Could Catholics Tip the Balance for Death Penalty Repeal?

Posted: Oct 16, 2012

 

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca -- In a race that polls show could go either way, proponents of the initiative to repeal the death penalty in November are praying that the Catholic Church might make a difference.

While nowhere near as robust as the effort that the Church put into the Proposition 8 campaign against same-sex marriage in 2008, the California Catholic Conference has given Catholics the blessing to join the battle to replace executions with life without the possibility of parole. The official voice of the state’s Catholic bishops on public policy issues endorsed California Proposition 34, the End the Death Penalty Initiative, last September.

Ned Dolesji, the body’s executive director, also recently teamed up with Amanda Cox, mother or a murder victim, former Los Angeles district attorney Gil Garcetti and SAFE California campaign manager Natasha Minsker, who is also and ACLU attorney, to meet with the Sacramento Bee editorial board to state their case for Prop. 34. The Bee recently endorsed the proposition.

“We’re encouraging our pastors to distribute materials for Prop. 34 in English and Spanish, we’ve produced bulletins, public service announcements, sample homilies radio interviews, and videos, says Dolejsi.

Yet, institutionally, church support seems barely above the level of an official position. On Oct. 9, Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice held a press conference announcing the release of a letter by the new San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, urging church members to vote for Prop. 34. Beyond that, parishes must decide their own scale and scope of pro-Prop. 34 actions, explains George Wesolek, public policy director at the San Francisco diocese.

But there are as yet no reports, for example, of concerted Sunday sermons that proved so potent against same-sex marriage in 2008. Neither has there been a huge cash infusion from the Church into the Prop. 34 campaign, unlike the $1.4 million for the anti-gay marriage Yes on 8 campaign in 2008, reportedly channeled through the Knights of Columbus, an unofficial political auxiliary.

Grassroots Initiatives

This time, Catholic donations against the death penalty have come mainly from individuals and organizations like Sisters of St. Joseph and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker.

On their own, some individual parishes and lay organizations are actually working with people they may disagree with on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and with groups like the Catholic Mobilizing Network that have long been active in opposing the death penalty nationwide

“There's support all around from the Church,” says Miriam Gerace, SAFE California communications director. Sister Helen Prejean, whose opposition to death penalty was dramatized in the movie “Dead Man Walking,” has been touring the state for Prop. 34. Bishop Cirilo Flores in San Diego wrote an op-ed, she says.

The Oakland diocese held a forum on Sept. 25 called “Our Journey to ‘Yes” on Prop. 34” at Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill, with Jeanne Woodford, former San Quentin Warden, Darryl Stallworth, former Alameda County deputy district attorney and Ron Ahnen, family member of a murder victim.

At the Queen of Apostles Parish in San Jose, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath spoke to participants in a workshop organized by the parish, telling them of his “absolute support for Proposition 34 as we the Church’s call to a more humane society.” Father Mike Carson, Reginald Reese, former associate warden at San Quentin State Prison and California People of Faith Against the Death Penalty member Mary Kay Rafferty whose son, a police officer, was murdered by drug users, helped lead the discussions.

Moral Basis

While concurring that the death penalty has had a damaging impact on public resources and the justice system, Church bishops emphasize the moral basis of their opposition.

“As teachers of the Catholic faith, we consistently proclaim the intrinsic worth and God-given dignity of all human life, whether innocent or guilty,” declared the bishops’ statement. “The death penalty will not give us justice worthy of a good society,” the Conference declared.

While the effect on the voting preferences of California’s 11 million Catholics is unclear, the bishops’ support is a vote of confidence for Prop. 34. Campaign organizers hope their endorsement will be one more factor that can swing the vote in their favor.

Could Make a Difference

Polls show voters overall are closely divided on Prop. 34. But poll numbers are conflicting on Latino voters, a potent segment of the state’s electorate. A mulitilingual Field Poll in September has them opposing the proposition 52 percent to 32 percent; but an LA Times/USC Dorsife bilingual poll in the same period showed them supporting it 45 percent to 40 percent when they are read the actual ballot language.

Prop. 34 proponents are keenly aware of the Latino electorate’s increased capacity to determine election outcomes—the Field poll shows a distinct Democratic advantage as a result of the expanding Latino vote in the state. Prop. 34 campaigners are, therefore, putting special emphasis on winning over Latinos.

“We have many bilingual spokespeople, materials and activities--online ads, phone banking, texting programs and more,” says Miriam Gerace, SAFE California’s communication director.

Support from Catholic clergy could give their efforts added lift. More than half of California’s Catholics are Latinos—seven million in all. Church officials, in fact, have credited Latino churchgoers with reinvigorating parishes.

Position Has Evolved

The Catholic Church’s position on capital punishment has evolved over the centuries. As a result, there is considerable confusion among Catholics about its permissibility in their faith. For many years the universal Catholic cathechism or rule book recognized the state’s right to punish criminals, “[does] not exclud[e], in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty” to defend society.

But in 1995, Pope John Paul II declared that today, due to “the steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated that near total opposition to capital punishment and called on church members to continue through political and legislative actions “the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”



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Mark on Oct 20, 2012 at 16:33:21 said:

Mr. Dudley Sharp:

I see you posting everywhere. One has to wonder why you are so adamant about defeating Prop. 34.

I can only presume that you have a personal agenda. Perhaps you lost someone close to you, and you think that Prop. 34 will rob you of your chance to see justice.

But I would like to remind you that the Bible does not endorse hatred or revenge. It is wrong for you to desire someone to die, even in the name of justice.

I'd also like to remind you that the Bible concerns the laws of God, not the laws of men. Jesus made this distinction very clear.

He said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Today, we would never kill a woman for adultery. It's important to note that Jesus did not say that the law was unjust. In the eyes of God, we are all just as guilty, whether we are child murderers or some guy who has never even gotten a speeding ticket. We all sin. We all deserve to die.

But Jesus did not come to condemn us, nor to change our laws. He came to change us.


Dudley Sharp on Oct 16, 2012 at 10:17:35 said:

The current Catechism confirms within CCC 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."

Just as:

Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey confirms: " . . . 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." (p. 111-113). Prof. Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: ". . . 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." (p. 116)."A Bible Study", Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

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

It is not the nature of our deaths, but the state of salvation at the time of death which is most important.

Jesus: “So Pilate said to (Jesus), “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

The power to execute comes directly from God.

Jesus: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.

Fiery hell is a considerable more severe sanction than any earthly death.

The Holy Spirit, God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

No trial, no appeals, just death on the spot.

God: “You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death.” Numbers 35:31 (NAB) full context usccb.org/nab/bible/numbers/numbers35.htm

For murder, there is no mitigation from a death sentence.


Dudley Sharp on Oct 16, 2012 at 10:15:52 said:

Catholics should inquire, why is removal of the death penalty option "preferred".

How does it become "preferred" when

1) 2000 years of Church teachings are in conflict with a secular/utilitarian "defense of society" foundation. Why aren't the prior 2000 years of teachings "preferred" and/or Why aren't those 2000 years of teachings "preferred" over a secular prudential judgment?

2) "Defense of society" is, at best of tertiary importance, even within the recent CCC ? Why aren't the primary or secondary reasons for sanction, individually and/or collectively, "preferred"? and

3) The facts support that the death penalty must be a greater defender of both society and innocent individuals, than is incarceration? Why is a lesser defense of society, which allows more innocents to be victimized, more "preferred'? This is in the context of death penalty eligible crimes, in proportionality and within Church teachings.
===================================

God/Jesus: 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.' Matthew 15:4 NAB. This is a frequent passage which God used in the OT, which, as was Jesus' custom, He brought into the NT for emphasis of continuity and importance.
full context usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew15.htm

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.

Pope (and Saint) 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).

All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible’s own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.). Part of Synopsis of Professor Lloyd R. Bailey’s book Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says, Abingdon Press, 1987.

"Moral/ethical Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars"
prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-support-modern-catholic.html

Christianity and the death penalty
prodeathpenalty.com/DP.html#F.Christianity

Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty,
homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

LINKS disabled because of site requirements


Dudley Sharp on Oct 16, 2012 at 10:10:48 said:

Catholicism & death penalty support: A Brief Review
Dudley Sharp

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.

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