Just in time for Good Friday and Easter, Roman Catholic bishops in Missouri have released a new pastoral letter expressing their opposition to the death penalty.
The bishops urged Catholics to follow the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II and be "unconditionally pro-life."
The death penalty in America does not work. It does not deter crime. It puts at risk the lives of people wrongfully convicted.
And worst of all, it puts our collective soul as a nation at risk.
Proponents say they want to be tough on crime and ensure justice is served by executing the worst murderers, but each time a prisoner is executed, society is saying much more about its values — and it's not pleasant — than it could ever say about the condemned.
The timing of the Missouri pastoral letter's release was not a coincidence.
Jesus "was unjustly sentenced to death and executed on a cross, the cruelest form of capital punishment at the time," the bishops wrote.
More violence, they added "is not a solution to society's problems."
The Catholic News Service story continues:
"This pastoral is very timely," said Rita Linhardt of the Missouri Catholic Conference. "The recent court interventions have focused attention on the inhumaneness of executions. As Catholics who believe in the sacredness of life, the use of state-sanctioned killing in our names diminishes us all."
She noted that studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent and that it costs more to execute someone than to put them in prison for life because of the expense of legal appeals.
In addition, she said, 124 people have been let go from death row because of evidence uncovered in their cases that exonerated them. False convictions remain a real fear, in part because of a reliance on eyewitness identifications, she told the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper.
Linhardt said the bishops continue to be concerned with murder victims' family members. "We have to be sensitive to what they are feeling and recognize the difficult times they're going through."
A sentence of death offers the illusion of closure and vindication, the bishops stated, "but no act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death."
For more on the Catholic Church's opposition to the death penalty, read about the American bishops' Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.