The UN General Assembly voted yesterday for a moratorium on the death penalty, advocated by almost all European and Western nations, but voted against by the world's greatest violators of human rights: China, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia.

The only major western nation to be included in this roll of dishonor was (you guessed it) the United States of America.

The nonbinding resolution calling for the moratorium received 107 votes in favor, 38 against and 36 abstentions.

But what's interesting is the trend. The number of 'yes' votes was slightly higher than in December 2007 when a similar resolution received 104 votes in favor; but votes against have dropped sharply: 54 in 2007, 38 now.

According to Mario Marazziti of the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio -- the Catholic organization that works tirelessly towards abolition together with the European Union, Amnesty International and civil-society organisations -- the votes indicate "an irreversible trend to ending the death penalty in the world".

It is due to Sant'Egidio that two UN members, the Maldives and Mongolia, have moved into the abolitionist camp.

The US stands out as the only major western nation standing against an incoming tide of moral awareness, a great awakening, that in recent years has seen many African and Asian countries moving over into the abolitionist camp.

Yet American conservatives -- including, shockingly, many Catholics, in spite of clear magisterial teaching -- continue to try to justify it with quotes from the Bible, just like the slaveholders of old.

Over here in Europe, we remain deeply shocked and scandalized by the death penalty in the US. Talking to its American advocates is very similar to talking to a certain kind of feminist convinced of a woman's "right to choose" abortion.

Often, of course, those advocates of the death penalty describe themselves as "pro-life", and lecture other Catholics about their lack of orthodoxy. I've noticed that "pro-life, pro-death" Catholics are usually very angry. It doesn't take a psychologist to work out why.

Comments

Mark Harden | 11/12/2010 - 11:23am
"You mean like they did in FURMAN (1972)?"

Furman v Georgia obviously did not determine the death penalty to be unconstitutional, since executions are still carried out today. That case determined that the application of the death penalty among states was unequal and required execution-legal states to be consistent in their application of capital punishment.  This ushered in a period of de facto moratorium on executions, but within four years, 37 states had revised their statutes and began to resume executions.*

As for the UN, it has no sovereignty over the People of the United States in such matters, for better or worse. Fortunately, here in Texas a few years back, a "life without parole" option was passed which has already greatly reduced the frequency of death sentences.

*See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furman_v._Georgia
Vince Killoran | 11/12/2010 - 10:41am
Around & around we go.  Every couple of months the same claim re-emerges on this blog, i.e., the Church doesn't forbid the death penalty.  And, every time, people respond with the necessary references to demonstrate how the nature of American law and criminal justice system does not come close to justifying the narrow, technicial grounds on which this permission exist.

Anonymous | 11/12/2010 - 10:21am
From Para. 56 of Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), an encyclical letter on various threats to human life which Pope John Paul II issued on March 25, 1995.
"This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence."(46) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated".

Isn't it wonderful that we can look to the Vicar of Christ for answers to these difficult questions?
Anonymous | 11/12/2010 - 9:56am
"Yet American conservatives - including, shockingly, many Catholics, in spite of clear magisterial teaching - continue to try to justify it with quotes from the Bible, just like the slaveholders of old."

- Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Nancy Pelosi does not favor abolishing the death penalty, nor do I believe does the current President of the US.  If liberals crow about the GOP not doing anything to end abortion when they held power, shouldn't that shoe fit as well when the Dems fail to abolish the death penalty while they hold power?

The reaches people on here will go to tar and feather conservatives is really disappointing.  I fear this will only increase in the new Congress.

And even those conservatives who support the death penalty are not in violation of Church teaching which is that the death penalty is allowable in certain sitautions.  And I know this will be followed up with JP II's comment about that case being non-existent.  Fine, I say, then do you accord a Pope's every statement on the level of doctrine? If so, are you prepared to return to kneeling and receiving Communion the tongue?
Vince Killoran | 11/12/2010 - 9:48am
"Unless the US Supreme Court should suddenly, out of thin air, discover that the death penalty is unconstitutional. . ." You mean like they did in FURMAN (1972)?

David's point about the difficulty due to the state-by-state nature of punishment is a perfect call to action for "Right-to-Life" folks: with all those local and state networks in place there is no excuse for not taking up this cause PDQ.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/14/2010 - 1:55pm
I don't see how the death of an innocent man is offset by the deaths of even a hundred murderers.  What good does their death do versus the horror of executing the innocent.  I'm sorry, but the whole thing is in the hands of lawyers and I am not one of their big fans.

Attitudes transfer from generation to generation through the culture.  I saw people of my own generation affected by the attitudes of the generation who experienced the Great Depression.  I think Americans have a problem thinking we can learn from other people.  We know statistically other countries are better than math.  Maybe we need to wonder about other areas, too.

Vince Killoran | 11/14/2010 - 1:49pm
Picking up on Stanley, Norman, and few other people's points: the death penalty isn't a deterrence, it's expensive, and it doesn't fit the New Testament message that we're supposed to be living in our daily lives. These are obviou points and I'd never heard a sufficient rebuttal to any of them over the years.

I see no "justice" in premeditated murder.  Revenge or "an-eye-for-an-eye," perhaps, but we're supposed to be better than those who engage in horrible crimes.

Mario Cuomo made this point many years ago in a radio debate with a politican who wanted to resume the death penalty in NY.  The politican put himself into a bit of a corner when the govenor got him to admit that we don't punish a rapist by performing rape on him ("We're better than that" the politican claimed); but, Cuomo asked, does that mean we're not so much better that we won't kill someone?
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2010 - 8:37am
Norman,

I understand completely the argument that it is better to err on the side of caution when sentencing someone.  However, I see the wanting to get rid of the death penalty as being somewhat like wanting to get rid of fire, because often people are injured or killed when we use it, rather than wanting to use appropriate caution. 

We are not perfect, and we can avoid some of our imperfections.  However, there are cases, like the Connecticut one, where sentencing someone to life imprisonment is no punishment at all.  The only thing comparable to the crime would be to sentence someone to a lifetime of daily beatings, which in my opinion, would be cruel and unusual compared to execution.

While it may not deter those who would in the future commit these exact crimes, it does go a long way in making it clear to all of us, that actions have proportionate consequences.  This is a lesson I want my children and others to learn.  I don't want them learning that if they do something wrong, they will need to adapt to a different lifestyle. 

Stanley,

My parents were in Europe during WWII.  My father and his parents lived in what was Poland at that time.  They were relocated by the Germans and then overrun by the Russians, impisoned, beaten, and nearly starved.  My mother's family, on the other hand, lost two sons in battle.  If any Europeans should have been exhausted by death, it would be my immediate family, no?  However, they never expressed any feelings that the death penalty was cruel, unusual, or unnecessary.  Like all of us, they do not want innocent people put to death by mistake, but their solution would not likely have been, "well, then we'd better not do it".  It would have been "then we'd better do it better". 

Probably, Europeans are simply being unemotionally practical and following the logic that Norman follows with respect to the financial costs of doing justice, that it's not monetarily worth it to do it right.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/13/2010 - 11:26pm
I have only made a couple trips to Europe but I see no evidence of indifference to suffering.  Having seen up close the descent of Europe into the second world war and the results, they probably have had it with killing in general as a solution to problems.  Not moral superiority but experience or just plain exhaustion.  I was amazed at how our country wanted the Germans and Japanese to participate in wars after they were finally pacified, no mean accomplishment. 
Marie Rehbein | 11/13/2010 - 9:00pm
It is possible to view the European attitude toward the death penalty as indifference to justice based on an indifference to the sufferings of others and an obsession with a self-image of moral superiority.  It is too transparent that the papal position on the death penalty is what it is only to undergird the papal position on abortion.

David (Smith), I agree that some people's reasonable doubt is some others' absolute certainty.  However, there are cases in which there is absolutely no doubt and the only reason an appeal might change anything is because procedures were not followed, even though if they had been, the verdict would have been the same.

David (Cruz-Uribe), what about justice?  Cold-blooded murder makes everyone a victim, not just the individual who was killed or those closest to that individual.  Are we not entitled to justice?  None of us are prevented from forgiving the murderer if we execute him, but some of us might be able to get to that point if he is not.
David Cruz-Uribe | 11/13/2010 - 5:19pm
I have been an anti-death penalty activist for nearly two decades now.  In 1992 I prayed the rosary before the gates of San Quentin just before the execution of Robert Alton Harris, the first man to be executed in California after the Gregg v. Georgia decision in 1976.  I was in the cold (and it was very, very cold) praying the rosary in 2005 when Connecticut executed Michael Ross, the first execution in CT since 1960.   God willing, Connecticut will abolish the death penalty this spring.  We have the votes in the house, we are close in the Senate, and the new governor has stated publicly he will sign an abolition bill.

Based on this, I want to share a few reflections drawn from my experience.  These touch on many of the points raised above, but I am not responding to anyone in particular. 

Much is made about the victim's families in supporting the death penalty.  I have met many murder victim's family members who are now opposed to the death penalty.  Two were formative in helping me understand.  Walter Everett's son was murdered by a junkie desperate for a fix.  This was not a death penalty case:  the killing was not sufficiently ''heinous'' and was barely newsworthy.  Walter, after a couple years of struggling with his grief and anger, decided he had to forgive his son's killer, which he did in a letter.  In the end, the two became friends:  Walter spoke in his favor at his parole hearing, and later officiated at his wedding.  (Walter is a Methodist minister.)  ''Come, rejoice with me, for what was lost is now found!''

Bud Welch's daughter died in the Oklahoma City terrorist attack.  Bud nearly drank himself to death before he realized he couldn't be angry any more:  his thirst for vengeance was killing him.  The day Timothy McVeigh was executed, he sat with McVeigh's father:  two fathers who had both lost their children to violence.

Now in both cases, their behavior is what philosophers call supererogetory:  doing more than duty requires.  But this, it seems to me, should be the direction in which our laws should point us:  in the direction of our better selves.  Or, as Dorothy Day put it, we should work to make a world in which it is easier to do good.  

The question of ''conservative'' vs. ''liberal'' on the death penalty is easy to stereotype, but while there are many exceptions, as a general rule it is democrats who support abolition and republicans who support the DP.  Here in CT, when an abolition bill was passed, only a small number of republicans crossed over to support it, and it was vetoed by a republican governor.  Now among public intellectuals the situation is more complicated, but in politics (which is key to abolition) this is how the votes split.  I have been working to influence a couple conservative legislators to support abolition-the best I have managed is to get one to move from supporting the DP to undecided. 

More interesting is the question of prolife support for the death penalty.  John Paul II himself categorically declared opposition to the death penalty a pro-life issue:  see, for example, his speech in St. Louis in 1999.  And the USCCB treats it the same way.  In my organizing work, I have generally discovered a high degree of support for abolition of the death penalty among the grassroots of the pro-life movement:  it has often been pro-life organizers who invited me to speak at parishes, and at a recent prolife convention I was able to gather many signatures on letters to state representatives.  But, and this is extremely perplexing, the leadership of the prolife movement and those politicians who publicly identify themselves as prolife generally do not want to have anything to do with the issue.  They either support the DP, or claim they are privately opposed but don't want to impose their views on their supporters.  (Does this sound familiar?)  

The question of deterrence is complicated.  As a mathematician (and so the closest thing to an applied statistician in the organization) I was called upon to review the literature when the AP had a story about a report ''proving'' that the DP is a deterrent.  I think all such studies are flawed:  there is too much ''noise'' and uncontrolled variables to draw any kinds of meaningful conclusions from econometric studies.  Those who look at deterrence from other perspectives (for example, interviewing murderers in states with and w/o the DP) are close to unanimous in arguing that there is not a deterrent effect.  (The fact that Wisconsin, which has not had a DP since a year after becoming a state has a murder rate a fraction of that of Texas, which leads in executions is at least suggestive if not conclusive.)
Anonymous | 11/13/2010 - 2:06pm
Mr. Ivereigh said,
 
''Often, of course, those advocates of the death penalty describe themselves as ''pro-life'', and lecture other Catholics about their lack of orthodoxy. I've noticed that ''pro-life, pro-death'' Catholics are usually very angry. It doesn't take a psychologist to work out why.''
 
 
I enjoy Mr. Ivereigh posts very much especially the ones about the Pope in England and Spain and those on the Mid East Synod.  But this post reflects arrogance and ignorance.  First of all I am pro life and anti death penalty.  I have been against capital punishment since college when I first thought about it.  I wrote a paper at my Jesuit College arguing against the death penalty and this paper was torn apart for my bad logic by a Jesuit.  I disagreed with the C grade I received for the paper as well as the assessment of my logic but did not think the Jesuit who defended the Church position on the death penalty was barbaric or angry or needed a psychologist.  We disagreed and on an issue that was about life.
 
 
Since that time the anti capital punishment people like to connect abortion and the death penalty when they have many aspects that are  unrelated.  They both end with a death but after that they diverge in many significant ways.
 
I view myself as a conservative but have frequently questioned just what  that term means.  And Mr. Ivereigh goes out of his way to disparage them which means he has an agenda that probably has nothing to do with the death penalty.  He is trying to bring down something he does not like by bringing up something which he finds inconsistent.  The death penalty is not the issue but conservatives are.  
 
 
My position on liberal positions are they are generally immoral and that those who advocate them are advocating immoral policies.  So I find that being conservative, if that is the proper term, is one who is generally advocating moral positions on the issues and avoiding immoral ones.  The interesting thing is that the so called liberals look down on those who disagree with them as inferior intellectually and morally as they advocate their immoral positions.

Marie Rehbein | 11/13/2010 - 1:31pm
Tamzim, I can think of no greater incentive for a criminal to "reform" than the threat of death and eternal damnation.  I think this was the reason for Sister Helen Prejean's ("Dead Man Walking") success in getting the worst of the worst to see the error of their ways.  Lifelong incarceration is no real punishment, given that people are fed, clothed, and housed in relative comfort and even entertained and educated.  The only thing incarceration does is protect the population from that particular criminal.

Vince, the US may be standing alone because of it's size in terms of population relative to those "civilized" societies which do not execute their cold-blooded murderers. 
Tamzin Simmons | 11/13/2010 - 11:22am
Perhaps the following is helpful to clarify the Holy See's position on the death penalty:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/documents/rc_seg-st_doc_20010621_death-penalty_en.html

It seems fairly unabmbiguous to me. But then I'm from the UK where (thank God) we no longer have the death penalty, although our legal system is far from perfect. Moreover, opposition to the death penalty is widespread among the populace and not confined to influential figures and lawmakers.

I realise that there will always be arguments about justice, about the family of the victim and other such serious concerns, particularly when murders have been carried out in a singularly horrific fashion, but surely there is also a time to exit the vicious circle of killing and for the state and civil society to say loud and clear that it is wrong to kill someone and therefore the state will not do it even to punish one who has killed.
Vince Killoran | 11/13/2010 - 9:58am
The unaddressed issue in these posts is why the USA stands alone.  Jim Belna suggests it is some defect in "elite Europe" but how about Canada? Australia? New Zealand? 

Why aren't we curious?  Are we that exceptional?
Marie Rehbein | 11/13/2010 - 9:33am
I would like to offer this for consideration.  When people are convicted of murder, it is always said to be that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, some murders there is no doubt whatsoever.  For these latter ones, it is just to impose the death penalty.  For the former, it might be prudent not to impose death.
Marie Rehbein | 11/12/2010 - 10:36pm
Norman, I think the US could certainly critique the use of the death penalty when the crime does not involve murder. 
Marie Rehbein | 11/15/2010 - 6:36pm
Jim,

I think the papal position on the death penalty is that the prison system is so secure that the lifer could not possibly be able to commit another murder.  I think the pope equates incarceration in modern prisons with the sentence of solitary confinement, which is rare.
Vince Killoran | 11/15/2010 - 6:07pm
Marie:

Our exchange is probably a little too far afield for this website so I'll close with this:

The objectives and the charging parties are different with these two legal actions. In the criminal trial it was the "People of the State of California v. O.J. Simpson"; in the civil trial it was a lawsuit by private citizens.

james belna | 11/15/2010 - 4:41pm
Let me ask a question to anyone who cares to answer. Let's suppose that we do decide to abolish the death penalty, so that the maximum possible punishment for any crime, including any type of murder under any circumstances whatsoever, is life imprisonment. Let's further suppose that a convicted murderer who is already serving a life sentence decides to kill his cellmate because he was snoring too loud. In fact, lets suppose that he has gotten into the habit of killing guards and fellow inmates whenever the opportunity arises. Other than a purely symbolic second (or third or fourth) life sentence, how do you propose to punish him, much less keep him from committing more murders?
Marie Rehbein | 11/15/2010 - 4:30pm
My understanding of the OJ Simpson trial was that he was not convicted.  The families undertook civil action because of that.
Vince Killoran | 11/15/2010 - 3:51pm


Actually, it has nothing to do with our relative positions on the death penalty.   You are confusing the purpose of criminal trials with that of civil trials.

To use the O.J. Simpson trial as an example, the prosecutors undertook a criminal trial in the name of the people of California on the charge of homocide; the victims' families followed with a civil trial in which they sued O.J. for wrongful death and sought damages.
Marie Rehbein | 11/15/2010 - 3:26pm
Vince,

Perhaps this is the difference between those who defend capital punishment and those who wish to abolish it, that they have a different understanding of the purpose of laws and the sentences laws stipulate.  Could you explain your perspective that the purpose is not to deliver punishment on behalf of the victims?  My perspective is that the practice of making laws with defined penalties was to prevent victims from taking matters into their own hands and escalating the situation.
Vince Killoran | 11/15/2010 - 3:04pm
If that is the question then the answer is "no" We are not obligated to kill them-not in our modern society with our criminal justice system.  This brings us back around to the early comments on this post about the weak arguments for the death penalty in the face of social science evidence and notions of humane treatment of criminals.

I still don't understand why Marie persist in arguing that our criminal justice system exist to deliver punishment on behalf of the victims (the civil courts do that). 
Marie Rehbein | 11/15/2010 - 1:30pm
The question is not about our priveleges - "do we deserve to kill them?" - but about our responsibilities - "are we obligated to kill them?".  If we take it upon ourselves to intervene in the relationship between the criminal and the victims, do we not take on the obligation of delivering a just punishment on behalf of the victims?
Vince Killoran | 11/14/2010 - 10:29pm
A final comment about society and the effects of punishment-we need to re-focus our efforts on how the judicial system seeks justice in the name of the citizenry. The trend toward emphasizing the effect on victim's families' is understandable but suggests a kind of vigilantism.  An enraged local populace does not serve the cause of justice, whether it be against accused horse thieves or rapists.
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2010 - 10:20pm
Vince,

Let's talk about the Connecticut case in particular.  Obviously, the husband and other relatives, all the friends, the neighbors, as well as the town or area that comprises the community were all harmed by the torture, rape, and murder of the mother and two girls.  In other periods in history, this aggregation of people would be the society.

However, our world is larger than one community, and our laws are made at a higher level of governance than the community.  I think this is necessary, but that it also leads people to feel victimized by "the system". 

If laws and punishments were handled at the level of that community that was victimized by those two cold-blooded murderers, do you think that the consensus would be to keep them locked up in the local jail for the rest of their lives?  If not, do you think that would be due to doubt about the security of that arrangement or would it be due to the sense that this is not a satisfactory punishment for their crime?

I think that the possibility is strong that society's being too high-minded in its handling of crime could cause victims (in the most inclusive sense, as above) to feel alienated from the rest of society, and I think that a sense of alienation in individuals often leads them to engage in criminal activity.  In this way, I believe that taking away what would satisfy people's sense of justice could lead to more crime and, conversely, satisfying their sense of justice would reassure people that they and society are one, thus making it less likely that they will engage in criminal activity.

I have not studied this, but I don't think the studies that were done to determine that capital punishment is not a deterrent looked at the effect at this level and over generations, as would be necessary to determine whether I am right or wrong on how capital punishment impacts criminality. 
Vince Killoran | 11/14/2010 - 9:41pm
Thanks Marie-I'm not certain why the end of my last post got clipped (maybe a sign that I should be quiet for a while!?).

Let me clear about the studies concerning capital punishment: criminal justice scholars have concluded that it does not serve as a deterrent. I'm not clear if you are challenging these many studies (I doubt that is the case), or if you are suggesting something else.  I'm a social scientist by training so you will have to be very clear and simple in explaining your position to me.

I don't think mixing the politics and policies of abortion and capital punishment  is wise. As a citizen I don't support the re-criminalization of abortion because I don't think it is a well-considered policy, i.e., its enforcement, penalties, and effects are either unknown or undesirable.  I do support a ban on capital punishment because there is a workable alternative, i.e., life in prison.

When you make the claim about people who have been "wronged" I think you are confusing the families and friends of victims with society.  The courts pass judgement on defendants in the name of society and the collective citizenry. 
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2010 - 9:06pm
Vince, you seem to be in the middle of a thought here, but I want to address your misunderstanding of what I wrote about criminal punishment not being a deterrent or being a deterrent.

What I mean is that just because capital punishment has not been shown statistically to be a deterrent does not mean that it has been shown that capital punishment is not a deterrent.  Not proving something does not prove its opposite.

The argument you make is one that I have made to people who believe it is necessary to outlaw abortion.  They believe that making a law against it will act as a deterrent even if there is no punishment for the woman who has one.

I don't think outlawing abortion will deter those who really want an abortion from getting one.  Similarly, I don't think outlawing murder has prevented many murders.  I believe that the purpose of the law is to articulate the punishment that fits the crime so that those harmed do not take matters into their own hands.

I sense that if punishments do not satisfy those who have been wronged, there is more of a probability that there will be further violence than there is when the punishment is perceived to be just.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/12/2010 - 5:25pm
If you have a death penalty, you will inevitably end up executing innocent people.  It seems to me that only reversible penalties like life sentences should be allowed for this reason.  Of course, prosecutors don't seem to like to admit they've been wrong, even when DNA or other physical evidence trumps their case, years later.  Executing someone like that pair in Connecticut doesn't bother me, but executing a single innocent person does and it has happened.
Veronica Victor | 11/12/2010 - 3:24pm
Just read this past week about the death penalty being imposed for the first time in years in the state of Ct.  I remember following the '07 case which was likened to the book and movie "In Cold Blood".  The family was beautiful a successful doctor pretty wife and two lovely girls, one 19 and one 11.  My dad was in medicine and a pre-med graduate of a Jesuit college.  The family ended up in Ct. for one year when my dad developed hypertension and the family decided to move back to PA where both my parents and I were born.  My brother was born in NJ.   All I know is when I saw the father on the court house steps saying the death penalty was not the reality of this exhausting and gruesome long trial of listening to the blow to blow accounts of the deed that was sending this man and perhaps his accomplice to death row but the fact the doctor said that he would be meeting God and this is where his real punishment would lie.  How the father, husband. doctor survived but the others members of the family didn't and what the career criminal had done to these lovely women.   I know we are not to believe in the death penalty but this criminal may never be executed, and will spend perhaps years on death row, but what about this family that was struck down in such a cruel and horrendous way ?
james belna | 11/12/2010 - 3:16pm
Mr Ivereigh has done us a great service by highlighting the vast gulf in moral visions between certain influential Europeans and the majority of the American people.

Mr Ivereigh and his fellow Europeans believe that criminals ought to be given the formal legal right to kill as many innocent people as they want, for whatever reason at all, without facing even the theoretical possibility of placing their own lives at risk. It doesn't matter how many victims a criminal has already murdered, or promises to kill in the future. Their only concern is that the government makes and abides by a solemn guarantee to all present and prospective murderers that they will die peacefully of old age, irrespective of how tragic  and sadistically violent  the deaths of their victims happened to be.

By contrast, most Americans believe that criminals ought to be confronted with a clear and unambiguous consequence when they contemplate whether or not to kill an innocent victim - that if and when they are caught and convicted, the cost of the choice to kill another will be paid for with their own life. We believe that criminals have the ordinary human capacity to weigh the costs and benefits of their acts, and that they are the moral agents of their own fate when they decide to commit murder. Americans are revulsed by the notion that criminals are morally entitled to kill without having to give a second thought to their own mortality, and we consider the protection of the lives of innocent victims to be of substantially more importance than protecting the lives of their killers.

This is a legitimate difference of opinion, but Mr Ivereigh really shouldn't expect anyone to care that Europe is ''shocked and scandalized'' by our support for the death penalty, nor should he be surprised to learn that most Americans are not impressed by the suppposed moral authority of the UN General Assembly and the European Union. More pertinently, Mr Ivereigh and his co-abolitionists might profitably contemplate the possibility that their personal intepretation of magisterial teaching is not infallible, nor is it likely to be unless and until the Holy Father chooses to categorically renounce capital punishment with the same unambiguous language that has been used for abortion and euthanasia.
Vince Killoran | 11/12/2010 - 1:39pm
I know about the FURMAN decision-my purpose in bringing it up was to remind pro-life activists who are focused on changing the composition of the Supreme Court that they might consider this issue as well.


There ARE many Democratic politicians who favor the death penalty. I'm guessing Austen mentioned conservatives because they seem to be the ones who articulate a public defense of it (especially on religious grounds). 


In any case I'm pleased that Jeff seems to agree with the anti-death penalty position. 
Marie Rehbein | 11/12/2010 - 12:17pm
Maria,

Holy mackeral!  Are you kidding that this quote of Pope John Paul II is the last word on the matter? 

I just got back from reading on cnn.com http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/11/12/connecticut.murders/index.html?hpt=C1 about the horrific torture and murder of the Petit family in Connecticut, and I do not see how anyone can imagine that the perpetrators of that crime, for justice's sake, deserve anything less than death. 

Do you really think that these two creeps should be given a chance to be rehabilitated?
Anonymous | 11/12/2010 - 11:34am
"And, every time, people respond with the necessary references to demonstrate how the nature of American law and criminal justice system does not come close to justifying the narrow, technicial grounds on which this permission exist."

Fine, let's assume this is accurate.  Then the reference to only "American conservatives" remains inaccurate and unfair as there are a number of Catholic Democrats who do NOT favor abolishing the Death Penalty.
Vince Killoran | 11/14/2010 - 7:46pm
Sorry-the last part got cut off (not that everyone was glued to their computer to read it):

Marie's remark about capital punishment "justly befalling 
Vince Killoran | 11/14/2010 - 7:44pm
I'm confused by Marie's assertions. 

She acknowledges that the studies have indeed proven that the death penalty does not serve as deterrent but then claims that it still might be a deterrent-in some yet unstudied way.  This approach is beyond logic or any reasonableness. The evidence is clear and overwhelming on this point.


Her assertion that our human nature is to embrace the "eye-for-an-eye" ethos flies in the face of our call to follow Jesus' way.  I would acknowledge that our emotional reaction may call forth a violent urge in certain horrific circumstances (remember Michael Dukakis's flubbing the panelist's question in the '88 debate about his probable reaction to his wife's rape?)-but that is not what we as a society take as our approach to criminal justice solutions.


As for our responsibilities as citizens, well, that is what we must decide. I know my position as an individual citizen but to do nothing is to engage in quietism. Marie's remark about capital punishment "justly befalling
Marie Rehbein | 11/14/2010 - 3:17pm
Vince,

The death penalty has not been statistically shown to be a deterrent.  That does not necessarily mean that the appropriate statistics have been gathered or that despite no statistics some are not deterred from criminal acts out of some fear of punishment.  In other words, I do not think it is fair to claim that the death penalty is definitively not a deterrence.

As to the New Testament message (turn the other cheek) that supercedes the Hammurabi code, which was followed by the prevalent cultures of that day and is still followed by many in this day, that message applies to us as individual Christians and not to how our government is to respond to crimes.  It seems to me that it is un-Christian to create a situation in which a victim needs to appear every few years and argue again why the criminal should not be paroled, which happens in some cases.  I think it is similarly un-Christian for those who have the power to loose and bind (the Church) to insist that our government basically loose in advance whatever should justly befall someone as a result of their choices.

I think the Hammurabi code, an eye-for-an-eye, is basic to our nature.  One does not need to rape the rapist in order to respond fairly to the offense, just as one does not need to torment, rape, and then kill the people who did that to the family in Connecticut.  Simple execution is just.

Stanley,

I am not saying that it is reasonable to allow a few who are not guilty to be executed in order to assure that we get to execute those who are guilty.  I am saying there are some cases in which it is an absolute certainty that all the facts are known and the guilt is clear and that it is reasonable to allow the death penalty to be imposed in those cases.