As the case against admitted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wraps up, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts released a statement Monday reiterating the Church’s opposition to the death penalty.
“The defendant in this case has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm,” the statement reads. “Because of this, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, believe that society can do better than the death penalty.”
The bishops – representing the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester – quote the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’s 2005 statement on the death penalty, which states, “no matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.”
They go on to say that “these words remain true today in the face of this most terrible crime.”
Though Massachusetts banned the death penalty in 1984, Tsarnaev is being tried in federal court and is thus faced with the possibility of execution.
Earlier this year, some Catholics in Massachusetts lamented that jurors were being excluded because they oppose capital punishment.
“It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial,” the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, told the Religion News Service in January. “It is frustrating.”
Signing the statement, posted on the Massachusetts Catholic Conference’s website Monday, were Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, and Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester.
The Catholic Church does not explicitly condemn the use of the death penalty in all cases, as it does with abortion, but in recent years, many Catholic theologians and bishops have said there is no room for its use in modern society.
In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote that punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
A majority of Catholics in the United States — 59 percent of white Catholics in one recent poll — still favor the use of the death penalty, but a joint effort by conservative and liberal Catholics last month seeks to change that.
Closing arguments in the Tsarnaev case were presented Monday.