Washington state bishops support repeal of death penalty

Seattle, Wash., Feb 8, 2019 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Washington state are expressing support for a senate bill that would repeal the death penalty.

This comes after the state’s Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in October 2018, finding it had been applied in an arbitrary and racially-biased manner.

“Our country’s legal system is far from perfect when it comes to imposing the death penalty,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle wrote in a Feb. 5 joint statement released by the  Washington State Catholic Conference.  

“Senate Bill 5339 removes the unconstitutional language and moves Washington state towards greater justice and respect for life at all stages.”

The bill would change the sentence for aggravated first degree murder to life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole. The bill’s text states that the goal of the bill is “reducing criminal justice expenses.”

The bishops, in their support for the bill, cited the Catholic Church’s belief that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death.

“The act of murder cries out for an appropriate punishment, but the death penalty merely adds violence to violence, perpetuating an illusion that taking one human life for another can somehow balance the scales of justice,” Sartain said.

The Washington effort to repeal the death penalty is part of a national trend. New Hampshire legislators voted to remove the death penalty from the state last year, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Lawmakers in Colorado have said they are planning to introduce a proposal to repeal the death penalty in the upcoming legislative session. Similar legislation has already been introduced in Nevada and Kentucky this year.

Pope Francis in Aug. 2018 ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The Catechism previously taught the Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

In declaring the death penalty inadmissible, the new text cites “an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” as well as the development of “more effective systems of detention…which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”


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  1. The death penalty is sometimes necessary and appropriate. Until the Church speaks definitively on this matter, I believe in certain capital cases it may be applied.

    • I support the death penalty and traditionally so too does the Catholic Church. I am vehemently opposed to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. That to me is the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment because it robs a person of hope and that is nothing short of sinful and cruel. As a secularizing nation less and less connected with God we become more and more uncomfortable with the thought of an afterlife and hence our increasing national reticence to impose the death penalty. Meanwhile the rest of the world correctly concludes that we are weak.

  2. St Thomas Aquinas stated that capital punishment is like amputating a diseased limb to protect the body. I accept, as Origen, Francis Spirago, St John Paul II and Avery Cardinal Dulles argued, that if a limb can be treated and cured, it should not be amputated. I further accept that amputating a limb that CAN be cured would, in such circumstances, do harm to the body.

    However what I categorically cannot accept is the novel teaching by our current Pope that amputation is an evil in and of itself, regardless of how rotten and diseased a particular limb is and how much threat is posed to the body, as that definitely contradicts two thousand years of Church teaching (which cannot simply be changed by the stroke of a pen).

    Capital Punishment, like killing in self defence or killing during a just war, should ideally be avoided when possible, but sometimes it is indeed necessary to protect the innocent, whose right to life is indeed absolute.

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