Pope Francis And Catholics Disagree Deeply On the Death Penalty

Pope Francis And Catholics Disagree Deeply On the Death Penalty September 30, 2015

(Ken Piorkowski / Flickr)
(Ken Piorkowski / Flickr)

Over at FiveThirtyEight, I’m covering the split between Pope Francis’s adamant opposition to the death penalty and American Catholics comfort with it:

In a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans said they supported the death penalty for people convicted of murder. Catholics were a little less likely than other Americans to express support: 51 percent endorsed it, while 41 percent were opposed.

Catholics varied considerably on this issue by race. White, non-Hispanic Catholics were much more likely to support the death penalty than Hispanic Catholics (59 percent versus 37 percent). The majority of American Catholics are white non-Hispanics (59 percent), but Hispanic Catholics are a sizable 34 percent of the Catholic Church in America. […]

2010 survey by the Death Penalty Information Center found that Catholics were more likely than others to agree with concerns about how the death penalty is administered, although they largely did not share the pope’s blanket moral opposition or his concerns about the dignity of all prisoners, even the guilty.

Read more at FiveThirtyEight…


During the papal visit, I did a post for DeSales on how Pope Francis’s rhetoric about the death penalty was so different from what we usually hear:

Pope Francis often speaks in an eschatological vein, interpreting our problems in the present as a lens for understanding who God is and who we are called to be. When he explained his opposition to the death penalty to Congress, he didn’t cite facts and figures on the usefulness of it as a deterrence, and he didn’t speak simply about whether or not the state has the right to take the lives of its citizens.

Instead, he talked about who the condemned were, and what they were made for, saying that “A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” Pope Francis grounded his discussion of the death penalty in the truth that all of us are made for hope and rehabilitation.

Read more at DeSales…

A lot of opposition to the death penalty is founded in the risk that someone might be innocent, not what we owe, even to the guilty.  Which is reason enough to recommend Chesterton’s short story “The Chief Mourner of Marne” and this section of it particularly:

For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

Or from Eve Tushnet on addiction:

If someone genuinely did not choose to do wrong then compassion for that person isn’t mercy—it’s justice. And conversely, if you can only have compassion on someone if you believe she did not choose her misdeeds, then you’ve defined mercy out of existence. You’re not forgiving—you’re saying there was never anything to forgive.

And I think this narrative, in which addiction destroys the will, exists precisely because we don’t trust others to have mercy on us or on those we love.

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