US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What message do we send to future generations by endorsing capital punishment today?

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput has landed in the headlines again after recent comments about voting and political candidates and because of his relationship to the newly appointed head of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development. But, as Kevin Clarke points out at America, receiving much less attention is a commentary the archbishop recently made regarding Catholics and the death penalty.

In Pennsylvania, Terrence Williams is facing execution for a crime committed in 1984, which would be the state’s first execution in 13 years. Writing for, Archbishop Chaput said, “Terrance Williams deserves punishment. No one disputes that. But he doesn’t need to die to satisfy justice.”

Chaput argues that the death penalty is not a successful deterrent of crime and that it doesn’t possess the healing power of forgiveness, and that resisting the death penalty does not diminish support for family members and friends who have lost loved ones to the heinous act of murder. Additionally, the archbishop points out some of the problems with our country’s endorsement of capital punishment: It answers violence with violence (in an already violent culture), it demeans our society’s dignity as well as the dignity that murderers also possess, and it makes us all guilty of ending more human lives.

Said Chaput: “As children of God, we’re better than this, and we need to start acting like it. We need to end the death penalty now.”

One priest in Ohio is working to make sure that at least one man will not be murdered by the state. In Cleveland, we hear of a priest who helped to dismiss a 24-year-old murder charge against Michael Keenan. From “A Catholic priest who befriended [Keenan’s co-defendant Joe] D'Ambrosio in prison and was convinced of his innocence worked with lawyers to uncover evidence favorable to both defendants that had been withheld by county prosecutors at trial.” With charges dismissed, Keenan is both alive and a free man.

Chaput recognizes the danger that will come if we pass on to future generations the values that justify and continue to use capital punishment. “Most American Catholics, like many of their fellow citizens, support the death penalty,” Chaput said. “That doesn’t make it right. But it does ensure that the wrong-headed lesson of violence “fixing” the violent among us will be taught to another generation.”

Jesus’ message was of the power of love and forgiveness and the ultimate victory of life over death. Continuing to use and justify capital punishment—which promotes revenge, violence, and death—flies in the face of this. Which message do we want to make sure continues into the future?