Catholic Bishops Renew Drive vs. Death Penalty

The Christian Century, April 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

Catholic Bishops Renew Drive vs. Death Penalty


The U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a nationwide campaign against the death penalty; citing new evidence that support for capital punishment is slipping among parishioners.

The campaign, announced during Holy Week when Christians recall Jesus' state-ordered execution, comes in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions that outlawed executions for juveniles and the mentally retarded. "I pray I will see the day when we have given up the illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing people," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.

Although the church has long opposed capital punishment, the new drive is a sign that Catholic leaders think they have gained the moral upper hand and that public opinion is fluid enough to render the death penalty obsolete, if not extinct.

A new Zogby poll of 1,785 Catholics commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that support for capital punishment has slipped from a high of 68 percent in 2001 to 48 percent. The poll found that minds can be changed--nearly one-third (29 percent) of Catholics who oppose the death penalty said they had once supported it but have since had a change of heart.

Opposition to executions was strongest among 18-28-year-olds, people who attended Catholic schools, and worshipers who attend weekly mass. …

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