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Sr. Helen Prejean (middle) and cast from her play "Dead Man Walking"--Cape Cod Community College, 5 Mar 07

God is Love--papal encyclical

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The Catholic Democrat view
On The Death Penalty

"We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing....This cycle of violence diminishes all of us—especially our children."
—Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 1994

"We believe that abolition of the death penalty is most consonant with the example of Jesus."
—Capital Punishment. Published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1980

Remembering August 6, birthday of the electric chair and the atomic bomb (Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy)


Facts regarding Bush policy on the death penalty:

  1. Mr. Bush oversaw the execution of 152 people as governor of Texas, with only a single clemency action, making him the most accomplished executioner of any governor in U.S. history.
  2. Opposed measures to punish minors or people with I.Q.’s under 65 with life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
  3. Successfully advocated new law accelerating the appeals process, termed the "speed up the juice law" by legislators. He advocated strict deadlines for the appeals process, which if missed terminated any further sentence review.
  4. Vetoed legislation that would have helped local governments establish public defender systems independent of a patronage system serving local judges, and eliminated funding for legal resource centers in Texas.
  5. Opposed measures to open Texas Paroles Board proceedings to public scrutiny, allowing perpetuation of a system in which members anonymously sent in their votes without any collective discussion of individual cases.
  6. One famous case in which Mr. Bush refused to intervene (and ridiculed the defendant) was that of a man whose defense lawyer had slept through much of the trial, and had a history of doing so in at least one previous case that resulted in execution. The Texas Court of Appeals declined to reverse the death sentence, declaring that the Texas Constitution didn’t say anything about defense attorneys having to be awake during trial. A federal judge overturned the sentence, and then the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the State’s appeal, ultimately saving the man’s life.
  7. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft sought frequently to overturn the views of local prosecutors in federal murder cases with a zeal for seeking the death penalty.
  8. The Administration has overturned regulations reversing a presumption against the use of the federal death penalty in 12 non-death penalty states. Despite having trumpeted a philosophy of "states' rights," the Bush Administration has sought to force use of the death penalty on states that have foresworn it.

Moral scorecard:
  1. The Democratic Party Platform courageously evolved in 2004 to the Catholic position on the death penalty, for the first time since 1988.
  2. Virtually every careful scholar of the death penalty has concluded that it’s only purpose is one of societal vengeance. All other stated aims have succumbed to a preponderance of contrary evidence:
    1. It costs at least three times as much to prosecute a death penalty case as it does to impose life imprisonment
    2. The death penalty does not demonstrably deter violent crime (and may even encourage it, since murder rates are significantly higher in death penalty states)
    3. The death penalty risks exacting an irreversible penalty on innocent people (more than 100 death row inmates have been exonerated since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976).
  3. President Ronald Reagan enjoyed saying, "Government is not the solution, it's the problem." And yet when it comes to the most profound power of the state, namely that to kill its own citizens, many people (including Mr. Bush) set aside their concerns about misuse of government power and subscribe to a child-like willingness to believe that every tiny cash-strapped municipality across the country is capable of meting out a high standard of justice in sentencing their own citizens to death.
  4. Statements by the Pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been unequivocal in their opposition to the death penalty. The Pope wrote in a 1995 encyclical (Evangelium Vitae), "Punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." This is precisely the view expounded by the Democratic Party Platform.
  5. An editorial that appeared in February 2002 in the National Catholic Register cited remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, betraying the hypocrisy that some conservative Catholics have demonstrated regarding their conflicting views on abortion and the death penalty. “He said that, since the Pope's teaching on capital punishment in Evangelium Vitae did not come ex cathedra, i.e., with formal infallibility, he is not obligated as a Catholic to accept it, only to give it "serious consideration.” …It was an example of a powerful man persuading a crowd of people that the Church is wrong - and obscuring the obligations of Catholics in the process. (He added) "I have given [Evangelium Vitae] careful and thoughtful consideration and rejected it," Scalia said. "I do not find the death penalty immoral."
  6. Mr. Bush betrays his fundamental disloyalty to Christ in his willingness not only to allow executions, but seemingly to revel in his power to implement them. His ridiculing of Karla Faye Tucker, a born-again Christian, on the eve of her execution received wide attention. In his second debate with Vice-President Al Gore, Gov. Bush proudly, almost gleefully touted the planned execution of two white men for the dragging death of James Byrd.