Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Archbishop Charles Chaput on the death penalty

Interesting words recently from Archbishop Charles Chaput on Americans and the death penalty:

Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief, and they rightly demand justice. Real murderers deserve punishment; but even properly tried and justly convicted murderers — men and women who are found guilty of heinous crimes — retain their God-given dignity as human beings. When we take a murderer’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process.

Both Scripture and Catholic tradition support the legitimacy of the death penalty under certain limited conditions. But the Church has repeatedly called us to a higher road over the past five decades. We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty. And we should never be eager to take anyone’s life. As a result, except in the most extreme circumstances, capital punishment cannot be justified. In developed countries like our own, it should have no place in our public life. [...]

Most American Catholics, like many of their fellow citizens, support the death penalty. That doesn’t make it right. But it does ensure that the wrong-headed lesson of violence “fixing” the violent among us will be taught to another generation.

As children of God, we’re better than this, and we need to start acting like it. We need to end the death penalty now.

Read the whole thing here.

May God bless Archbishop Chaput for his leadership on this and many important issues!


  1. Thank you for this post, and for the purpose of this blog.

    My honest question, which I've thought about a lot since becoming Catholic and finding my church generally against the death penalty, is this: is it really true, as Archbishop Chaput states in his opening sentence, that "experience shows that capital punishment simply doesn’t work as a deterrent"?

    The stats I recall seeing say the opposite: that violent crimes like murder do in fact happen at much lower rates in states that put murderers to death. Maybe I'm wrong, or there are better stats out there. The data I remember support the conclusion that the death penalty saves innocent lives by acting as a deterrent.

    That's why I think Archbishop Chaput (whom I admire very much) and anyone else who thinks the death penalty does no good, should begin their arguments with a rigorous statistical demonstration of that fact. I think that might change a lot of minds.

  2. Rachel,the question of whether the dp is a deterrent is worthwhile, but ultimately not governing and in fact is lot like the "torture works" arguments we've tangle with before, just in a different direction. That is, even if torture worked, that wouldn't make it right; so even if the dp wasn't a deterrent, that wouldn't necessarily make it wrong. You might benefit from Zippy's recent entry: Blessed Pope John Paul II on the death penalty: less development than meets the eye

    And Ed Feser's lengthy entry here:

    and here:

  3. "We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty." In context I see what he is saying here. But to be cleared it should be phrased like this: "We don’t need to have courts sentence captured criminals to death in order to protect society or punish the guilty." Because sometimes you DO need to kill people to protect society in the case of uncaptured criminals.