neighbors, as my own, then my vision expands. My experience of the world is inseparable from the practices and rituals that make up my life. Through the actions that I repeat day after day, I develop habits of thought and affection. When I act in solidarity, when I share a common life with others, a particular vision develops. The “issues” are no longer abstractions. Solidarity with vulnerable persons – immigrants, the poor, the oppressed – opens my eyes and enlarges my understanding of the beauty of human life.

Many people are invisible to our society. The poor and the disabled, the elderly and the unborn – these persons are simply irrelevant in the moral calculus of powerful segments of our culture. Pope Francis rightly refers to this culture of exclusion as a throw away culture. Through our acts of solidarity, we who are disciples of Jesus Christ form a habit of seeing the handiwork of God in all people, and this habit enables us to make the audacious claim that those whom our utilitarian society regards as disposable are, not only persons with rights, but masterpieces of creation.

The 2014 Respect Life Program presents a beautiful truth that reaches to the core of our Christian faith. We are loved. This truth that makes a demand on us. It demands that the Church build bonds of community and friendship with those that the world would rather not see. When our work, worship, and lives break out of the “extreme individualism of our age,” out of the “throw away culture,” then we become liberated to see each person as a masterpiece of God’s creation.
Weldon headshot
Aaron Matthew Weldon is a staff assistant for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. He is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America and a former intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn about the USCCB’s pro-life advocacy.