US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Bad news, good news about the death penalty in the U.S.

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

This week we heard some good news and bad news about the death penalty in the U.S. People usually want the bad news first, right? Well, here it is: According to a recent Amnesty International report, the U.S. was the only Western democracy to execute prisoners last year.

We ranked fifth in the world in total executions, behind China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. Despite America’s general tendency to want to be the biggest and best at everything, this is not a category we want to be at the top of. (For an interesting take on an “outsider’s” view of the death penalty in the U.S., check out this reflection from Paul Bettany in The Guardian.)

And now for the good news: More individual states in the U.S. are taking steps to end the death penalty. In 2011, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and Oregon recently placed a moratorium on executions. Debates about the death penalty are shaping up in California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, reports Faith in Public Life. Like recent actions to reduce abortions, a state-based approach to combatting a national policy seems to be producing some positive results.

The U.S. bishops wrote in 2005 that "Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life.” In a Glad You Asked column in the December 2000 issue of U.S. Catholic, Jim Dinn wrote: “The sacredness of human life is affirmed even in the person of a murderer. The life of the guilty must be honored along with the life of the innocent.”

As long as we continue to have the death penalty, we continue to dishonor life.


Stay of execution: Abolishing the death penalty