FROM PATRICIA ZAPOR IN WASHINGTON DC
THE UNITED States bishops will consider their first major statement on the death penalty in 25 years this November, calling on Catholics to take up the cause of ending the use of capital punishment.
A draft proposed for the bishops’ November meeting builds upon their 1980 statement that urged the abolition of capital punishment.
Since then, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae of 1995, and a series of statements by the late Pope have clarified Church teaching on the subject.
Although the Catechism and the other documents acknowledge the state has a right to execute some dangerous criminals to protect the general public, they emphasise that in modern society the situations in which that is necessary are so rare as to be essentially non-existent.
In a cover statement to bishops that accompanies the draft, Bishop Nicholas. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee, notes that support for the death penalty is dropping dramatically among Catholics and the general public.
“Doubts about its fairness and impact are widespread,” he said. “There is growing public discussion of the morality and utility of capital punishment.
“This is a time for us bishops to seize this moment and build upon this momentum by joining in a common effort to teach clearly, speak strongly, encourage reflection and act together to help bring an end to the use of the death penalty.” Unlike the 1980 statement, which called for the outright abolition of capital punishment, the proposed version focuses on reasons to forgo its use, explains Catholic teaching and says it “is time to turn away from a deeply flawed system of state-sponsored killing toward a way of protecting society and punishing the truly guilty that reflects society’s best values”.
In March the Catholic bishops launched the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, which asks people to pray for victims of crime and their families and to reach out to support them. It also calls for educating people about Church teaching on the death penalty and criminal justice; working for legislation to end capital punishment and changing the debate in favour of defending life.
The new draft statement opens by saying the bishops are renewing their call to end the death penalty because it was time “to seize a new moment”.