Prosecutor’s death penalty stance offends Vatican official

Prosecutor’s death penalty stance offends Vatican official

The death chamber table is seen in 2010 at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. (Credit: CNS photo/courtesy Jenevieve Robbins, Texas Department of Criminal Justice handout via Reuters.)

A Vatican official has encouraged an Ohio prosecutor to go to confession after defying the Catholic Church's new policy that the death penalty is never acceptable.

CINCINNATI, Ohio — A Vatican official has encouraged an Ohio prosecutor to go to confession after defying the Catholic Church’s new policy that the death penalty is never acceptable.

Jesuit Father Paul Mueller, a vice director at the Vatican Observatory, wrote a letter weeks ago to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters saying he was “disappointed, embarrassed, and scandalized” that Deters would use his office to “oppose and confuse the teachings of the Church.”

The priest accused Deters of using the “platform of your public office to oppose and confuse the moral teaching of the Church in so open a fashion.”

“As Prosecutor you are obliged to enforce civil law. But as a Catholic you are obliged to endeavor to conform your own mind and heart to the higher moral law and help others in their efforts to do the same — not to undermine their efforts. The teaching of the Church is clear: in defending society against evil, it is morally unacceptable to make use of the evil of the death penalty,” Mueller wrote.

Deters, a Catholic, has been pursuing the death penalty in the re-sentencing case of a convicted serial killer.

Mueller and Deters are both graduates of Cincinnati’s prestigious St. Xavier High School, a Jesuit prep school.

Speaking on This Week in Cincinnati, Deters said, “My friends who are priests, they don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

“We’re dealing with vicious, evil killers, okay? And it is self-defense, in my mind, for the death penalty. That’s why we seek it on these types of people, like Kirkland, and we need to get rid of them,” the prosecutor said.

In his letter, Mueller wrote that priests were very familiar with those who are criminals.

“This familiarity comes from the confessional; from accompanying the poor, the sick, the hungry, the wounded, the victimized, the addicted, the homeless, the accused, the guilty, the imprisoned, the marginalized, and the dying; from accompanying police, firemen and doctors in their appointed rounds and in their personal lives; from dealing with the scandalous evil of sexual abuse in the priesthood itself; and of course from plumbing the depths of our own sinful hearts,” the priest said.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty. The policy previously said the Catholic Church would consider capital punishment if it was the only way to defend human lives.

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with Deters’ office.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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