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NEW YORK – Pope Francis is calling on Catholics worldwide to mobilize against the death penalty, a practice he says is both legally unnecessary and morally inadmissible.
“The commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ refers to both the innocent and the guilty,” Pope Francis said on Aug. 31. “I, therefore, call on all people of goodwill to mobilize for the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world. Let us pray that the death penalty, which attacks the dignity of the human person, may be legally abolished in every country.”
Pope Francis made the comments in a video released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, in collaboration with Vatican Media and the U.S.-based Catholic Mobilizing Network. The video coincides with the pontiff’s September prayer intention that the death penalty be legally abolished in every country.
There are more than 28,000 people on death row worldwide, according to Amnesty International. 144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Notable countries that have not taken those steps include the United States, Japan, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
In the video, Pope Francis argues that the death penalty is legally unnecessary because “society can effectively repress crime without definitively depriving the offenders of the possibility of redeeming themselves,” adding that “in every legal sense there must be a window of hope.”
He also laments what it means for both the victim and perpetrator.
“Capital punishment offers no justice to victims, but rather encourages revenge, and it prevents any possibility of undoing a possible miscarriage of justice,” Pope Francis said. “Additionally, the death penalty is morally inadmissible, for it destroys the most important gift we have received: Life.”
“Let us not forget that, up to the very last moment, a person can convert and change,” he continued. As of Jan. 1, there are 2,436 death row inmates in the U.S. 2,386 of those inmates are male, and 50 are female. California has the most death row inmates with 692, followed by Florida with 330, and Texas with 199, according to a report compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Capital punishment is on the books in 27 states.
There are also 44 federal death row inmates, the data shows, although President Joe Biden issued a federal moratorium on capital punishment last year.
Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network told Crux that it’s important for Catholics to call on their elected leaders to support the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, which would abolish capital punishment at the federal level. She said people should advocate for legislation at the state level, as well.
“As Catholics we are called to build a culture of life. Each of us were created with inherent, God-given dignity which cannot be taken away – regardless of the harm we have suffered or caused,” Murphy said. “Catholics should ensure that their pro-life advocacy is consistent and does not forget to include those who face state-sanctioned violence.”
Not far down the list of states with the most death row inmates is Oklahoma, with 44 – a state that has made headlines of late after it carried out the first of 25 executions scheduled to take place between August 2022 and December 2024.
The first was James Coddington, who was executed by lethal injection on Aug. 25 at the age of 50, despite a clemency recommendation from the state Pardon and Parole Board. Coddington was convicted and later admitted to killing a co-worker with a hammer in 1997.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City spoke out against the execution and called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to affirm the board’s recommendation before it happened, calling the death penalty an “immoral and archaic method of addressing serious crimes.”
Murphy called Oklahoma’s scheduled executions “an example of state-sanctioned bloodlust.”
“Gov. Stitt’s decision to move forward with the execution of James Coddington, despite the Board of Pardon and Parole’s recommendation of clemency indicates that Oklahoma does not intend to be stopped in its pursuit of death,” Murphy said.
Murphy further emphasized that there is no need for the death penalty in the U.S., instead saying the nation should adopt “restorative approaches to justice which honor the dignity of every person – no matter the harm one has caused or suffered.”
“We must prioritize the needs of the victim, promote accountability, and seek healing for all parties who are affected by crime and harm,” she said.
Globally, Pope Francis acknowledged that each day there is a growing “no” to the death penalty around the world, and “for the church, that is a sign of hope.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg