Ahead of the possible execution of three convicts on Pennsylvania’s death row, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has called for an end to the death penalty.
“As children of God, we're better than this, and we need to start acting like it. We need to end the death penalty now,” he said in his Sept. 10 weekly column.
He said capital punishment “simply doesn’t work” as a deterrent, but answers “violence with violence” that implicates all citizens. The death penalty does not heal or redress wounds “because only forgiveness can do that,” he said.
In August the governor signed execution warrants for four men, though a judge stayed one of the warrants. Any of the three remaining convicts could be the first to be executed in Pennsylvania in 13 years.
The archbishop said that avoiding capital punishment does not diminish support for murder victims’ families, who bear “a terrible burden of grief” and “rightly demand justice.”
However, even justly convicted murderers “retain their God-given dignity as human beings.”
“When we take a murderer's life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process,” he said.
Archbishop Chaput cited the case of Terrance Williams, a death row inmate he said is “indisputably guilty” of the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood which Williams committed when he was 18. Williams’ lawyers contended he had been sexually abused by the man he murdered, while state attorneys have said that those claims have been rejected after judicial review.
“Terrance Williams deserves punishment,” Archbishop Chaput said. “No one disputes that. But he doesn't need to die to satisfy justice.”
Both Scripture and Catholic tradition support capital punishment “under certain limited conditions,” the archbishop said.
“But the Church has repeatedly called us to a higher road over the past five decades. We don't need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty. And we should never be eager to take anyone's life.”
Archbishop Chaput said the death penalty cannot be justified “except in the most extreme circumstances” and should have “no place in our public life.”