Charleston diocese: Making death-row inmate choose means of execution is 'barbarism'

Firing squad Firing squad | chippix/Shutterstock.

After the South Carolina Supreme Court set a date for the execution of Richard Moore, the Diocese of Charleston stated its opposition to capital punishment, and that the man must choose how his life will be ended.

“The Catholic Church stands firmly in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision and the use of the death penalty in South Carolina. Mr. Moore must choose his means of execution – between the firing squad and electric chair. This is modern-day barbarism,” the Charleston diocese said in an April 8 statement.

Moore, 57, is scheduled to be executed April 29, and he must choose whether to be killed by firing squad or electric chair. South Carolina does not have the drugs used in lethal injections. Moore's lawyer's have asked for a stay, aruging that both possible means of execution are cruel or unusual, and that the death penalty is disproportionate to his crime.

In 1999, Moore tried to rob a convience store. He did not have a gun, but the clerk pulled a gun, and during the ensuing scuffle the clerk was shot and killed. Moore was convicted of murder, assault with intent to kill, armed robbery, and a firearms violation.

The State, a Columbia daily, reported April 7 that Moore's lawyers said that “the electric chair and the firing squad are antiquated, barbaric methods of execution that virtually all American jurisdictions have left behind in favor of lethal injection,” and that “Moore should not be forced to die by either of these methods without, at a minimum, a reasonable showing that SCDC (the state Department of Corrections) is unable to obtain lethal injection drugs, despite a demonstrable and good faith effort.”

South Carolina has not carried out an execution since 2011.

The Charleston diocese said that “The tragedy caused by Mr. Moore’s actions is not justified by killing another human being. Justice is not restored when another person is killed.”

“Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is an attack on the inviolability and fundamental dignity of human life. Respect for life is, and must remain, unconditional. This principle applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts.”

“The Catholic Church will continue to stand for the inherent value of all life. We beseech the state of South Carolina to commute Moore’s death sentence and conduct a meaningful review of his case. The Church prays for the day when the state reverses its decision to end the cruel and unjust practice of capital punishment,” the diocese concluded.

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

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“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.

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