USA: Bishops support repealing death penalty in Washington State

Archbishop Sartain

Archbishop Sartain

Source: USCCB/Vatican Media

The Bishops of the State of Washington, in the northwest of America are supporting a bill that would repeal the death penalty in that state.

Archbishop J Peter Sartain of Seattle, Washington, said in a statement: "Our country's legal system is far from perfect when it comes to imposing the death penalty." He noted that the Supreme Court of Washington State had ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional because "it had been implemented in an arbitrary and racially-biased manner."

While affirming the right of all citizens "to be protected from those who commit the crime of murder," Archbishop Sartain said: "The act of murder cries out for an appropriate punishment, but the death penalty merely adds violence to violence, perpetuating an illusion that taking one human life for another can somehow balance the scales of justice."

The statement of the Washington State Catholic Conference said the Church's "consistent belief is that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death" has "has energized the Bishops' efforts for decades to abolish the death penalty."

There are three Catholic dioceses in the State of Washington: the Archdiocese of Seattle, headed by Archbishop Sartain, with two Auxiliary Bishops, Eusebio Elizondo and Daniel Mueggenburg; and the Dioceses of Spokane and Yakima, led by Bishop Thomas Daly and Bishop Joseph Tyson respectively.

The bill proposed in the state Senate would repeal legislation allowing the death penalty in Washington, "and require that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole become the sentence for aggravated first degree murder convictions."

The death penalty is legal in 30 US states and illegal in 20 states. A total of 25 death row inmates were executed in the US in 2018 - 23 by lethal injection and two by electrocution.

The Catholic Church has been increasingly opposed to the death penalty in recent years. On 2 August 2018, Pope Francis clarified the issue with the change of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible. Pope Francis said Church teaching now reflects "the doctrine of the latest Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of Christians who reject a penalty that seriously harms human dignity."

The Holy Father reiterated that the doctrine accepting the death penalty came from a "period that was more legalistic than Christian" which "ignored the primacy of mercy over justice". The Pope affirmed the Church's current teaching that "in the light of the Gospel, the death penalty is always inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person."

At the same time, an ongoing prison sentence that does not allow the moral rehabilitation of the person and his or her reinsertion into the community is a "hidden death", Pope Francis said. No one can be deprived either of life, or the hope of "redemption and reconciliation", he said.

Tags: Death Penalty, USA, Archbishop J Peter Sartain, Archbishop Sartain

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