As the US state of Texas executes a man on death row, Bishop Frank Dewane of Florida, Chair of the Peace and Human Development Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reasserts the Catholic Church’s stance on the death penalty.
Killed by lethal injection on Wednesday, 48 year-old Larry Swearingen became the 12th man to be executed on death row this year – 19 years after he was arrested and charged with the 1998 rape and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter.
The Catholic Church long considered capital punishment as an “appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good”.
In August 2018, Pope Francis ordered a new revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.
Vatican News quoted Bishop Dewane saying that “The Church’s stance on the death penalty was recently articulated very clearly by Pope Francis in saying that it’s ‘inadmissible’”, he says, “because it in itself is very much an attack on the inviolability and also the dignity of the human person.”
The revised Catechism states that “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”
Bishop Dewane explains why the death penalty is not effective: “Because to be just, it is really necessary that a punishment have a dimension of hope and also a goal of rehabilitation. The death penalty falls far short of that” he adds. “It doesn’t even begin to approach it…it is contrary to it”.
Bishop Dewane adds that though it has existed for some time, statistics show that the death penalty has not acted as a deterrent, as some people might suggest.
In July 2019, the United States announced it was reinstating Capital Punishment on a federal level.
The Catholic Church continues to work with determination for its abolition worldwide.