Catholics who are helping turn the tide of opinion on the death penalty

Something that doesn’t get much attention, but should.  From the Washington Post:

Soon, probably next week, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy will sign into a law a bill that abolishes the death penalty in his state. When he does, Connecticut will be the fifth state to enact such legislation in as many years — and the third with a governor who was raised Roman Catholic.

As a younger man, Malloy supported the death penalty. But after working as a prosecutor in Brooklyn, he saw the possibility for human error in the justice system and changed his mind.

“I don’t want to overemphasize my Catholicism here,” the governor, who grew up in a family of eight children and went to Jesuit-run Boston College, told me.

“But I know my religion. I know religions in general. In the New Testament, the one place where Jesus talks about the death penalty, he says, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ When I’ve reflected on the death penalty, the reality is I frequently ponder that passage.”

Powerful, vocal Roman Catholics have been much in the news of late, mostly for their hard-line positions on abortion and birth control, and their self-serving rhetoric on the subject of religious rights in the health-care debate. But Catholic activists are playing another political role, too — under the radar — on an issue that hasn’t made the same sorts of headlines.

They are helping to turn the tide of public opinion in the United States against the death penalty. (According to a Pew poll earlier this year, about a third of Americans now oppose capital punishment, up from 18 percent in the mid-1990s.) And they are appealing to the consciences of Roman Catholic politicians to do it.

Read the rest.


  1. ron chandonia says:

    The Archdiocese of Atlanta recently began a new initiative to end the death penalty in Georgia. Archbishop Gregory recorded a very moving video in support of the effort, and we have been making presentations in parishes. Last week, one participant at a men’s group candidly expressed his reason for his own past silence on the issue: he did not want to be labeled a “liberal” like some of the other Catholics mentioned in this article. Other men at that gathering seconded his statement, noting that they felt more receptive to straight Catholic teaching on the issue than to the appeals they had heard from the political left.

    Most of the states that actually enforce capital sentences today are here in the South. It seems to me our best chance for making an impact among the Catholic population here is to detach the issue from partisan politics and to focus instead on the recent teachings of our pope and bishops–and, of course, on the Sermon on the Mount.

  2. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Not having or needing the death penalty is a worthy goal for any country or state.
    But noone, typically like in this article, shows the slightest bit of sympathy for or interest in the many prison guards murdered in jail or prisoners murdered in jail–usually by “lifers” who have nothing to lose in states where the death penalty is off the books.
    Also, victim’s families in many states must show up and relive the horrors of family members being butchered in order to guarantee the butcherer will stay in jail. Just recently mass murder mastermind Charles Manson came up for parole AGAIN. I heard on the radio the discouraged relative of one of his victims state that he just couldn’t go through the trauma again and didn’t attend the parole hearing. Fortunately the parole board in Calif. could still keep him in jail.
    But to anyone who takes the time to research murders in prison and the parole fraud in some states soon discovers doing away with capital punishment isn’t a slam-dunk virtuous act. Here in Mass.recently 3 murderers in jail for life (HAH!) were given parole. All 3 broke the terms of their parole and wound up back in prison–only to be paroled again. Such stories of the “life term” fraudulent promise always given by those opposed to cap punishment abound , but VERY, VERY rarely show up in the media because the media is almost monolithically against cap punishment.
    As for mistakes–DNA makes such increasingly almost impossible if there are strict rules requiring its evidential presence to allow an execution.
    As for the Bible–the “good thief ” is quoted as saying on the cross: “We are getting what we deserve.”( Now that is a Gospel quote you never see in news coverage of cap punishment.”)
    And finally it is amazing how the phrase “INNOCENT human life has been dropped from life debates. We used to understand there is a clear, rational distinction between the innocent human child in the womb and the adult who with malice and evil intent slaughters a mother and her two daughters.

  3. This is really a good thing. The people in the USA are more concerned about contraception and homosexual marriage than actually important stuff like the death penalty, and they conveniently exclude that catholicism is against the death penalty. Another reason why christians should be against the death penalty is because the jews are. Even though the OT clearly has capital punishment, the jews tried in great length not to applied it, and it was eventually abolished to the point that they don’t even support it.

  4. Catholic Dad says:

    Curious how many of these three governors who claim to be guided by their Catholic faith on capital punishment are pro-choice, or who alternatively hide behind the standard I’m-personally-opposed-but-hey-I-can’t-impose-my-morals-on-others type of weak kneed excuse for not being more consistent on life issues from conception to death.

    I have profound concerns about capital punishment, but I would like to see some consistency. If a Catholic politician wants to invoke his or her faith while going to the mat for murderers, then do the same and go to the mat for the innocent unborn.

  5. Michigan abolished the death penalty in 1846. Per Wikopedia, there was one person executed in 1938 by the federal government for a federal murder in Michigan.

  6. My take away is that the Bishops and the Church appear to be one of the few organizations that has a consistant and cohesive message/policy and that is the sacradness of all life from conception to natural death. The Church’s message on all that is in between these points is always consistant- we have an obligation to care for both the temporal and spiritual needs of all of God’s family on earth. This is the mesage and this is the teaching of the Catholic Church. What gets messed up along the way is how individual members chose to adhere to the message- its not so easy! Certainly politicians, the “government” and all of us in the pews are guilty at times and to more or lesser degrees of picking one from Column A, one from B, and so on. So, it is disingenous to hear Catholic politcians support one aspect of Catholic teaching while ignoring or even be hostile to other teachings. It is also troubling to read that some say the Bishops do not have the moral authority when they teach on an issue that they do not agree with, but quote them when their teaching is in line with their position. Double standard anyone?

  7. Katie Angel says:

    Speaking from my experience here in Georgia, our Catholic community is very consistent on issues of life – strongly supporting it from conception to natural death. As a matter of fact, my dad’s Knights of Columbus chapter just used the money they raised from the annual Lenten fish fry to purchase an ultrasound machine for one of the local Crisis Centers. All life is sacred and, as Catholics, we should stand for protecting it all, not just in the womb. That is one of the reasons I have such a hard time wholehardedly supporting the Republicans. I have a hard time finding support for my faith in either political party.

  8. Mark Greta says:

    As deacon john m. bresnahan states above, I think you will find a consisten message on life when there is certainty that those convicted and sentenced to die are jailed in a way that insures they will cause no harm to guards or other prisoners. As Pope JPII stated, that in modern society we should be able to put those guilty of death penalty crimes so that this can be certain. However, with the ACLU and other organizations constantly working for the benefit of the criminal and not seeming to care about the guards or other prisoners, we cannot meet the criteria that Pope JPII laid out. I think we should be able to find a common ground to stop the death penalty, but it would require some agreement assuring safety. By leaving them alive, it gives us a chance to make corrections if errors were made. Nothing is more dangerous than guarding a person without hope of ever getting out of prison and no threat of the death penalty. This makes anything to be more humane also far more dangerous.

    On the issue of the death penalty, some try to say this is a Republican position, and I will admit that this party is far more serious about crime and keeping the streets safe, but I do not recall a Democrat running for president vowing to end the death penalty and if elected following through. It is kind of like saying the Democrats are more for peace when almost all the wars started since our founding have been under the Democrats.

  9. Mark Greta says:

    Mike R. the problem is not that some pick one from column A or B, but that most Catholics do not seem to understand Church teaching and that some teaching carry the burden that we must accept it and follow it because it is Magesterial teaching and thus protected from error. Abortion, protection of marriage as between one man and one woman, male only priests, etc fall into this catagory. The death penalty has some room for us to fight for example for the protection of all life as a requirement for stopping the execution of those found guilty and giving massive number of years and appeals to try as best possible to insure they are indeed guilty. This is also true of how we deal with the poor, how we feed the hungry, care for the sick, and make decisions about war. We can disagree on these things because there is no single way that works, certainly not big centralized government programs. So it is simple. Get a list of Column A which are non negotiable and obey them all. When we look at column B, find out what the church teaches to start the formation of your conscience and give it great weight, but we are free to use all other input to form the final decision on if we agree or not.

  10. Catechism says:

    2267 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 are more in conformity to 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 definitely 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.”

  11. pagansister says:

    I have a very hard time totally abolishing the death penalty. I can NEVER understand how a person who brutally murders someone—on purpose—gets to live and the victim loses his/her life prematurely in many cases. Should there be absolute proof of guilt? Most certainly. As mentioned above in another post, with DNA, much doubt can be eliminated. How does one justify the life time of food, medical care and shelter (yes, in prison but still taken care of) for the husband who killed his wife and unborn child, or a man who kills many people just for the thrill of it, etc. Sorry, I can’t see that person being allowed to live. The Jeffry Dommers (spelling?) of this world are no asset. I have said Man in most of the things here, but that doesn’t eliminate a woman who deliberately kills someone. Not talking self defense here—-but out right murder. My side is with the victim and the families of those victims. Keep it on the books, just in case. Use it with care, but don’t eliminate the possible use of it. Life without parole? Someone mentioned above, that that can put guards in danger, because what has a lifer got to lose? Actually, there are some who, IMO, don’t deserve to live after the horrendous deeds they have done.

  12. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    So far noone here (or elsewhere that I have seen) has come up with or mentioned any way to protect prison guards or other prisoners from being murdered in prison by lifers (as frequently happens) who in a past time would have been executed (thus, obviously, unable to murder guards and other prisoners.)
    In fact, there almost seems to be a denial of facing these facts. Noone clearly wants to defend the right-to-life of prison guards and prisoners who have done nothing to earn the death sentence the anti-cap punishment supporters are condemning them to.
    I. too, am against capital punishment IF a solution can be found to the murder-in-prison problem (that is exacerbated by not having capital punishment as a back up). Short of a solution, all those against capital punishment are merely publicly saying that the lives of prison guards and the murder of perps of lesser crimes is just plain OK, but putting even mass murderers to death is a big NO_NO.
    Incidentally an escaped murderer from a jail here in Ma. was just finally caught. He had
    escaped by murdering a guard. And also recently here a prisoner not incarcerated for murder was murdered in his jail cell by a convicted murderer.
    In otherwords the pope’s conditions for doing away with capital punishment are a long ways from being met. But it IS slowly being done away with by those who refuse to FIRST discuss resolving the problems I have brought up (you can’t resolve a problem if you refuse to even talk about it). Sadly, anti-cap punishment has become just another thoughtless political feel-good political movement that is succeeding at the expense of the lives of many others–from prison guards to prisoners for lesser crimes. It is just a body substitution. So the idea that doing away with capital punishment saves lives is about as bogus as the claim life imprisonment sentences as an alternative to execution are really for life.

  13. pagansister says:

    Well said, deacon john m. bresnahan.

  14. I have been on both sides of the death penalty issue over my lifetime, perhaps both sides more than once. I am still wishy-washy on the issue, but ultimately I still come down on supporting capital punishment. It sends a message and creates a distinct moral line. Abolishing it supports the moral relativism of contemporary life. No one can read what happened to the victum and in most cases conclude that justice requires such a distinct moral line.

  15. bill bannon says:

    Deacon John Bresnahan is correct. The catechism’s “Modern penology” (life sentence) is not protecting because the majority of murderers in the U.S. are not caught which means modern penonolgy is only protecting you from a minority of murderers in any given month. The last two Popes were thinking of European prisons and the low murder rates in Europe. In the US, a more dog eat dog world, the papal position will get inmates and guards killed yearly which is probably rare in Europe. Fr. Geoghan and Jeffrey Dahmer were both murdered by lifers in non death penalty states…the very context the last two Popes hope to see without their facing the consequences of their dream situation. Murder in prison cannot be fearfully punished with no death penalty. In fact if a gang member fears being murdered in prison, he can attain the safety of solitary by murdering another inmate in the world hoped for by the catechism.

    To protect you, modern penology would have to deter. Is it deterring murder in Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras which have extremely high murder rates and no death penalty? No.
    But while we know from Acts 5 and the Holy Spirit that execution deters (“The whole community took fear”) after God killed Ananias and Sapphira through the verbal cooperation of Peter, we must note that execution to deter must be certain and quick. In the US it is not because appeals average ten years. It deters in Japan because they can execute you at any time and it is not disclosed. Japan is on some lists the 4th safest country in the world…safer than all Catholic countries but one or two. Homogeneity of ethnic group and little rich poor division also causes safety in Japan. The Catholic continent of South America has high murder rates…rare death penalties if at all…but also rich-poor division.
    I would add that the Church has regressions besides having developments. The current anti death penalty campaign is a regression based on an exegetical mistake of John Paul II who saw the OT death penalties as the result of an unrefined culture (Evangelium Vitae section 40) when in fact, Scripture says they came from God and has God giving them in the 1st Person imperative which means that Christ as Word gave the death penalty for adultery in Leviticus and Christ ended it when He brought sanctifying grace because mankind would no longer need great threats to avoid adultery once there was grace and once Christ diminished the power of the devil. The Governor in the article was affected by Christ and the woman caught in adultery but humorously the governor never thought of who gave the penalty in the first place.
    Christ ended the death penalties for personal sin that applied only to the Jews. Christ as God reiterated the state’s use of the “sword” against actual criminals (not personal sin) in Romans 13:4. He had first given that death penalty as God to Gentiles in Genesis 9:6 and C.C.C. #71 states that the Noachic covenant lasts til the end of time.

  16. ron chandonia says:

    The current anti death penalty campaign is a regression based on an exegetical mistake of John Paul II who saw the OT death penalties as the result of an unrefined culture (Evangelium Vitae section 40) when in fact, Scripture says they came from God and has God giving them in the 1st Person imperative which means that Christ as Word gave the death penalty for adultery in Leviticus . . .

    WOW! Amazing that you can discern divine intentions better than Blessed John Paul could.

  17. bill bannon says:

    There’s alot you avoided in my post but let’s work with your fragment.

        I just follow Christ who you’ll see in the following gospel text ascribes the death penalty for cursing parents to being the “word of God” besides coming from Moses:
    Mark 7:8-13 (note capitals)

    You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
    He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!
    For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘WHOEVER CURSES FATHER OR MOTHER SHALL DIE.’
    Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”‘ 4 (meaning, dedicated to God),
    you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
    You nullify THE WORD OF GOD in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”

    Keep in mind that under John Paul II, you had Fr. Raymond Brown on the Pontifical Biblical Commission and Fr. Brown in the “Birth of the Messiah” (pages 345 or 349?) stated that Mary never said the Magnificat but that Luke got it from Palestinian Anawim and put it in Mary’s mouth for dramatic effect because in the OT, women receiving a mission did likewise and yet
    Brown provided no evidence and yet due to his prodigious intellect went uncensured by any high Magisterium figures though lower figures complained of him. So Brown did not think Mary said the Magnificat and John Paul didn’t think God gave the death penalties…in fact John Paul uses Cain’s freedom from execution as relevant to the death penalty without ever mentioning in EV that the same God gives a death penalty just a little later when the first kingdom arises under Nimrod. Therefore Cain was actually saved by God from private revenge while kingdoms or governments did not exist. Once they arose, God gives a death penalty for murder only to Jews
    (Shem) and Gentiles (Ham and Japheth) which explains why Christ told Pilate who bragged about execution power: Jn 19:11 “You would have no power over me at all were it not given you from above” ie in Genesis 9:6. John Paul II did not like the violence in the OT and you will see the same theme in Verbum Domini sect. 42 of Pope Benedict where the innuendo is that the God commanded massacres are not really from God and must be treated by “experts” in historical context. If that were so, the Bible needs to have the entire 12th chapter of Wisdom removed because it is a chapter long explanation of why God ordered the massacres and only after first punishing the Canaanites lightly relative to their offenses of child sacrifice and cannibalism.

  18. bill bannon says:

    To show the confusion at the top about OT violence, look at this sttement by Pope Benedict in section 42 of Verbum Domini: ” In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel.”
    The problem with that statement is that Elijah, the prophet who will return prior to Christ in the Second Coming, executed 450 prophets of Baal; Eliseus cursed mocking children 42 of whom were then killed by two bears; and the prophet Samuel “hacked Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal” precisely because Saul failed to kill Agag as ordered by God.
    So the prophets did not “challenge…every kind of violence” but only unjust violence. When Elijah slit 450 throats…that was violent and just.

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