US Catholic judge defends death penalty decision

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker

A Catholic judge in Ohio, US has defended his decision to sentence convicted serial killer Anthony Kirkland to death row.

“As a person who morally believes in the sanctity of life, to judge another to determine if the imposition of the death penalty is appropriate is not a duty I take lightly,” Hamilton judge Patrick Dinkelacker told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Kirkland, aged 49, was convicted of killing three women and two teenage girls. He has been serving a life sentence for two of the adult murders. The death sentence was handed down for the killing of the 13 and 14 year old girl.

Dinkelacker articulated the rule of law, saying without it, “those not able to protect themselves become prey for those like Kirkland.”

“I took an oath to follow the law and I will do that,” he said. “To do otherwise, is morally, legally, philosophically and theologically wrong.”

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, also a Catholic, called for Kirkland’s execution.

However Dr. Kevin Miller, a theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told Catholic News Agency that prosecutors in Ohio “are never obliged by state law to request – and judges are never legally obliged to impose – the death penalty.”

Fr. Paul Mueller, superior of the Jesuit community at the Vatican observatory, wrote a letter to Deters earlier this month, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

“I am disappointed, embarrassed, and scandalised that you, not only a Catholic but also a fellow alumnus of St. Xavier High School, have used the platform of your public office to oppose and confuse the moral teaching of the Church in so open a fashion,” Mueller wrote to Deters.

“As Prosecutor,” Mueller wrote, “you are obliged to enforce civil law. But as a Catholic, you are obliged to endeavour to conform your own mind and heart to the higher moral law and help others in their efforts to do the same – not to undermine their efforts. The teaching of the Church is clear: in defending society against evil, it is morally unacceptable to make use of the evil of the death penalty.”

The teaching of the Church is laid out in Evangelium Vitae, which stipulates that civil authorities “ought not to 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.” It goes on to say, “as a result of steady improvements in the organisation of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”