US Bishops statement calls for rejection of death penalty

A new statement on the death penalty that calls on society to "reject the tragic illusion that we can demonstrate respect for life by taking life, was approved by the US bishops on Tuesday in a nearly unanimous vote.

CLICK HERECatholic News Service reports that the statement, "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death," builds upon the 1980 statement by the bishops that called for the abolition of capital punishment.

As Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Policy, explained as he presented it for a vote, "While this statement represents a major step forward for us as a body of bishops, it does not represent new teaching."

Instead, it uses recent teaching included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Social Doctrine Compendium and Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), to express the bishops' commitment to "restrict, restrain and bring an end to the use of this ultimate penalty because it is deeply flawed and often unfair, and because we have other, better ways to protect society which are more respectful of human life and dignity," he said.

Bishop DiMarzio said the death penalty "arouses deep passions and diverse views," and that the church's teachings on it "can be oversimplified, misused or ignored." He noted that the new statement is the product of three different committees and staff offices and incorporates the perspectives of the bishops' pro-life, doctrine and domestic policy committees.

He noted that during a workshop two days before, bishops heard from people with personal experience of the death penalty -- the survivor of murder victims, the brother of a convicted killer and someone wrongfully sentenced to death. Those people "turned their loss and suffering into a compelling witness for life, all life," Bishop DiMarzio said.

The statement opens by referencing the bishops' 1980 statement and saying they are renewing their call to end the death penalty now "to seize a new moment and new momentum."

The United States should stop using the death penalty for four reasons, it says:

-- Other ways exist to punish criminals and protect society.

-- The application of capital punishment is "deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation and where the crime was committed."

-- State-sanctioned killing diminishes all people.

-- The penalty of execution undermines respect for human life and dignity.

The statement makes note of a shift over the last 25 years to growing public distrust for how the death penalty is applied and decreasing support for its use. It also said the goal of the statement is "not just to proclaim a position, but to persuade Catholics and others to join us in working to end the use of the death penalty."

New statement calls for rejection of 'illusion' of death penalty (Catholic News Service 16/11/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
US Conference of Catholic Bishops | A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death (full text - PDF)

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17 Nov 2005