The abolition of the death penalty is “undeniably a pro-life issue” that would better serve society and lead criminals to penitence, the Texas bishops have said.
“Our call to abolish the death penalty is not a call to deny justice. On
the contrary, it is a call to the whole community to recognize that the
death penalty does not fulfill justice, nor does it console the
inconsolable,” the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops said Oct. 10.
“Capital punishment vitiates our hearts’ capacity for mercy and love.”
In their statement, the bishops said the death penalty is
disproportionately used on the poor, racial minorities, the vulnerable,
people with limited mental capacity, and those who cannot afford an
adequate legal defense.
“These realities contribute to a callous disregard for the dignity of
human life. The death penalty negatively influences our children’s moral
formation and our culture as it fails to allow for mercy and
The bishops also had a warning: “innocent people are killed by the
government on our behalf.” At least 23 known innocent people have been
executed since 2000.
Public resources that are dedicated to defending the death penalty could
be better spent elsewhere, the bishops continued. Citing the Death
Penalty Information Center, they said the cost to house a prisoner for a
life sentence is 33 percent the costs of legal appeals for a death row
Texas has executed 538 people since 1976, according to the Death Penalty
Information Center. It has carried out the most executions in any U.S.
state. Oklahoma has performed the second-most executions since 1976,
with 112 uses of the death penalty.
The Texas bishops reflected on crime and punishment.
“Due process for the accused, the incarceration of the guilty, and the
protection of the community serve justice and mercy,” they said. “As a
Church, we strive to walk with those who have time to repent,” they
said, stressing the importance of prison ministry.
The bishops also spoke about crime victims.
“As a Church we accompany our brothers and sisters, children, parents
and loved ones as we see them suffer from the heinous and violent
actions of others,” they said. “Only God can console them, yet we offer
what comfort we can with our presence and prayer. The healing that comes
from forgiveness has been a powerful force in the lives of many
families who have experienced violence.”
The Texas bishops spoke of the death penalty in the context of the U.S. Catholic Church’s Respect Life Month:
“During this time, we pray and reflect on the precious gift of life and
recommit ourselves to working toward a culture that truly welcomes and
protects human life in our society, from conception to natural death.”
For these bishops, Saint John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium
Vitae” is a guide. It said that the conditions for legitimate death
penalty use are “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
They also cited Pope Francis’ October 2014 statement to an international
gathering of lawyers: “it is impossible to imagine that states today
cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend
people’s lives from an unjust aggressor.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that non-lethal efforts to
preserve public order are better in keeping with the common good and the
dignity of the human person.
Furthermore, the catechism does not recognize deterrence as a
justification for the death penalty, the bishops said. Crime statistics
comparisons with other states without the death penalty appear to show
Texas’ death penalty is not an effective deterrent.
The message of Texas’ bishops coincided with a message from Pope
Francis. On Oct. 10, he tweeted against the death penalty, saying
“punishment should necessarily include hope!”