.- While pointing out that its moral gravity is different from that of always-evil acts like abortion and euthanasia, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has overwhelmingly approved a new statement, which calls for an end to this countryâs use of the death penalty in a 237-4 vote.
The Bishops, who are currently meeting in Washington for their semi-annual plenary assembly, released the statement Tuesday evening, calling it a renewal of the groupâs first official appeal--made 25 years ago--to abandon capital punishment in the U.S.They said that their major concern at this ânew momentâ is to clarify the Catholic Churchâs true teaching on the subject and faithfully apply it.
The statement noted that the decision to rethink the death penalty first came about at the urging of the late John Paul II, who wrote in his 1995 Gospel of Life encyclical that, punishment âought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessityâ¦when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.
âToday however, he said that cases like this âare very rare, if not practically non-existent.â The bishops explained that long-held Catholic teaching permits the state to impose the death penalty âupon criminals convicted of heinous crimes, if this ultimate sanction is the only way to protect society from a grave threat to human life.âDenverâs Archbishop Charles Chaput however, echoed the late John Paul when he said recently, that "In modern industrialized states, [like the U.S.] killing convicted murderers adds nothing to anyoneâs safety. It is an excess."
Pastoral responsibilityThe bishops went on in the statement to say that morally speaking, the death penalty is intrinsically different than acts like abortion and euthanasia, which, the Church teaches, are wrong in any and all circumstances.They also took care to clarify that âas pastors,â they âshare the justified anger and revulsion at terrible and deadly crimes.â âIn calling for an end to the use of the death penaltyâ, they wrote, âwe do not seek to diminish in any way the evil and harm caused by people who commit horrible murders.âThey pointed out however, that âstanding with families of victims does not compel us to support the death penaltyâ¦The pain and loss of one death, cannot be wiped away with another death.âCiting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bishops wrote: âifâ¦non-lethal means are sufficient to protect and defend peopleâs safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good andâ¦the dignity of the human personâ (2267).
They also pointed to statistics which cite the surprising number of wrongfully executed offenders over the last three decades, and said that issues of racism, poverty and an inadequate penal system combine to make the death penalty unjust in the U.S.