Zeal to End Death Penalty Growing

By Drinan, Robert F. | National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

Zeal to End Death Penalty Growing


Drinan, Robert F., National Catholic Reporter


The death of the death penalty may occur in Rome July 9. On that Sunday the pope will visit a prison in Rome and, as a part of the Jubilee Year, call for a moratorium on the death penalty and issue a condemnation of inhumane prison conditions.

The "Jubilee Day for the Imprisoned" will be replicated throughout the world with the participation of bishops and prison chaplains.

Pope John Paul II has also strengthened the condemnation of the death penalty by removing from the words in Section 2266 of the Catholic Catechism the statement that the death penalty could be imposed "in cases of extreme gravity." The pope calls executions "cruel and unnecessary."

In the United States activities against the death penalty by Catholics at every level are intense. In Pennsylvania, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, speaking for all the bishops of his state, testified on behalf of a state Senate resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, who has signed almost 200 death warrants in his five years in office, opposes the bill. The testimony of Bevilacqua reinforces a resolution of the Philadelphia City Council that called for a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania by a tally of 12-4.

In a statement, the three Catholic bishops of the state of Washington conceded, "Some Catholics may not be aware of how the church's teaching about capital punishment has developed." The two Catholic bishops of North Carolina issued a similar statement on Good Friday. In a dramatic confrontation, the Catholic bishops of Texas have asked Gov. George W. Bush to suspend executions. The bishops pointed out that there are 463 persons sentenced to death in Texas and that "there are strong claims that some of them have not had full access to the courts."

Death penalty opponents have stressed not only the basic wrongness of capital punishment, but have pointed out that while 610 people have been executed throughout the nation since 1976, during that same period 85 persons have been released from death row. This phenomenon may well mean that a significant number of convicts who have not committed murder are executed.

Other anti-death penalty actions are gaining momentum. …

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