Catholic Media Outlets Join Together to Call for End to Capital Punishment

The joint editorial comes a month before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case challenging lethal injection protocol as cruel and unusual punishment.

(photo: CNA/Matteo Parrini/ Flickr (CC BY NC SA 20))

WASHINGTON — Four U.S. Catholic publications with a broad range of audiences have come together in a joint editorial citing Church leaders in calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States.

“Capital punishment must end,” stated a March 5 editorial by America magazine, the National Catholic Register, the National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor.

The death penalty is both “abhorrent and unnecessary,” the publications said, arguing that the practice of capital punishment drains resources in court battles that would be “better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.”

The joint editorial comes a month before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case challenging lethal-injection protocol as cruel and unusual punishment. Last year saw a string of botched executions: Inmates in at least three different states were observed gasping for breath, choking, convulsing and clenching their fists. In one case, an inmate took nearly two hours to die. In another, an inmate died of a massive heart attack half an hour after the lethal injection.

In their editorial, the Catholic publications highlighted the words of Church leaders in opposition to the death penalty. They pointed to St. John Paul II’s 1997 addition to the Catechism, which teaches that cases where the death penalty is necessary “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent,” as well as Pope Francis’ exhortation last year for Catholics “to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.”

Within the U.S., the editorial also referenced the words of numerous bishops against the use of the death penalty in recent decades. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City called for a re-examination of the death penalty after a botched execution in his state last year. Last month, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput reiterated his repeated statements on the subject, saying, “When we take a guilty person’s life, we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

Earlier this year, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, stressed that “the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity.”

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the bishops’ pro-life committee, echoed these words, emphasizing that society can protect itself in other ways than the death penalty, adding that “institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life.”

“We, the editors of four Catholic journals … urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, ‘Capital punishment must end,’” said the publications.

Addressing the claim that the death penalty brings closure to the families of victims, the editorial pointed to the words of a Mercy Sister, whose order holds an annual service for Families and Friends of Murder Victims. The sister said that the mothers who attend the event never ask for the death penalty because they say that they do not want another family to suffer what they have suffered.

Jeanette De Melo, editor in chief of the Register, explained the joint editorial as an effort to embrace the gospel of life proclaimed by St. John Paul II and his successors.

“While we recognize that the Church has allowed for the legitimate use of the death penalty for society’s self-defense, we find that it’s harder and harder to argue that a particular act of capital punishment is circumstantially necessary today in contemporary America,” she said.

“Unity among Catholics in defense of life can send a powerful message. Euthanasia, abortion, war and capital punishment differ in moral weight, but they all threaten human dignity, and we must work to end them,” she said, adding that “we look forward to the day we can stand in unity with the other Catholic publications on each of these life issues.”

“The readerships of our various publications represent a wide spectrum of views on the Catholic Church,” said National Catholic Reporter editor Dennis Coday. “That we can forge a joint statement in opposition to the death penalty is a testament to the lasting solidarity Catholics show on all issues that touch on the sanctity of life.”

The editorial noted that Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all put a temporary halt to the death penalty.

Noting the importance of the Supreme Court decision expected this summer, the four publications voiced their hope that the ruling will expand this moratorium to become a broader ban.

“We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.”