As the Filipino President, Rodrigo Duterte, fights a bloody war against drugs, causing hundreds of victims, Catholic bishops in the country reminded the government not to misuse the Bible to justify the death penalty.
“To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?” the country’s bishops asked.
“We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world.”
Their words came in a March 19 pastoral statement on the death penalty signed by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The statement was read at all Masses in the country on Sunday.
Jesus came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, the bishops explained: “Jesus was never an advocate of any form of ‘legal killing.’ He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her.”
The letter opened with a quotation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006. Duterte, who is also leading a brutal crackdown on drugs, has advocated its restoration.
In their letter, the Catholic bishops recounted the passage of a House of Representatives bill that would restore the death penalty.
“It was Ash Wednesday when members of the lower House, on the second reading of the death penalty bill, outvoted by voice-voting the nays with their ayes. Ironically, they were captured on television shouting in favor of death with their foreheads marked with crosses made of ashes,” the bishops said.
“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant?”
They questioned whether the legislators had missed that the crosses on their foreheads “were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish.”
According to the bishops, the saying of the Bible, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was challenged by Jesus, who advocated non-retaliation of evil for evil and justice founded on mercy.
“Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime,” they continued. “Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society. Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix.”
The statement also spoke about the victims.
“We are not deaf to the cries of the victims of heinous crimes. The victims and their victimizers are both our brothers and sisters. The victim and the oppressor are both children of God,” they said.
They said the guilty should repent and make reparation for their sins. The bishops offered love, compassion, and hope to crime victims.
The death penalty will be applied more to the poor, who cannot afford adequate legal defenses, the bishops said.
“As a law, death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most constitutions of countries that signed the universal declaration of human rights,” they said.
The Philippines bishops called for prayers for the country’s legislators.
“Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all,” they said.