The death penalty fosters revenge, not justice

The death penalty fosters revenge, not justice June 21, 2016

…says Pope Francis.

He’s perfectly right of course.

When the pope speaks from his years of experience as a pastor about such matters, he tends to be met by laptop theoreticians who much prefer diagrams about “retributive justice” derived from years of reading abstractions in manuals somewhere.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with Jimmy Akin in which we were noodling the arguments made by various zealots for rationalizing the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Jimmy, being the eminently fair-minded man he is was trying to give the devil his due and come up with some kind of way in which such acts of mass murder might conceivably be morally justified (cities filled with nothing but enemy soldiers, etc.) Finally, I remarked on the weirdness of our conversation, “Sure. In a *perfect* world, we could incinerate 200,000 people without sin. But we are talking about this fallen and imperfect world.”

Arguments for the death penalty have that same surreal quality. Sure, in perfect world we could gas, hang, electrocute, and shoot people without sin. But in this fallen world, what we are really talking about is a) killing innocent to the tune of about 4% of our victims and b) inspiring in death penalty fans a raging and deadly vengefulness that is poison to their souls. Here is what all that abstract stuff about “retributive justice” comes down to in the lived experience of death penalty zealots:

Bundy photos: AP Photo/Mark Foley

The Pope is right.  Abolish the death penalty.  Any list that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Communist China, and North Korea is not a list the United States wants to be on.

Be more prolife, not less.

And, by the way, my cousin came within a whisker of being one of Bundy’s victims, so this is  not an abstraction for me.

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