Ethics & Religion
August 9, 2018
By Mike McManus
Pope Francis formally changed the official Catholic Church teaching
in calling for a world "free of the death penalty." In a statement to
the sixth World Congress Against Capital Punishment, the Pope asserted
the death penalty "is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the
dignity of the human person."
"It likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals and society and His
He noted that the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" applies "both for
the innocent and to the guilty."
He reported that Catholics have designated 2018 as the "Holy Year of
Mercy," in which he hoped that Catholic leaders would "make a courageous
and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions."
What's particularly important is that Pope Francis has revised the
Catholic Church's Catechism, the church's official teaching, on the
death penalty - from permitting it in very rare circumstances, to now
deeming it "completely inadmissible" and violative of the "dignity of
He said the state "should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation
and social reintegration of the criminal."
His position reflected and reinforced a stunning decline of capital
punishment worldwide in recent decades. In 1970, fewer than 20 nations
were fully abolitionist. Today, more than two-thirds of
the world's 200 countries have abolished the death penalty!
All of Europe has taken this stand, and all but two in the Western
Hemisphere - the United States. and St. Kitts!
As a practical matter, most executions are confined to a handful of
countries. Five countries - China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
- carried out well over 90% of last year's executions.
The Pope's initiative is important news.
In the United States, the number of executions has plunged from 98 in
1999 to only 14 last year. The number of states which abolished the
death penalty increased from 31 in 2000 to 38, and several more appear
to be on the cusp.
Vatican expert John Thavis said Pope Francis's action "will be a big
deal for the future of the death penalty in the world. People who work
with prisoners on death row will be thrilled, and I think this will
become a banner social justice issue for the church."
I asked Robert Dunham, who directs America's Death Penalty Information
Center - what impact he thought the Pope's new opposition to government
executions would have.
"It is likely to have an effect in real politics. Already we are seeing
some of the pro-death penalty Catholic elected officials and prosecutors
- acting defensively. There are several states that are close to
abolishing the death penalty: Washington, New Hampshire, Utah and
"In New Hampshire, the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty,
but Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill. The change by a handful of votes
by Catholic legislators would be enough to override the governor,"
He added that in Washington State, abolition is supported by its
governor and the attorney general. A repeal bill passed the state
senate, and by the House Judiciary Committee. But it was not voted upon
by Washington's House before the session ended. "The Speaker of the
House who did not bring it up for a vote - is a Catholic, as are several
House members who were wavering on the issue."
"The Pope, in stating that the Catholic Church is committed to its
abolition - may provide the legislators with the courage to do what they
want to do. In Louisiana the Catholic Church has been active in trying
to repeal the death penalty, and the Catholic governor and is involved
in an on-going fight with the Catholic Attorney General.
The death penalty is not simply a Catholic issue. Jurors in Washington
State are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a
black defendant than for a white one. Similarly in California, those
convicted of killing whites were more than three times as likely to be
sentenced to the death penalty as those convicted of killing blacks.
Also, since 1973, more than 162 people have been released from death row
with evidence of their innocence.
Death row inmates are overwhelmingly concentrated in a few states: 746
in California, 374 in Florida, 243 in Texas, 191 in Alabama, for
Do the states with executions have lower crime rates? NO.
The South had the highest murder rate, even though the South
accounts for 80% of executions.
The murder rate of states in the Northeast is 3.5 per 100,000 residents
compared to a 6.5 rate per 100,000 in the South.
Let's end the death penalty in America!
Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and
a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to
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