In a rare display of ecclesial unity, a cross-section of liberal and conservative Catholic publications pushed forward a singular message Thursday: It’s time for the United States to end the use of the death penalty.
“We, the editors of four Catholic journals — America magazine, the National Catholic Register, the National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor — urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, ‘Capital punishment must end,’ ” the editorial reads.
The statement was prompted by an imminent Supreme Court hearing on the legality of certain drug combinations that death penalty opponents say constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The suit is being brought by three death-row inmates from Oklahoma who contend the cocktail of drugs used for the lethal injections will cause them undue suffering.
Over the past year, several high-profile executions have been complicated by drug availability.
Just this week, the state of Georgia temporarily halted a woman’s execution as the state evaluates its own drug protocols.
“The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary,” the editorial from the Catholic journalists reads. “It is also insanely expensive, as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.”
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.”
The editorial, published simultaneously on the news organizations’ four websites, says fighting against the death penalty is part of the Church’s “pro-life” platform. It quotes a number of conservative and moderate prelates, including Popes John Paul II and Francis, as well as Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
“We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all,” the editorial concluded.
Though a majority of Catholics — 59 percent of white Catholics in one recent poll — still favor the use of the death penalty, the editors of the publications said they sought to show that opposition does not follow a left/right divide.
When he read the statement released by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City condemning the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April, National Catholic Reporter editor Dennis Coday said he was struck “that this is an issue that crosses the full spectrum of Catholic opinion in this country.”
The editor of the Register, a publication generally seen as more conservative than the Reporter, agreed.
“The unity among Catholics in defense of life can send a powerful message,” editor Jeanette DeMelo said. “This is an issue that we can find unity with our colleagues in the Catholic press. That’s why we chose to do this in a joint statement.”
Gretchen C. Crowe, editor of Our Sunday Visitor, said the four publications “wanted to make sure to have our combined voices heard.”
And the Rev. Matt Malone, editor of America, said the statement demonstrates that “Catholic teaching and the Catholic conscience transcend the tired categories of left and right. On these grave matters of faith, life and death, we speak with one voice, one purpose, one hope.”
The editorial was translated into Italian and appeared in the March 6 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. It will appear in the printed versions of each journal in the coming weeks.
Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this report.