After nearly 20 years, federal government will resume executions

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 09:41 am (CNA).- The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will resume executions after an almost two-decade lapse, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Thursday.

“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Attorney General William Barr said in a written statement on Thursday.

The Bureau of Prisons, adopting a proposed addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol, has scheduled five executions for the first time since the last federal execution in 2003. Five death-row inmates, convicted of the murders of children and adults and in some cases torture, are to be executed on dates in December 2019 and January 2020, and the DOJ said that the scheduling of “additional executions” will occur in the future.

The new federal lethal injection process will utilize one drug, pentobarbital, instead of the old three-drug process used in previous federal executions. It is similar to protocol in Missouri, Georgia, and Texas, a DOJ press release said.

The five death-row inmates are Daniel Lewis Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois.

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2267 on the death penalty was updated in 2018 with a statement from Pope Francis, calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr, a practicing Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus, stated on Thursday.

Federal death penalty statues were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia; in 1988 revised federal death penalty statutes were instituted, and the number of eligible offenses was expanded under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). There are currently 62 federal death-row inmates, according to DPIC.

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  1. Without questioning the Catechism amendment of 2008, a few afterthoughts linger…

    What does “inadmissible” actually mean? In a parallel but admittedly different context, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, for example, two years ago refrained from challenging the legitimacy of the Church-tax in Germany, but also found that the Church penalty of excommunication for failing to check the religious affiliation box on the federal tax form (“apostasy”!) was, what, “indefensible.”

    Indefensible, inadmissible?

    Before 2018 we were taught that the USE OF capital punishment (a prudential judgement, not reversal of doctrine) should be “rare if not practically non-existent” (John Paul II, the Gospel of Life, n. 56), the traditional concept and teaching of retribution (“vindication of the moral order,” e.g., Avery Dulles; and different than vengeance), was not addressed and, therefore, even now has not been removed from some other more general part of the Catechism.

    As for social science, this lens is ambiguous, with some studies arguing that capital punishment really is a deterrent (therefore having something to do with protecting the dignity of human life? As for prison guards in close proximity with life-sentence offenders?). And as for the opportunity for PENITENCE, this too: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” ― Samuel Johnson.

    Apart from all this, and apart from false identification by crime witnesses and other courtroom errors and even racism (now even with DNA technology), some social science shows a real deterrent effect coming from QUICK handling and CERTAIN punishment for LESSER CRIMES . . .The legal system fails at the front end, long before capital crimes get into the picture.

    We might also recall here the 2004 letter to the now-Mr. McCarrick from Cardinal Ratzinger—a letter intended for all of the United States bishops—from which the following language was DELETED prior to distribution (possibly in a conveniently removed cover letter):

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia….There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion [ real diversity!] even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    So, what does “inadmissible” or its untranslated and non-English equivalent actually mean?

    A dubia sort of question?

  2. “It is permissible to kill a criminal if this is necessary for the welfare of the whole community. However, this right belongs only to the one entrusted with the care of the whole community — just as a doctor may cut off an infected limb, since he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body”. -St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica IIa-IIae, q. 64, a. 3.

    I accept as a matter of faith, as taught by Pope St John Paul II (and clarified by Cardinal Avery Dulles) that if a limb can be treated and cured, it should not be amputated, and it amputating a limb would in such a case (but not inherently) be harmful to the body (i.e show disrespect for the dignity of life). I disagree with their view that the circumstances were capital punishment is justified are “very rare, if not practically non-existent” (which is prudential, not doctrinal) but the reasoning they offered is sound.

    But what I categorically reject is the new assertion that amputation (capital punishment) is always wrong, regardless of how rotten and diseased a particular limb is, and how much harm it poses to the rest of the body. As Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider recently stated in their declaration of truths, it is impossible for the Catholic Church to have erred on such an important issue for two millennia.

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