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April 19, 2012

Noting the notable role of Catholicism in recent state death penalty abolition efforts

Today's Washington Post ran this interesting story headlined "Catholic activists pushing politicians to turn tide against the death penalty." Here are excerpts:

Soon, probably next week, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy will sign into a law a bill that abolishes the death penalty in his state. When he does, Connecticut will be the fifth state to enact such legislation in as many years — and the third with a governor who was raised a Roman Catholic....

Powerful, vocal Roman Catholics have been much in the news of late, mostly for their hard-line positions on abortion and birth control, and their self-serving rhetoric on the subject of religious rights in the health-care debate.  But Catholic activists are playing another political role, too — under the radar — on an issue that hasn’t made the same sorts of headlines.

They are helping to turn the tide of public opinion in the United States against the death penalty.  (According to a Pew poll earlier this year, about a third of Americans now oppose capital punishment, up from 18 percent in the mid-1990s.)  And they are appealing to the consciences of Roman Catholic politicians to do it.

The sanctity of human life is central to Catholic theology, and for death penalty opponents, this sanctity extends as much to living men and women convicted of capital crimes as it does to embryos and fetuses....

Last November, a delegation of international death-penalty opponents was invited to a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.  There, the pope praised and encouraged “the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty.”...

In 2011, on Ash Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in Illinois.  Quinn had attended Catholic schools as a child and went to Georgetown University but had long supported capital punishment.

After the bill passed in the Illinois legislature, he pondered his decision for months — for, as he puts it, “there are people of great conscience on both sides of this debate.” During that time, he received a visit from Sister Helen Prejean, the author of “Dead Man Walking,” and a call from the Catholic death-penalty opponent Martin Sheen. For guidance, he read Scripture, and on the morning he signed the bill, he read from the writings of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin....

Since then, he has become part of the country’s informal network of prominent Catholic death penalty opponents. He phoned Malloy to offer his congratulations on the passage of Connecticut’s bill and has told California Gov. Jerry Brown — who had at one time considered becoming a priest — that he supports anti-death-penalty efforts in his state.

Before the vote in Connecticut, the Society of St. Egidio, an international group of lay Catholics based in Rome, sent letters to key Catholic members of the state Senate, appealing to their consciences.  “I am sure that it will be possible,” the letter said, enticingly, “to create a special event at the Coliseum in Rome to tell the world that Connecticut has taken the lead to abolition. ... The world will be able to love your state even more than now.” Mario Marazziti, St. Egidio’s spokesman, said the letter helped to swing undecided votes in support of abolition.

Some older posts on religion and the death penalty:

April 19, 2012 at 11:04 PM | Permalink


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Catholicism is a coalition of various groups of people, seen by the different types of Catholics on the Supreme Court now and in the past. But, this does suggest this and other issues (e.g., Santorum on voting rights of those released from prison) can have interesting connotations.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 21, 2012 3:06:42 PM

Interesting that the WaPo doesn't really deal with the fact that Quinn lied through his teeth by saying during his campaign that he would keep the death penalty. That's really Catholic, isn't it? While WaPo is at it, perhaps it could examine how Catholic Quinn's desire to make people who are taking care of invalid loved ones fork over cash to union interests.

And it's interesting that Quinn's Catholicism will allow the killing of unborn children, who are far more innocent than the scum on the row.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 21, 2012 6:58:23 PM


Curiously, this doesn't lead me to think HE would be the one not to veto the law. I also am not aware of this "sin" of changing one's mind, if he did, especially when the people's legislature voted on something.

The state is not allowed to force a woman to have an abortion. I don't know his beliefs on that front, but like divorce, that is left to personal choice, including by national law that he has no power to override. Capital punishment is not done by individual people. That's murder. It is done by the state.

Catholic doctrine also think all people are children of God, not "scum," and though there is some dispute (cf. Scalia v. the pope), it is not uncommon for Catholics (not just Democrats) to be against the death penalty.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 22, 2012 11:17:18 AM

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