The National Catholic Review

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput was in the news this week after a Denver protege was elevated to a national position at the U.S.C.C.B. and after he joined with a few other notable conservative bishops in NOT endorsing Mitt Romney for president while finding some things to like about Paul Ryan's views on America's social safety net. What gathered not quite as much attention was a column he wrote for CatholicPhilly.com challenging the continuing use of the dealth penalty in the United States.

"Most American Catholics, like many of their fellow citizens, support the death penalty," Archbishop Chaput wrote. "That doesn’t make it right. But it does ensure that the wrong-headed lesson of violence 'fixing' the violent among us will be taught to another generation.

"As children of God, we’re better than this, and we need to start acting like it. We need to end the death penalty now."

Archbishop Chaput argued, "Even when a defendant is well defended, properly tried and justly found guilty, experience shows that capital punishment simply doesn’t work as a deterrent. Nor does it heal or redress any wounds, because only forgiveness can do that. It does succeed though in answering violence with violence—a violence wrapped in the piety of state approval, which implicates all of us as citizens in the taking of more lives.

He added, "Real murderers deserve punishment; but even properly tried and justly convicted murderers—men and women who are found guilty of heinous crimes—retain their God-given dignity as human beings. When we take a murderer’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process."

Archbishop Chaput was inspired to write on the controversial topic to urge that the execution of Terrance Williams, scheduled for October, be halted and that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison. It would be the first execution in Pennsylvania in 13 years. Williams had been sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood, a crime he indisputably committed. New evidence has emerged, however, that alleges Williams had been a victim of repeated sexual assaults by Norwood, evidence that was not introduced during his trial and which may have affected his sentence.

The archbishop argues that while Scripture and Catholic tradition support the legitimacy of the death penalty under certain limited conditions, "the Church has repeatedly called us to a higher road over the past five decades."

"We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty," he wrote. "And we should never be eager to take anyone’s life. As a result, except in the most extreme circumstances, capital punishment cannot be justified. In developed countries like our own, it should have no place in our public life."

That last observation is an echo of current Catholic catechism on the death penalty (2267): "If...non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an abolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 56)"

Urging area Catholics to contact the Governor and Pennsylvania Board of Pardon to urge the commutation of Williams’ sentence to life in prison (via Catholic Advocacy Network), Archbishop Chaput wrote: "Terrance Williams deserves punishment. No one disputes that. But he doesn’t need to die to satisfy justice. We should think very carefully in the coming days about the kind of justice we want to witness to our young people."

Comments

Beth Cioffoletti | 9/20/2012 - 9:33am
Thank you, Archbishop Chaput.  I hope that more bishops and priests will have the courage to follow and publicly speak out against state-sponsored killing in the pulpit as well as on the streets.

In our Florida diocese we stand silently before our cathedral during executions.  Most of the Catholics leaving the 5:30PM Mass have no idea what we are doing.

If the Catholic Church really got behind this, Capital Punishment could be ended in the United States.
J Cosgrove | 9/20/2012 - 8:18am
Good for Bishop Chaput.


I will say what I have said a couple times before.  I have been against capital punishment since my sophomore year in college.  I did research on the topic for a paper, an analysis and presented all the arguments that I could muster against it.  I was then given a C for my efforts and taken apart by the naivete of my arguments by my teacher with SJ after his name.  He proceeded to show me how capital punishment was totally in sync with Catholic doctrine and how superficial my thoughts were.


So I understand how the Church can not necessarily approve capital punishment in general but accept it in certain circumstances.  I continue to be against it till today based mainly on my superficial arguments but understand the rationale for it.  Also I know it is a very murky world with many fine distinctions between what is right and what is wrong when looking at the deliberate taking of anther's life.


For example, there was an episode in a popular TV series at the end of last season where a law enforcement officer killed a captive on purpose in front of hundreds of witnesses because he knew this person would soon be let free and kill several others.  Interesting dilemma.  We will have to wait till next week to see how the writers play this out and examine the moral lessons in the story.  It might be an interesting moral argument for America to look at just as the killing of Bin Laden seemed to cause some a lot of anxiety.
David Smith | 9/20/2012 - 3:06am
Good. It's probably time ''developed'' societies phased out the death penalty. Violence seems to have become less acceptable as our societies have become more complex and tightly structured. No doubt there are many places in the world where stopping the death penalty would be premature - Rome may have got ahead of itself in pushing for it everywhere - but here, it seems out of sync with the times.
Joris Heise | 9/19/2012 - 6:58pm
Captial Punishment is anti-Jesus. Arguments do little good. Appeal to Scripture is fruitless. Tradition is meanngless. The variety of Papal statements do no good.

At some point, you need to notice that Capital Punishment is totally, deeply, horrendously anti-Jesus, whether the individual Son of God, or the least of the brethren.

Until you see that, the baser instincts take over.

Capital Punishment is anti-Jesus and all He stands for. It is the most atrocious slap in His Face.
Rick Malloy | 9/20/2012 - 9:40pm
Archbishop Chaput also issues a radical call to care for the poor
******************************************************

By Archbishop Chaput
Times Guest Columnist
SOME THOUGHTS ON CATHOLIC FAITH AND PUBLIC LIFE


http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2012/09/14/opinion/doc505361be655e6754531883.txt

As we enter another election season, it’s important to remember that the way we lead our public lives needs to embody what the Catholic faith teaches - not what our personalized edition of Christianity feels comfortable with, but the real thing; the full package; what the Church actually holds to be true. In other words, we need to be Catholics first and political creatures second.

The more we transfer our passion for Jesus Christ to some political messiah or party platform, the more bitter we feel toward his Church when she speaks against the idols we set up in our own hearts. There’s no more damning moment in all of Scripture than John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.”

The only king Christians have is Jesus Christ. The obligation to seek and serve the truth belongs to each of us personally. The duty to love and help our neighbor belongs to each of us personally. We can’t ignore or delegate away these personal duties to anyone else or any government agency.

More than 1,600 years ago, St. Basil the Great warned his wealthy fellow Christians that “The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothing you store in boxes belongs to the naked.”

St. John Chrysostom, Basil’s equally great contemporary, preached exactly the same message: “God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts,” and “for those who neglect their neighbor, a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire in the company of the demons.”

What was true then is true now. Hell is not a metaphor. Hell is real. Jesus spoke about it many times and without any ambiguity. If we do not help the poor, we’ll go to hell. I’ll say it again: If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.

And who are the poor? They’re the people we so often try to look away from - people who are homeless or dying or unemployed or mentally disabled. They’re also the unborn child who has a right to God’s gift of life, and the single mother who looks to us for compassion and material support. Above all, they’re the persons in need that God presents to each of us not as a “policy issue,” but right here, right now, in our daily lives.

Thomas of Villanova, the great Augustinian saint for whom Villanova University is named, is remembered for his skills as a scholar and reforming bishop. But even more important was his passion for serving the poor, and his zeal for penetrating the entire world around him with the virtues of justice and Christian love.

Time matters. God will hold us accountable for the way we use it. All of us who call ourselves Christians share the same vocation to love God first and above all things; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’re citizens of heaven first; but we have obligations here. We’re Catholics and Christians first. And if we live that way - zealously and selflessly in our public lives - our country will be the better for it; and God will use us to help make the world new.
Tim O'Leary | 9/20/2012 - 6:15pm
Archbishop Chaput once again shows the depth of his faith and discernment with this statement. Every line should be listened to as he puts it very well, as the Catechism does. He always speaks strongly and intelligently, in this area and in his call for an end to the legal license of abortion, capital punishment of the most innocent and poorest of the poor.

Wouldn't it be great if we ended legally sanctioned violence to the born and unborn in our nation, and lived up to the right to life aspiration in the Declaration of Independence?

Here are some important facts when considering the death penalty.
Executions in America in 2011
Adults - 43
Unborn - 1,300,000

Worldwide: 99% are in China or the Middle-East.
Worldwide abortions: 42 million (millions because the fetus is female)