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Survey: A majority of US Catholics support the death penalty

July 21, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
The lethal injection room at California’s San Quentin State Prison. / California Department of Corrections via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2021 / 18:02 pm (CNA).

One recent survey shows a majority of U.S. Catholics supporting use of the death penalty for murder convicts. The poll numbers follow a 2018 update to the Catechism that the death penalty is “inadmissible.”

According to a survey of 5,109 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center, conducted from April 5 to 11, 2021 and published in June, a majority of U.S. Catholics either “strongly” or “somewhat” support use of the death penalty for murder convicts.

Mirroring the responses of U.S. adults overall, 31% of Catholics “somewhat” favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, while 27% of Catholics “strongly” favor it.

In comparison, 32% of U.S. adults “somewhat” favor the death penalty in such cases, and 27% “strongly” favor it, according to the Pew report.

Among Hispanic Catholics, there is slightly more support for the death penalty for murder convicts. In this subgroup, 30% “somewhat” support the death penalty in such cases, and 31% “strongly” support it.

Regarding the question of moral justification for the death penalty, a majority of Catholics believe it is justified in cases of murder convictions.

Among Catholics overall, 60% say capital punishment is morally justified “when someone commits a crime like murder”; among Hispanic Catholics, that number is 62%. Only 30% of Catholics believe the death penalty is morally wrong, including 35% of Hispanic Catholics.

Among religious subgroups, white evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants are most likely to believe the death penalty is morally justified in cases such as murder. More than three-quarters, 77%, of white evangelical Protestants believe this, and 76% of white non-evangelical Protestants.

Nearly two-thirds of those professing no religion “in particular,” 66%, also said that capital punishment is justified in such instances.

Language in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the use of the death penalty was updated in 2018, calling it “inadmissible.”

Pope Francis, in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, wrote, “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

In October 2020, CNA spoke with Fr. Thomas Petri regarding Pope Francis’ statements on the death penalty. Fr. Petri is currently the president and assistant professor of moral theology and pastoral studies at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He explained that the Church’s ordinary magisterium has always taught that “states have the right to inflict the penalty of death.” He added that “no pope can somehow come out and contradict that.”

Pope Francis, he said, did not say the use of the death penalty was “intrinsically evil,” and thus did not contradict the Church’s ordinary magisterium.

Both popes John Paul II and Francis have made prudential applications of the Church’s teaching in areas of faith and morals, he said. Their statements on the death penalty have noted that the security of modern prisons has rendered the need for the death penalty non-existent, as a means of protecting society from criminals.

Thus, since popes have spoken frequently on the death penalty in recent years – including through encyclicals and the Catechism – Catholics cannot just prudentially disagree with their teachings, he said.

“You can probably disagree with whether or not there should be life prison terms, but not this. I don’t think you can say this about the death penalty issue,” he said.

According to a 2020 RealClear Opinion Research poll, sponsored by EWTN News, U.S. Catholics broadly supported the death penalty by a margin of 57% to 29%.

In the April 2021 Pew survey, atheists, agnostics, and Black Protestants were the most likely religious subgroups to say the death penalty is morally wrong. A slight majority of atheists, 51%, believe the death penalty is morally wrong, compared to 47% of self-identified agnostics and 42% of Black Protestants.


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Pope Francis to Friars Minor: Seek renewal amid declining numbers

July 17, 2021 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis waves to the crowds at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sept 2, 2015. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged members of the Order of Friars Minor on Saturday to seek renewal as they face “the challenges of declining numbers and aging.”

In a message to participants of the order’s general chapter in Rome on July 17, the pope encouraged the Franciscan Friars, known by the initials O.F.M., not to be paralyzed by worry.

“As much of the order faces the challenges of declining numbers and aging, do not let anxiety and fear prevent you from opening your hearts and minds to the renewal and revitalization that the Spirit of God is stirring in you and among you,” he said.

“You have a spiritual heritage of inestimable richness, rooted in the Gospel life and characterized by prayer, fraternity, poverty, minority, and itinerancy.”

“Do not forget that we receive from our closeness to the poor, the victims of modern slavery, the refugees, and the excluded of this world, a renewed gaze, capable of opening us to God’s future. They are your teachers. Embrace them as St. Francis did!”

The general chapter is taking place on July 3-18 on the theme of “Renewing Our Vision, Embracing Our Future.”

The order announced on July 13 that it had elected a new leader, Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, who will serve a six-year term as minister general. He succeeds Fr. Michael Perry, a native of Indianapolis, who led the order since 2013.

In his message, the pope said: “I greet with affection all of you who are participating in the general chapter of the Order of Friars Minor. A grateful thought goes out to Fr. Michael A. Perry, who has concluded his service as minister general, and I offer my best wishes to Fr. Massimo Giovanni Fusarelli, who has been called to succeed him.”

The pope recalled that St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his Testament that he used to be nauseated by the sight of lepers, but that after he met them, he felt transformed.

“At the roots of your spirituality is this encounter with the least and the suffering, in the sign of ‘doing mercy,’” he said. “God touched Francis’ heart through the mercy offered to his brother, and he continues to touch our hearts through his encounter with others, especially those most in need.”

“The renewal of your vision can only start from this new look with which to contemplate the poor and marginalized brother, a sign, almost a sacrament, of God’s presence.”

He continued: “From this renewed gaze, from this concrete experience of encounter with our neighbor and his wounds, can come a renewed energy to look to the future as brothers and as minors, as you are, according to the beautiful name of ‘Friars Minor’ that St. Francis chose for himself and for you.”