This page will present the Church's teaching on various issues of the day.
• The Death Penalty
WISCONSIN: The November ballot has an advisory (non-binding) referendum to ask voters whether the death penalty should be restored after an absence of 153 years. This would be for cases involving a person convicted of first-degree intentional homicide if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence.
The Assembly had passed a similar measure earlier; the Senate voted 18-15 for the referendum. The incumbent governor opposes capital punishment; his opponent favors it. Both are Catholic.
A recent poll reflects that 55.6% of voters favor the measure but, when given a choice between execution and life without parole, 45% chose death and 50% preferred imprisonment.
In opposing the measure, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference pointed out that the state has a murder rate below the national average and one far below many states which perform executions frequently.
KANSAS: The Kansas Catholic Conference continues to work to repeal the Kansas death penalty. Background: After the Kansas Supreme Court found one provision of the law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court of the U.S. reversed (5-4) the decision. At issue: Is it unfair to defendants to mandate a death sentence when a jury finds that the aggravating and mitigating circumstances are equal? The Kansas bishops: "In this case the Supreme Court said a tie goes to the state instead of the defendant."
MICHIGAN: There have been no executions, even before Michigan became a state in 1837. Its constitution bans capital punishment and its laws mandate life without parole for first-degree murder. Earlier this year a man committed three violent murders, and the killings moved the district's assemblyman to move to permit executions.
A 2/3 vote in both houses is necessary to change the constitution. The issue awaits consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.
MISSOURI: In June a U.S. District Court found that the state's execution procedure could cause "unconstitutional pain and suffering." (In California and several other states this same issue has been raised.) The court decision has been appealed by the Attorney General.
The bishops of Missouri wrote a pastoral letter urging messages to state and national legislators to push for a halt to executions and an end to capital punishment. ". . . more violence is not a solution to society's problems."
NEVADA: The state recorded its twelfth execution since capital punishment was restored in 1977. The prisoner denied his guilt but waived his right to appeal, saying he preferred death to imprisonment during the lengthy appeals process. (A curious fact: Of the 11 others executed earlier, all but one waived appeal.)
NEW JERSEY: The state has formed a Death Penalty Study Commission. A spokesman for the state's bishops testified that 54% of churchgoers favored life without parole to execution. In other testimony, victims' family members belonging to Murder Victims' Family Members for Reconciliation gave their testimony that they did not seek the death penalty for killers of their families.
TENNESSEE: In June the state executed the second person in the past 46 years. The state's bishops prayed for the victims, their families and for the killer and his family and said, in a statement, " . . . our modern society clearly has means to provide for the safety of its members without resorting to capital punishment."
VIRGINIA: The governor postponed an execution for six months pending a further study of the prisoner's mental retardation or mental illness Without further analysis, he said, he would consider neither execution nor clemency.
Also, the Virginia Catholic Conferences is opposing three bills which expand the circumstances allowing the a death sentence to be imposed.
HOW ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD?
PHILIPPINES: President Macapagel-Arroyo signed a law to replace life without parole for capital punishment. At the same time she commuted the death sentences of all 1205 people on death row to LWOP. (Pope Benedict XVI praised her action.)
POLAND: Poland's president urged the European Union to return to capital punishment. (Membership in the EU requires or strongly urges abolition of the death penalty.) The proposal was rejected.
PERU: Peru's bishops opposed a measure to apply the death penalty to individuals who sexually assault and murder minors. Their statement underlined the primacy and inviolability of human life and declared that all killing is an offense against God, the sole owner of life.
ALGERIA: Algeria announced in a radio address a plan to end capital punishment. It will be the first Arab country to do so. Algeria has not had an execution in 13 years. Abolition "is an urgent measure essential for the constitution of a state based on rights," and capital punishment is "totally absurd and has no effect on the reduction of crime," said a spokesman.
CHINA: In April China ratified an extradition treaty with Spain in which it agreed not to execute repatriated criminals. (Last year China executed more than four times as many people as all other countries combined.)
GREAT BRITAIN: Forty years ago the death penalty was abolished. Ever since then there has been a strong sentiment to restore it. Now, polls show, for the first time public support for restoration has dropped to 49%.
KYRGYZSTAN: A death penalty moratorium has been in place since 1998, and legislators seem to be moving toward abolition.
RUSSIA: There has been a moratorium for 10 years. Recently, despite very, very strong pressure for the execution of the only surviving participant in the Beslan school massacre (330 deaths), a judge imposed a sentence of life without parole.
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, October 2007
Update January 2007
MOLDOVA abolished the death penalty.
RWANDA pledged to pass legislation by the end of 2006 [unable to learn if this occurred] to abolish the death penalty. Rwanda wants to hold war crimes trials for 1994 genocide. Most countries holding those accused will not extradite to a death penalty nation.
The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace made a statement soon after the hanging of Saddam Hussein. "The killing of the guilty is not the way to rebuild justice and reconcile society; rather there is a risk of nourishing the spirit of revenge and inciting fresh violence."
Under domestic and international criticism, CHINA adopted new rules requiring Supreme Court review of all death sentences. Final review had been relegated to provincial courts in 1983. [Some observers estimate that China has accounted for 80% of the world's executions.]
JAPANese courts sentenced 60 people to death in 2006, the largest number in 26 years. Japan has been experiencing an increase in violent crimes. [Ninety people are now on Japan's Death Row.]
ITALY - Just after Hussein's hanging the Italian government petitioned the U.N. to begin a process for an international moratorium on the death penalty. [The Italian constitution bans the death penalty.]
In July 2006 the U.N. Human Rights Commission recommended a U.S. moratorium on the death penalty. ". . . the death penalty may be imposed disproportionately on ethnic minorities as well as on low income groups, a problem which does not seem to be fully acknowledged." The panel also urged the U.S. to limit the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty and to review its suggestion of disproportionate application. [The panel has no authority to enforce its recommendations.]
The U.N.'s new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, commented on Hussein's hanging. He said that capital punishment is an issue for each country to decide. Later, his spokeswoman said his opinion was a personal one. She acknowledged that the U.N. policy is against executions. [South Korea, Ki-moon's country, has not banned the death penalty.]
MISSOURI halted executions because of a challenge to its lethal injection procedures. [See TE, CA, MD, SD and FL below.]
SOUTH CAROLINA's governor signed a bill which allows the death penalty on those convicted of two or more sex crimes against children under age 11.
TENNESSEE - The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a state Supreme Court decision that its method of execution was not "cruel and unusual."
VERMONT - A federal jury imposed the death penalty on a murderer. This was the first death sentence issued since 1954. [The state eliminated the death penalty in 1987.]
CALIFORNIA - Last year U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered the state to review its execution protocols. Recently the Attorney General informed him that a report would be forthcoming in May. The Attorney General asked for secrecy about the deliberations and anonymity for the consultants used.
NEW JERSEY - A 13-person legislative commission called for abolition of the death penalty. One member dissented. The governor said he supports the recommendation.
MARYLAND's death penalty protocols are under court review. Meanwhile, the newly-elected governor announced plans to ask the legislature to repeal the death penalty.
TEXAS - Over the past 10 years the number of death penalty sentences has dropped 65%, (40 in 1996; 14 in FY 2006) The number of murders was pretty stable - 1476 in 1996; 1405 in 2005.
FLORIDA's Gov. Bush ordered a moratorium on executions and formed an expert panel to review procedures, this after the last execution took more than twice as long and required a second lethal injection.
NORTH DAKOTA - The bishop of Fargo criticized the death penalty sentence imposed by a federal jury on a man guilty of murdering a college student: ". . . it reinforces the false perspective of revenge as justice."
SOUTH DAKOTA - Gov. Grounds stayed a lethal injection execution until July, pending a legislative review of a required 2-drug injection and a planned 3-drug method.
WISCONSIN - [See Death Penalty Updates No. I for background.] Death penalty reinstatement advocates are dubious of the outcome of the pending vote. The make-up of the Senate changed with the November election, and the re-elected governor is likely to veto an affirmative vote.
PUERTO RICO - A federal jury sentenced a killer to life instead of death, despite the urging of the U.S. prosecutor. (Puerto Rico's territorial legislature abolished the death penalty 80 years ago.)
KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS - The annual convention of the KofC in August resolved ". . . to speak out to our elected representatives about our continued opposition to the death penalty." (KofC opposition dates from 2000.)
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, July 2007
Update August 2007
NEW JERSEY - The Senate Judiciary Committee (8-2) approved repeal of capital punishment. The measure will go to the Senate in Nov. or Dec., then to the Assembly. The governor has said he'll sign it.
NEW YORK - [New York's highest court ruled in 2004 that major portions of the current execution law were unconstitutional.] The Senate has now passed a bill to restore capital punishment for killers of police and correctional officers; however the Speaker of the Assembly said the measure would not likely be considered there.
(In both states Catholic bishops issued strong statements for repeal and against restoration.)
CLOSE - - - BUT NO CIGAR
MARYLAND - The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (5-5) killed a measure to end executions. The House of Delegates had indicated strong backing for abolition.
MONTANA - The Senate (27-21) approved abolition; the House Judiciary Committee (9-8) tabled it.
NEBRASKA - The unicameral legislature defeated (25-24) a bill to end executions. (The governor had said he'd veto the measure if it passed.)
NEW MEXICO - A House-passed (41-28) repeal was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee (4-5).
NEW HAMPSHIRE - The House (no vote count available) rejected a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole.
Even these narrow misses have cumulative value One criterion used by the Supreme Court is "evolving standards of decency". This concept was mentioned in its decision to ban executions of juvenile offenders. (The Court noted thathirty states had already banned this already.)
NORTH CAROLINA - The Medical Board adopted a policy that physicians should not facilitate executions beyond being present, as state law requires. (Many state medical boards discourage physician participation.)
INDIANA - The state American Bar Association Assessment Team called for a moratorium. It said only 10 of the ABA's 79 death penalty criteria had been met. Among the deficiencies:
IRELAND - Mr. Justice Scalia (Irish Times, Mar. 7), speaking at University College Dublin said he would resign from the bench if he learned that Catholic doctrine prohibited the death penalty. (A month earlier the Vatican sent a message to the 3rd annual World Congress calling capital punishment "an affront to human dignity."
SOUTH AFRICA - The President, despite a rising crime rate, said reinstatement of the death penalty was not an option.
ZAMBIA - The President said he'll sign no death warrants. He pledged to commute all current executions to life without parole.
FRANCE - Parliament banned executions and made the ban a part of the Constitution.
MOROCCO is the first Arab state to abolish capital punishment. Said a proponent, "The positive aspects of Islam need to be stressed. It does not order people to kill, carry out reprisals or state executions."
Worldwide there were 1,591 executions in 2006, down from 2005's 2,198. Executions were heavily concentrated in China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and the United States.
Walt Lundin, Parish Human Concerns Committee, August 2007
FAITHFUL CITIZENSHIP: Child Labor Diminishing Worldwide
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