The National Catholic Review

Good news from Connecticut, where the state legislature has voted to repeal the death penalty in that state. Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is expected to sign the repeal next week.

While Connecticut is the fifth state in as many years to repeal the use of capital punishment, opponents of the death penalty say there is still much work to do. From the New York Times:

“It’s definitely part of a larger trend, certainly with other states including New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois abolishing executions through similar processes, and with a decline in executions around the country,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a national research group critical of the death penalty, said Thursday. “There’s less public support. So the trends are in the same direction.”

But even staunch death penalty opponents acknowledge that the vote was not indicative of a nationwide about-face. Rather, it was a reflection of capital punishment’s erosion in the Northeast, a trend toward fewer executions nationally and the intensification of the death penalty’s status as a phenomenon overwhelmingly rooted in the South.

The number of executions nationally dropped to 43 last year from 98 in 1998. Since executions resumed in 1976 after being halted by the Supreme Court, there have been 1,060 in the South, 150 in the Midwest, 75 in the West and 4 in the Northeast.

During that time, Connecticut had one execution, Michael Bruce Ross, a serial killer who was put to death in 2005.

So the death penalty is largely being abolished where it is not being imposed and remains largely untouched where it is. And the death penalty map is beginning to resemble the familiar red state-blue state one.

US Catholic Bishops are clear in their opposition to the death penalty, echoing the words of Pope John Paul II: "The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Comments

Dudley Sharp | 5/4/2012 - 3:10pm
Catholicism & death penalty support: A Brief Review

The New Testament death penalty support is overwhelming.

There is a 2000 year record of Catholic Saints, Popes, Doctors of the Church, religious leaders, biblical scholars and theologians speaking in favor of the death penalty, a record of scholarship, in breadth and depth, which overwhelms any position to the contrary.

The very recent changes (EV,1995 & CCC, final amendment 2003) in the Catholic position are based upon a wrongly considered prudential judgement which finds that "defense of society", a utilitarian/secular concern, not a moral or theological one, very rarely, if ever, requires execution.

This change in teaching is based upon the Church's switch to utilitarianism - defense of society - when the teachings have been and must be based upon justice, biblical and theological teachings and tradition - all of which conflict with the newest teachings based upon utility - as utility and justice may, often, have conflicts.

In addition, the evidence is overwhelming that execution offers greater defense of society than does a life sentence. Dead unjust aggressors are infinitely less likely to harm and murder, again than are living unjust aggressors.

Living unjust aggressors murder and harm in prison, after escape and after improper release. The cases are well known and are daily occurrences.

It is a mystery why the Church chose a utilitarian/secular prudential judgement over eternal teachings based upon justice and chose to spare more murderers at the cost of more innocent deaths, but that is, precisely what She has done.

It is also a mystery why the Church didn't review the available evidence, that execution offers a greater defense of society. There is no evidence that She did.

Thankfully, as the recent Church's teaching is a prudential judgement, such means that any Catholic can support more executions and remain a Catholic in good standing. 
james belna | 4/16/2012 - 2:58pm
Let's suppose that despite all of the best efforts of the correctional authorities in Connecticut (or any othe state wihtout a death penalty), it happens that a convicted murderer somehow manages to kill a prison guard. Let us further suppose that the inmate is unquestionably sane and there is absoutely no issue of his guilt. In fact, he proudly confesses to the murder and promises to do it again. How do you propose to punish him, if at all?
David Cruz-Uribe | 4/16/2012 - 1:40pm
On the subject of prisoners killing again in prison.  First, it is worth noting that states without a death penalty (Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetss) do not have any appreciable problem with prisoner on prisoner violence.  Yes, it does happen:  there is no need to remind me of the cases where it does.  However, my point is that the death penalty does not make the problem worse.  Moreover, the wardens and other people involved in corrections I have talked with about this tell me (and say publicly) that they do not need the death penalty:  that with a well run prison system, prisoners can be controlled and murders and violence prevented.

Also, I have been told that lifers tend to be much better prisoners than others.  They know they are in prison forever, and need to make the best of it.  The small rewards and privileges they can get (playing basketball in the yard, as Beth mentioned) become powerful inducements to good behavior when they are all you have.   Will there be a handful of sociopaths who cannot be trusted among other prisoners?  Yes.  But the means exist to keep them under control and others safe. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/15/2012 - 3:43pm
In fact, David, they play basketball together in the yard.  I'm not sure about the shower arrangements (never asked).  The death row prisoner I know lives for basketball in the yard. 

You're right, if we are going to warehouse these individuals for life, we need to think outside the box of just lockin' them up.  I would love to see huge organic gardens being tended to by these people, both supplying their own kitchens and selling to the surrounding community. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/15/2012 - 2:32pm

David, there are other ways.  In maximum security prisons many inmates are kept in isolated cells and closely monitored whenever they are out of the cells - 2 showers a week and an hour outside 3 or 4 times a week.  But they have communication with the inmates in the cells around them.  This is not solitary confinement.   All of Florida death row inmates have this arrangement, and as far as I know, no prisoner has ever killed another one while being monitored like this.  Solitary confinement is used only for punishment (and borders on torture, in my opinion).

You also always have to open to the possibility that a person can change.  A dangerous person, with time, can become less violent.  In fact, this is the case of the large percentage of prisoners who are doing hard time (25 years to life) who were sentenced when they were teenagers.

When you talk of someone so violent that they continually kill and cannot be allowed ever with another human being, I think that you are venturing into profound mental illness.  The vast majority of prisoners who are doing life for murder are not like this, and there is no need for solitary confinement. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/17/2012 - 9:48am
Would you feel better, Jim, if the supposed murderer were tied to a stake and lashed? 

I guarantee you that prisoners would prefer a physical lashing to imprisonment.  Life in prison with no chance to ever get out (LWOP) is the most severe punishment that can be given to a human being other than the death penalty.  Some call it the "slow death penalty". 

You might want to look at a California Project - The Other Death Penalty - to read the stories of some men and women who are serving LWOP sentences.  I, personally, know several who were involved in crimes (mostly armed robbery) who never killed anyone.  Many were not even at the scene of the crime.  All were young and naive.  Yet because of the Felony Murder Rule, they are spending their lives in prison with no chance to ever get out.  They are not bad or dangerous people. The families of these young people carry unfathomably deep wells of greif, with no way to ever resolve it.  It is truly a national nightmare.
Dudley Sharp | 4/15/2012 - 3:19pm
Mercy & Justice - Sanction & the Death Penalty
compiled by Dudley Sharp

1) Saint Augustine: " . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on." (On the Lord's Sermon, 1.20.63-64.)


2) Saint Thomas Aquinas: . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore." Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6, 2

as with:


3) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” synopsis: “A Bible Study”, from Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992. Dr. Carey was a Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College.


4) Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.

“The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods."

"This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, ‘Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.’ "

"The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went.”

Some opposing capital punishment ". . . go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.”

Some death penalty opponents “deny the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death.”

“Amerio on capital punishment “, Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007 ,
www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html

5) The Catechism of The Roman Catholic Church (2005) states: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” "When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation." 2266

This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.

We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime/disorder of the aggressor and hold them accountable for it by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the guilt/sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice/just retribution/just deserts and their like which “redress the disorder caused by the offence” or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example of 2260:

"For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." "This teaching remains necessary for all time."

as with:

6) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: " . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is
equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect." "A Bible Study" (p. 111-113) Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.



7) G. K. Chesterton : Children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy.” http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/

8) C. S. Lewis: "Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of retribution. " "The Complete C.S. Lewis", Signature Classics, The Problem of Pain, P407, Harper Collins, 2002

9) Reconciliation has to be built with full recognition and accountability for the wrong. –Martha Kilpatrick

10) George MacDonald: God will give absolute justice, which is the only good thing. He will spare nothing to bring his children back to himself, their sole well-being, whether he achieve it here—or there. http://www.george-macdonald.com/

11) William Law : "To say, therefore, as some have said, if God is all love toward fallen man, how can he threaten or chastise sinners is no better that saying, if God is all goodness in Himself and toward man, how can He do that in and to man which is for his good? As absurd is to say, if the able physician is all love, goodness and good will toward his patients, how can he blister, purge, or scarify them, how can he order one to be trepanned and another to have a limb cut off? Nay, so absurd is this reasoning that if it could be proved that God had no chastisement for sinners, the very want of their chastisement would be the greatest of all proofs that God was not all love and goodness toward man."

"And, therefore, the pure, mere love of God is that alone from which sinners are justly to expect that no sin will pass unpunished, but that His love will visit them with every calamity and distress that can help to break and purify the bestial heart of man and awaken in him true repentance and conversion to God. It is love alone in the holy Deity that will allow no peace to the wicked, nor ever cease its judgments till ever sinner is forced to confess that it is good for him that he has been in trouble, and thankfully own that not the wrath but the love of God has plucked out that right eye, cut off that right band, which he ought to have done but would not do for himself and his own salvation." A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, http://www.answers.com/topic/william-law

12) Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Jesus) replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23: 39-43

Mercy, salvation and redemption will not be measured by the method of our earthly death , but by our state of grace in the context of the eternal.
Dudley Sharp | 4/15/2012 - 3:04pm
Moral Foundations: Death Penalty Pt. 1
presented by Dudley Sharp


Saint (& Pope) Pius V


"The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).

Pope Pius XII


"When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live." 9/14/52.

John Murray


"Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life."

"... it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty."

"It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit." (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).


Immanuel Kant

"If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.".

"A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else's life is simply immoral."


Billy Graham

"God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty." ( "The Power of the Cross," published in the Apr. 2007 issue of Decision magazine ).


Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"Again, every rogue who criminously attacks social rights becomes, by his wrong, a rebel and a traitor to his fatherland. By contravening its laws, he ceases to be one of its citizens: he even wages war against it. In such circumstances, the State and he cannot both be saved: one or the other must perish. In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgements are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State." (The Social Contract).


John Locke

"A criminal who, having renounced reason... hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security." And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Second Treatise of Civil Government.


Theodore Roosevelt

"It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.".


Many, many more.
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/14/2012 - 8:00am
Thank you for the encouragement, Janice.  It sounds like you have some good things going on out there in Southern California.  I have to remind myself that there are true acts of mercy, forgiveness and healing going on under the apparent cruelty and vengeance.

I have read the book, "Tattoos on the Heart" - a wonderful testimony of that healing, forgiveness and healing.  I think America magazine had a podcast interview with Fr. Boyle awhile back.

When I was reflecting upon our witness against the execution taking place in Florida, I felt hope that we were there.  What if no one had been there, no one had said "no" to the taking of this life?  Then there really would be reason for despair.  Didn't Jesus say something like "as long as one among you ..."?
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/13/2012 - 8:14pm
You are way off on my position, Jim.

I find myself wondering what Catholic Teaching you are ascribing to.

I like the way John Paul 2 said it in his Gospel of Life encyclical (1999) - "that the death penalty 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 offense.""

PS - don't be so afraid of those "lifers".  Many of them are some of the finest people you will ever be blessed to know.
Matthew Pettigrew | 4/13/2012 - 7:29pm
I am confident that we, as an enlightened society, can find ways to keep Prisoner A from killing Prisoner B without killing Prisoner A.
james belna | 4/13/2012 - 7:17pm
Beth:

Here in California we currently have more than 30,000 inmates serving life sentences, so I have considerably less confidence in the level of control in prisons than you do. But let us be clear about where we differ, as we obviously have a profound disagreement about Catholic Teaching.

I happen to believe that it is immoral to create a legal system that permits a life-term inmate to kill without consequence. I believe that it is sometimes necessary to execute murderers, and particularly those who continue to kill even after they have been sentenced to life in prison. 
 
You apparently believe that a convicted murderer who is serving a life sentence should be able to kill as many innocent people as he wants without ever having to face even the theoretical possibility that he will be executed for serial acts of intentional murder. In fact, you would not punish him at all for these murders (above and beyond the life sentence that he is already serving). Is that correct, or have I misstated your position?


james belna | 4/13/2012 - 4:35pm
On the other hand, this is not so good news if you happen to have the misfortune to share a cell with a Connecticut inmate who is already serving a life term, because he can kill you and receive absolutely no punishment for it whatsoever, other than a purely symbolic ''second life term''. Catholic doctrine teaches that the state should not use the death penalty in circumstances where there are other means to punish the offender, but it does not allow what Connecticut has done - to give prison inmates a license to KILL WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE.
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/13/2012 - 11:34am
Last night I stood with others before the Cathedral of the Diocese of Palm Beach in Florida, to publicly oppose the state sanctioned killing of David Alan Gore.  Gore was one of those people who did great evil.  He was described as the devil himself.

Even though there were just a few of us, I felt like we made a good opposition to the killing that was being done in our name, in our state, with our "consent".  There were several passing "honks" of support from the passing traffic.

There were also more Respect Life members with us.  It felt very right to me to be standing before the Cathedral.  Even though we were few in number, we had the "support" and presence of the Catholic Church behind us, which is no small thing.  We were not just a rag tag group of radicals on a street corner who could easily be discounted as nut cases.

This morning I sent a description and photo of our action to my local representative, who is very conservative and pro death penalty.

I'm not sure if we did anything to move the political effort to change the law in this state, but the action itself seemed significant to me. 
Dudley Sharp | 4/15/2012 - 3:01pm
Innocents are more protected with the death penalty.


The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives

Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

 
1) The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html

2) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05, http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2005/11/29/opponents_in_capital_punishment_have_blood_on_their_hands

3) ''A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection'', Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102909A

4) Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html


JANICE JOHNSON | 4/14/2012 - 12:08am
Beth,  I think that your demonstration though small, was significent and prophetic.  How appropriate to stand before a Catholic Cathedral  and advocate for the end of the death penalty.  I commend you and wish you well in your further efforts.  In California, where I live, I'm an inactive but supportive member of the California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty.  I'm no longer able to demonstate but I canstill pray.  Our Diocese of San Diego is very active in this group and has Restorative Justice Program that ministers to groups of inmates and offers support to crime victims.  As far as I know all of the bishops in CA support these programs and measure.    I know that the USCCB does. 

Have you read the book by Gregory Boyle, SJ:  "Tatooos on the Heart", about his work with gang members in the most dangerous area of Los Angeles.  Those I know who have read it were deeply touched by the humanity of the gang members and the brave efforts of Fr. Boyle, his assistants and especially the mothers of the boys and girls to save them. 

The so-called clincher for me is God's wish that all be saved, even the most wretched, depraved, devil-like criminal.  It is a possiblity that a long life sentence may lead a criminal to sincere repentence and a relationship with God. One must never underestivate the workings of the Holy Spirit  reaching out in love and mercy to rescue the lost sheep.  God is indeed a God of surprises!

Peace of Christ!
Beth Cioffoletti | 4/13/2012 - 5:25pm
Oh come on, Jim.

Catholic teaching only allows killing another person when no other means exist to protect others from him/her.  Punishment is not the issue, at least as far as Catholic teaching is concerned.

Have you ever been to a maximum security prison and seen the level of control that are kept on prisoners who are deemed "dangerous"???
David Cruz-Uribe | 4/13/2012 - 1:47pm
Connecticut has come a very long way in the seven years since I stood outside the prison on a cold May evening, leading a group of protesters in the rosary while inside Michael Ross was executed.    If New Hampshire can now be convinced to abolish its death penalty (they have had no executions since 1939), then all of New England will be free of this scourge. 

The death penalty will not be abolished in the South by legislative action any time soon.  But my hope is that if trends continue and a majority of states abolish it, then the Supreme Court will accept an appeal based on "evolving standards of decency" and finally declare it unconstitutional once and for all.

Much work remains to be done to promote a culture of life in America, but CT has taken one small step forward towards this goal.