Today’s blog is on Capital Punishment. Some will certainly ask with so much going on Holy Week why the death penalty. Well a lot has been going on in my readings and exposure to news that said I need to address this topic.
First, not long ago, I read a letter to the editor in local news paper from a frustrated Catholic that was complaining about the attention those on death row were getting while we should be addressing abortion and euthanasia. Well, certainly our Church addresses those issues emphatically and I have addressed them in past blogs.
This is not the first time I have encountered this kind of opinion. A decade or so ago, my wife and I gave talks in Catholic parishes regarding the death penalty entitled “Forgive us Our Trespasses” Often we would meet with resistance by Pro Life people who would ask what about abortion…
My reply would be similar to the late Cardinal of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin, “To be Pro-Life is to respect all life. Life is a “seamless garment” that must be defended against many assaults be they: abortion, nuclear weapons, the death penalty, euthanasia, poverty, or racism.”
GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON OF ARKANSAS ORDERED EIGHT EXECUTIONS IN 10 DAYS
Another event that led me to today’s blog is the announcement by Governor Asa Hutchison of Arkansas that they will be executing 8 inmates in 10 days this month. Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has ordered eight executions in 10 days, a conveyor belt of killing dispensed at a clip not seen in the US for at least half a century. The executions are set to take place by lethal injection at a rate of two a day over four separate days beginning April 17.
Finally and most importantly, on GOOD FRIDAY this Holy Week, we remember Our Savior executed for our sins. From his execution site on Calvary, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus offered us forgiveness not vengeance as a means of mending the fabric of society and making us whole again.
The death penalty cannot build community, cannot restore what was lost, or make us “whole” again. In fact the death penalty only tears a greater rift in the fabric of society, and only offers up more violence as a solution to an already wounded and grieving world.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN PRISON MINISTRY
Back in the 90’s, when my wife and I became involved in prison ministry it brought us to death row and face to face with death row inmates, among the lowest of the dead, the least of our brethren. We were surprised that they were not “horned monsters” but human beings who regretfully had done a terrible deed but in most other ways just like us. We prayed with them, laughed with them, and wept with them and kept vigil with their families at their executions.
We have spent time with Mothers of murdered children and Mothers of death row inmates. We have stood outside the razor wire of the killing fields of Potosi in candlelight vigil, huddled in below freezing temperature, surrounded by parents, children, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters of the condemned prisoner, waiting in prayerful vigil, under the dark of the moon, until a guard comes over the hill and tells us, “you can go home now, the process is over,” as hot candle wax drips on our stone cold hands.
Is this what we mean by Justice, equal pain and suffering and equal violence? Must innocent family members of the condemned suffer the loss of their loved ones. They love their child no less than the victim’s parents.
That’s what the death penalty does, you know. That’s what an “eye for an eye” does. It makes the whole world blind. We all suffer, we are all diminished by a society that deliberately kills in cold blood and shows no respect for the sacredness of all human life even a human life that once did a terrible thing.
Not all family members of victims of violence demand the “closure” of an execution. But even when family members argue with the state and prosecutors not to go for the death penalty they are ignored too.
Just a few words about the argument of closure…Some will say we still need the death penalty for closure for family members of the victim. Of course family members of murder victims deserve closure if you mean healing and the assistance to move on with their lives. As family members of victims experience grief, anger, and depression, it is essential that we reach out as individuals and faith communities to offer consolation and support.
When a death sentence is in the mix, it only prolongs and intensifies the pain and suffering and halts the grieving process in its tracks. The focus is on killing the killer not the loss of their loved one. And less than 1% of homicides result in a death sentence. So what about so called closure for those family members…
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
2267 REVISED CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (September 8, 1997)
“…traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor.
“…the case in which the execution of an offender is an absolute necessity are “very rare,” if not practically non-existent.”
Click here: Life Matters: A Catholic Response to the Death Penalty United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
As Catholics, we believe and put our hope in a merciful and loving God. Almighty God spoke this bottom line in the Old Testament, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live” Deuteronomy 30:19
Our faith and hope is in the mercy of God who says to us, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy (Mt 5:7) and “I desire mercy, not sacrifices” (Mt 9:13). As Christians we are called to oppose the culture of death by witnessing to something greater and more perfect: a gospel of life, hope and mercy.
The deepest message of our Faith is that we are all brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God. Conscious of our own brokenness and need for redemption. Our Lord calls us to imitate him more perfectly by witnessing to the inherent dignity of every human being, including those whose actions have been despicable.
Remember how God treated the first murderer, Cain, with mercy. He put a mark on Cain lest anyone harm him. “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold. The Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him on sight.” (Genesis 4:15)
But God does not leave the crime unpunished. He tells Cain that he will not be able to grow crops and that he will be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Although Cain is spared execution, justice requires that he live the rest of his earthly life alone and outcast, but with time to reflect on his crime, to perhaps feel remorse and at last seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
Our role then is to reconcile what seems irreconcilable, to love and respect the human dignity of the murder victim and the death row inmate and show compassion and support to the suffering and grieving families of both. The death penalty is not about who deserves to die but who deserves to kill.
MERCY MITIGATES JUDGMENT!
Arkansas hasn’t had an execution in 12 years, so why the sudden rush? Simple: their lethal injection drugs are about to expire. Arkansas has exactly eight doses left of a crucial drug used to perform lethal injections, and it’s set to expire at the end of April. So the governor scheduled eight executions packed into a ten day period — with two executions per day.
Rushing through executions on a conveyor belt simply because of an expiration date damages the dignity of all involved and gives a sickening image of Arkansas’ justice system. Rapid executions increase the risk of human error, and the drug they are rushing to use has already been shown to make prisoners die in agony.
Click below to go to Amnesty website to sign petition to halt the rush to execute!
Click here: Take Action Now – Amnesty International USA