Opposed to the death penalty

A woman kneels in prayer July 22 at a memorial for victims of a gunman who opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. The gunman July 20 killed at least a dozen people and injured many more during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knig ht Rises.” (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)

The loss of a loved one to murder is unfathomable. When life is unjustly ripped away, it tears at the fabric of communities, instills fear and anger, and irrevocably alters the foundation of the family left behind in mourning.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed tragic losses of life more times than we care to remember. Fresh in our memories is the senseless taking of life at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last month. Twelve people died and 58 others were injured when a gunman viciously attacked a theater crowded with people there to watch “The Dark Knight Rises.”

On Aug. 5, a white supremacist stormed a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and opened fire, killing six people and wounding four others. He then took his own life.

Closer to home, 19 innocent bystanders were shot outside a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8, 2011, including former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot injury to her head. Six people died.

These tragedies raise countless questions, including the one big question for which there can be no satisfactory answer: Why?

Frustratingly, those of us left behind to grieve will never know. But the inability to know why terrible things happen to good people will not persuade our instinctual drive to seek closure, to find a way to punctuate the last sentence in a chapter filled with pain before turning the page and moving on.

Relatives of Kevin Swaney — one of two young men brutally murdered in 1987 by Daniel Wayne Cook — are among those who sought closure for 25 years. Cook was executed by lethal injection Aug. 8 in Florence, Ariz. He was the fifth Arizona death row inmate executed this year.

The Associated Press reported that Swaney’s oldest sibling called the execution “long overdue” and urged the judicial system “to take the families of those left behind into consideration so that they are allowed to move on with their lives and not be forced to relive the nightmare over and over again.”

‘Rare, if not practically nonexistent’

Capital punishment as a means of justice or deterrent has been a hotly debated topic for years. People of good will passionately argue both for and against the death penalty, and there is little doubt that the conversation regarding its morality will not soon subside.

The Catholic Church holds that all life is sacred, even the life of a death row inmate. The Church’s position is rooted in the Fifth Commandment, which instructs: “You shall not kill.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not explicitly forbid the use of the death penalty “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” It does provide clarity insofar as it recognizes that the state is now more capable of protecting its citizens through other, non-lethal methods. Moreover, the Catechism states that the instances for which the death penalty would be permissible “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The State of Arizona is one of 33 that still permit the use of the death penalty. In April, the governor of Connecticut signed a bill into law abolishing it, replacing the use of capital punishment with life-in-prison sentences. Other states to recently repeal the death penalty include Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

Arizona should follow these states’ lead in this matter.

Those whose lives have been torn apart due to murder deserve our most heartfelt compassion. Those responsible for such heinous crimes deserve to be punished. Victims deserve justice and our citizens deserve protection, but state-sponsored executions do not serve to protect. Therefore, capital punishment is wrong.

On Aug. 7, Jared Loughner pleaded guilty in federal court to the 2011 Tucson shootings. In doing so, he avoided the death penalty and will be sentenced to life in prison. Remarkably, the reaction by the victims, their family and the community was not one of anger, but of relief and hope — and a chance to achieve some closure.

Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Giffords, was quoted as being satisfied with Loughner’s plea: “Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives,” Kelly said.

State-sponsored executions do not serve justice. Nor are executions likely to provide adequate closure for victims. Instead, the death penalty promotes a form of vengeance that perpetuates a circle of violence and contributes to a “culture of death.”

As Catholics, we are called to uphold the dignity and sanctity of human life at every stage. When bad things happen to good people, we may never be able to answer the question, “Why?” But we know what we are compelled to do when others demand that the state practice vengeance: protect the sanctity of life, even for those who by their horrendous crimes have shown they do not share our commitment to the Gospel of Life.

This editorial appears in the Aug. 16, 2012, print edition of The Catholic Sun.



  1. I’m opposed to the death penalty. I’m also against chemotherapy but if you’ve got cancer you gotta’ kill it, or the cancer grows. This article is obviously an opinion piece so I want to give my opinion and to more reality.

    The Fifth Commandment, which instructs: “You shall not KILL” should be translated to ‘MURDER. Let’s not mix up the two. And with over 300 million people in the U.S., the death penalty IS very rare and IS practically nonexistent. When someone murders in the U.S. we give them years of lawyer litigation, three good meals a day, television, a weight room, medical that only our congress have, all the books they want to read, and who knows what else.

    Now what do some of the Church Father’s say. St. Augustine said explaining St.Paul that the “State may execute convicted criminals. But it should exercise Christian forbearance and thus temper juridical severity.” That’s what we do here in America. Pope Leo I said, the Church “could not be directly involved in capital punishment” BUT the though that the State was divinely authorized to do so.” St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned that “If a man be dangerous and ‘infectious’ to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be ‘killed’ in order to safeguard the common good” Pope Pius XII explained “What the Church teaches about the authority of the State to punish crimes, even with the death penalty.” I rest my case.

    • I appreciate the fact that the Sun has made the editorial statement calling for repeal of capital punishment in Arizona.

      Commenting on Mr. Oskar’s note I would say his belief about conditions on death row is in error – death row inmates are housed in solitary confinement 23X7, the quality of the meals is questionable, there is no TV, the small solitary room is bare, sensory deprivation occasionally exists due to either total darkness or complete light, there isn’t a “weight room” (exercise may be allowed for 1 hour several times per week), medical care is often so lacking that death occurs not only due to execution, but also to neglect, books are limited. Information on conditions can be found at http://afsc.org/campaign/stopmax

      An excellent guide to church teachings can be found in in the book The Biblical Truth About America’s Death Penalty by Dale Recinella.

  2. cont

    The current Catechism confirms within CCC 2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”

    “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

    Just as:

    Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey confirms: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113). Prof. Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116).”A Bible Study”, Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

    Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

    It is not the nature of our deaths, but the state of salvation at the time of death which is most important.

    Jesus: “So Pilate said to (Jesus), “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

    The power to execute comes directly from God.

    Jesus: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.

    Fiery hell is a considerable more severe sanction than any earthly death.

    The Holy Spirit, God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

    No trial, no appeals, just death on the spot.

    God: “You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death.” Numbers 35:31 (NAB) full context http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/numbers/numbers35.htm

    For murder, there is no mitigation from a death sentence.

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