WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement declaring that the United States cannot “teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill.”
The bishops voted 237-4 on Tuesday for “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death,” which says that the use of the death penalty contributes to a cycle of violence in society that must be broken.
“The sanction of death violates respect for human life and dignity,” the statement contends.
The statement describes the death penalty as a continuing sign of a “culture of death” in U.S. society.
“It is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life,” the bishops’ document asserts. “When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence.
“The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but what it does to all of society.”
The statement echoes the words of Pope John Paul II. In his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life), he insisted that punishment “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 improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
For the victims
The new statement from the bishops also acknowledges that more must be done to assist victims of violence and loss.
“They deserve our compassion, solidarity and support — spiritual, pastoral and personal,” their statement says. “However, standing with families of victims does not compel us to support the use of the death penalty. … No act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death.”
The statement includes brief statements and stories from the families of victims of deadly crimes as well as from a former death row inmate who was exonerated.
This statement is part of a wider Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty including a new Web site, www.ccedp.org.