When the Vicar of Christ speaks about the death penalty, shouldn’t the world listen?
Pope Francis visited the United States two years ago and told Congress and the United Nations that he opposes the death penalty. He even went a step further, calling for a revision of official church teachings that would make capital punishment “inadmissible,” Christopher Lamb wrote in the Religion News Service.
During a speech at the Vatican in October 2017, the Pontiff said the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator.”
With these words, the pope is also reshaping what it means to be “pro-life.” He’s moving the Roman Catholic Church “away from primarily opposing abortion and stressing that it means protecting life at every stage, from womb to natural death,” the story said.
The U.S. is the nation where the pope’s words should have the most effect. The death penalty is still authorized in more than 30 states and is supported by fewer than half of all Catholics, according to surveys. A 2016 Pew Research poll shows 43 percent of American Catholics support capital punishment, while 46 percent are opposed.
According to the Catholic catechism, the death penalty is allowed if it is “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” Yet, the doctrine goes on to say that on occasion the death penalty is not necessary and in practice, carrying out an execution is very rare.
“…protecting life at every stage, from womb to natural death”
This is the case in California. In the Golden State death penalty enthusiasts and opponents have engaged in a push-pull over when and how to resume executions, if at all. The state has nearly 750 inmates on Death Row in San Quentin. About 20 condemned females are held in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla Only 13 California prisoners have been executed since 1978. The last execution was performed in 2006.
In October, the state’s regulators for a second time rejected a proposed new method of carrying out the death penalty by lethal injection, Don Thompson of The Associated Press reported.
“The Office of Administrative Law did not elaborate in its three-paragraph decision rejecting the rules. But officials previously said the proposal wasn’t clear on how the execution team would be selected and trained, how the drugs would be obtained and administered and how a condemned inmate should be treated in the days and hours before the execution,” Thompson added.
The state’s latest decision pits a voter-backed initiative aimed at speeding up executions against “a clear, uncompromising stance of moral opposition to the death penalty by the highest authority of the church,” said Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent opponent of the death penalty whose story was dramatized in the Oscar-nominated film Dead Man Walking.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, sued the state to force the new procedures, and said it is unnecessary for regulators to consider the latest proposal.