US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A troubling poll: 7 in 10 support death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

In the two weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings, the police captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and as progress has been made to start his trial, the city has started to move forward in healing. However, a poll released this morning indicates that 7 in 10 people would support the death penalty for Tsarnaev, should he be convicted.

Though support for the death penalty has in general been declining over the years, it’s not necessarily surprising that support would increase in a case such as this one. As ABC News points out, nearly 75 percent of people supported the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said the weekend after the bombings: “Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred. Obviously as a Catholic I oppose the death penalty, which I think is one further manifestation of the culture of death in our midst.”

What greater good can be served by ending yet another life? The reason that the bombing, and other acts like it, is reprehensible to us is due in large part to the fact that people lost their lives and were put in danger of death. A quest for revenge can be fulfilled by capital punishment, but revenge differs greatly from justice and forgiveness.

If Tsarnaev is put to death, have we just denied him the opportunity for forgiveness? As Bryan Cones wrote in our February 2012 issue:

While it is indeed a moral obscenity to strap down and murder a defenseless human being—even a guilty one—it is no less unjust to deprive both the guilty party and his or her survivors of the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. Indeed, even in the face of inconceivable violence, God offers hope. For the perpetrator, that means the chance for repentance and conversion; for the survivors, it means the possibility of understanding, healing, maybe even forgiveness. Who are human beings to stand in the way of such salvation?

What happened in Boston was undeniably an example of inconceivable violence. But answering violence with violence, answering death with death, will do nothing to ease hatred and promote life and forgiveness.