Magazine article The Christian Century

Pope's Execution Stance Tests Conservatives

Magazine article The Christian Century

Pope's Execution Stance Tests Conservatives

Article excerpt

Long used to standing solidly with Pope John Paul II against birth control, abortion rights and assisted suicide, America's Roman Catholic conservatives have suddenly been challenged by the pope's forceful condemnation of a conservative touchstone--the death penalty. "It's going to be very difficult for many, sure," said New Orleans Archbishop Francis Schulte. "They'll have to take this into consideration. This is a whole new area for many Catholics."

John Paul told 104,000 people gathered at a mass during his 30-hour stop in St. Louis--following a four-day visit to Mexico City--that the respect for life that undergirds the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion, doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia applies "even in the case of one who has done great evil." The 78-year-old pontiff called on Americans to reject the death penalty because "modern society has the means to protect itself without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform." Yet the solid American support for the death penalty includes large numbers of Catholics, according to death-penalty researchers.

Across all faiths, 71 percent of those polled in 1996 favored the death penalty for murder; among Catholics, 70 percent endorsed executions, noted Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. Although the evil of abortion and state-sponsored execution are crucially different because abortion "takes an innocent life," the Catholic Church is more and more insistently preaching that the death penalty is nonetheless "seriously wrong," Schulte said. "I would hope those pro-life Catholics do not end up like pro-choice Catholics, saying, `We're Catholics, but on this one thing we don't agree,'" Schulte said.

After John Paul II left St. Louis, Governor Mel Carnahan, a Baptist and a supporter of capital punishment, commuted the death sentence of a convicted triple murderer after a personal appeal by the pope. The previous day after a prayer service, John Paul asked Carnahan, seated in a front pew, to show mercy on Darrell Mease, who was scheduled for execution February 10. Carnahan commuted Mease's sentence to life in prison without parole, stating that he was moved by the pope's request and that his decision was a one-time event, not the result of a change in his view on the death penalty. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.