My opposition to the death penalty is as simple as my opposition to abortion. In both cases, a life is at stake, and it is not my place, nor society's, to decide who lives and who dies. Anything less, and we make a life a mere commodity, cheapening its value for all of us.
The abandonment of my previous ambivalence about the death penalty — some crimes, I thought, were so heinous that the only justified response was to take the killer's life — coincided with a renewed push by American Catholic bishops last year to abolish the death penalty in the United States.
I am a Catholic, but I did not blindly follow their lead. After the priest sex-abuse scandal, the bishops do not deserve that kind of loyalty.
But in their explanations, and as a result of my own thought and reflection, I found it no longer acceptable for me to countenance the death penalty. Mine was not a political decision, but a matter of conscience and faith.
This past Sunday, Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul S. Loverde clearly made that link in his homily during a "Respect Life" Mass:
Even as we remain resolute in our resolve to uphold life at its beginning at conception, we are equally aware that innocent life is also unjustly taken at later stages. So, the murder of innocent people is likewise a heinous crime. In the past, the death penalty was used to avenge those crimes against life. However, in recent times, the teaching of the Catholic Church has challenged all of us to rethink our response to the heinous crime of murder.
Permit me to quote from a recent statement by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. “While complex, the teaching of the Universal Church is clear. It has developed over time and has been taught most powerfully in the word and witness of Pope John Paul II. … In Catholic teaching the state has the resource to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life. However, this right should not be exercised when other ways are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of life … ” (A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, II, 2005).
Read all of Loverde's homily here.