Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2019 / 09:15 am
Catholic leaders have condemned the federal government’s announcement last week that it will resume of executions after an almost two decade-long hiatus.
“I am deeply concerned by the announcement of the United States Justice Department that it will once again turn, after many years, to the death penalty as a form of punishment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in a statement released July 30.
Attorney General William Barr on July 25 announced that executions of federal death-row inmates would resume for the first time since 2003, with five executions scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.
“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” said Barr, who is a practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Federal executions are rare, with only three occurring in the modern era and the last one being in 2003, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. The federal death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, but revised federal death penalty statues were reinstated in 1988.
In 2014, President Obama ordered a Department of Justice (DOJ) review of the federal death penalty after several botched executions by lethal injection in states including Oklahoma and Ohio. However, executions will once again take place and more will be scheduled in the future, the DOJ said Thursday.
In 2018, Pope Francis approved updated language for the Catechism of the Catholic Church calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
In paragraph 2267, the Catechism acknowledges that the death penalty was “long considered an appropriate response” to grave crimes by legitimate authorities after a fair trial. However, it says, there is now an “increasing awareness” of human dignity even after such crimes have been committed, as well as more secure means of detention by societies that keep open the possibility of redemption.