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A Catholic Perspective on the Death Penalty

“When Cain killed Abel, God did not end Cain’s life. Instead, he sent Cain into exile, not only sparing his life but protecting it by putting a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight (Gn 4:15).”

USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death

In 2018, Pope Francis approved a new draft of no. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which addresses the death penalty. It acknowledges that executions were once considered an appropriate response to particularly grave crimes, and an acceptable means of safeguarding the common good.

But it says that now, Catholics understand that the dignity of a human being is not lost, even after committing such crimes, and that there are better systems of detention that protect the public without depriving the guilty of the chance of redemption. It concludes that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Furthermore, it says the Church is working with determination for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

As of this writing, Donnie Cleveland Lance is set to be executed here in Georgia on January 29th. There is no minimizing the horror of his crime; he was convicted of killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend more than 20 years ago. But Catholics are called to believe that Donnie Cleveland Lance should not be deprived of the chance of redemption, as he too is made in the image and likeness of God.

We have an opportunity to help the Church in her mission, and not just on behalf of Lance, who has a clemency appeal pending at this time. Georgia House Bill 702 is currently working its way through the legislative process. The bipartisan measure would repeal the death penalty, and commute standing death sentences to life in prison without parole. You can make a difference by contacting your legislators and urging them to support the bill.

Remember, Catholics are called to be a people of life, under any and all circumstances:

“Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an indivisible good. We need then to show care for all life and for the life of everyone.”

Evangelium vitae, 87

Despite our horror and outrage at violent crime, and our desire to lift up and comfort the victims, we cannot deny that the death penalty is inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Please help us end it in the state of Georgia.

Sources:
https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2018/08/02/180802a.html
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions/upcoming-executions
https://pap.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-01-23/parole-board-consider-clemency-donnie-cleveland-lance
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/recent-legislative-activity
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment/catholic-campaign-to-end-the-use-of-the-death-penalty.cfm