Yesterday, Attorney General William Barr decided to resume capital punishment at the federal level, scheduling five of them over the next two years, the first government-ordered executions in nearly 20 years.
It’s a horrific bit of news. The death penalty is barbaric, obviously irreversible, a waste of resources, and simply unjustifiable.
Besides the fact that a “pro-life” administration is eagerly bringing back the death penalty, some of the pushback came from Catholics who are furious that fellow believer Barr is doing something that violates the beliefs of the Church. After all, Barr is a member of the Knights of Columbus and worked for many groups including the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C, “National Catholics for McCain” and “Catholics for Romney.”
If he was so steeped in Catholicism before becoming attorney general, then why, critics ask, is he abandoning those principles now?
Here’s a statement from a representative for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
In 2015 Pope Francis, echoing the views of his predecessors, called for ‘the global abolition of the death penalty.’ He went on to state that, ‘[A] just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.’
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have echoed this call for many years, including their 2005 statement, “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” In light of these long held and strongly maintained positions, I am deeply concerned by the announcement by the United States Justice Department that it will once again turn, after many years, to the death penalty as a form of punishment, and urge instead that these Federal officials be moved by God’s love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the announced plans for executions.
Pope Francis made a similar statement last year when he called the death penalty an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Others also chimed in:
Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a national organization working to end the death penalty that works closely with the U.S.C.C.B. “The move by the administration to resume capital punishment after two decades is simply wrongheaded,” she said. “It promotes a culture of death rather than a culture of life. As Catholics, we’re unconditionally pro-life, and this move is an affront to the sanctity and sacredness of human life.”
I fully agree with those critics when it comes to the immorality of state-sanctioned executions, but let’s not forget an important point here. Barr shouldn’t make any decisions about the death penalty because the Catholic Church happens to feel a certain way about it. The pope’s opinions are irrelevant when it comes to public policy. Just because he happens to be right on this issue isn’t a reason for Barr to follow suit.
Barr should avoid the death penalty because it’s bad public policy. There’s all kinds of justification for that position. What he’s doing is cruel and inhumane — which, let’s admit, falls right in line with this Republican administration’s other policies — but he’s not wrong because his views go against the Catholic Church. He’s wrong because he’s just inflicting further vengeance into a justice system already full of it.
Not to mention the Catholic Church has enough problems as is. The last thing it needs is a closer association with a Republican whose job is to defend Donald Trump‘s worst actions.
(Screenshot via YouTube)