California bishop praises district attorney for seeking to change death sentences

CNA 50ef0186e7bbb 16563 1 Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California. | Credit: Rendon Photography & Fine Art/Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Antonio

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose recently praised a California district attorney for seeking to convert the death sentences of more than a dozen prisoners to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Jeff Rosen, the district attorney for Santa Clara County, announced last week that he had made a filing in state superior court to resentence 15 condemned men, saying he has “lost faith in capital punishment as a fair and effective crime deterrent.” 

The prosecutor added that he views capital punishment as an “antiquated, racially biased, error-prone system that deters nothing and costs us millions of public dollars and our integrity as a community that cherishes justice.”

Rosen pointed to the California law that took effect at the beginning of 2019 and allows district attorneys to resentence a person if they determine the sentence no longer serves justice.

“Judges and juries of the people should decide where an inmate dies. God should decide when,” Rosen said, while acknowledging the “horrible” crimes committed by the inmates.

In an April 4 statement, Cantú, whose diocese includes Santa Clara County, praised Rosen’s “prophetic and principled decision.”

“Catholic social teaching urges us to recognize the dignity of every human being, especially the most vulnerable,” Cantú said. 

“In alignment with these teachings, the Church advocates for a consistent ethic of life, encompassing the unborn, the poor, the migrant, the sick, and those in the criminal justice system.”

“DA Rosen’s decision aligns with these values, challenging us to seek alternatives to the death penalty that respect human life and dignity, promote rehabilitation, and foster a safer and more compassionate society,” the bishop said. “It is a call to move away from punitive justice towards restorative justice that heals and rebuilds lives.”

California technically has more prisoners on death row than any other state, but the state’s death penalty has been under moratorium since 2019 and has not been applied since 2006. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). 

The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged 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.

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office’s new declaration on the theme of human dignity, released Monday, reiterated that the death penalty “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

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