August 2, 2020 - Archdiocese of Boston Statement on the recent Boston Marathon bombing death penalty decision; Cardinal's previous July 24 blog post on executions

News August 3, 2020

“While we have not analyzed the details of the recent court decision we acknowledge that it has brought considerable further pain to the families and loved ones of those lost in the Marathon bombing and all the victims of that deliberate attack on innocent people. Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice. The incomprehensible suffering of so many caused by this heinous crime should appropriately be met with a sentence of imprisonment for life with no possibility of parole. We will continue to honor the memory of the Martin Richard, Krystle Marie Campbell, Lü Lingzi, Sean A. Collier and Dennis Simmonds and the hundreds who suffered devastating injuries by a renewed commitment to root out violence and evil in our society by way of solidarity with Jesus’ call to love one another.” 

From the Cardinal's July 24, 2020 blog post on the issue of federal executions:

As Catholics, our commitment to life is at the center of our Social Gospel. Of course, this begins with the defense of life in the womb, but ours is a consistent life ethic, meaning that we stand in defense of human life whenever it is threatened or vulnerable. There may be other groups that are pro-abortion and against the death penalty, or vice versa, but the Catholic Church stands in defense of all human life — particularly where life is most vulnerable and least valued by society.

Part of our commitment to life expresses itself in the Church’s opposition to the death penalty, which, in the past, was tolerated as a form of societal self-defense. However, particularly since Pope John Paul II, the Church’s position has been that, in the modern world, life is too precious to be taken by the state, particularly when it is possible to adequately incarcerate dangerous criminals and isolate them from society.

In the United States, I think we have seen that the death penalty has often been applied unevenly against the poor and minority groups and, at times, it has even been mistakenly imposed — people have been executed, and afterward, it is discovered that they were innocent. Of course, there is no way to redress that wrong.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that still imposes has the death penalty. In fact, when Pope Francis made his very eloquent address to the joint session of Congress in 2015, the Holy Father chose to speak on this particular aspect of the Church’s commitment to the sacredness of life.

In the past week, the executions of three men were carried out by the authority of the federal government of the United States. Prior to these three deaths, there had been a welcome reprieve of the policy of federally authorized executions for major crimes. A year ago, the policy was reinstituted and the deaths of the past week are the first consequences of that action.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement of June 30, 2020, called upon the Administration not to proceed with the policy of relying on executions as a method of law enforcement. The U.S. Bishops were echoing the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis in opposing the death penalty.

My long-standing opposition to capital punishment follows from the pro-life ministry of the Church. At all times, in all circumstances, Church teaching upholds respect and protection of every person’s life from conception to natural death. Whenever human life is threatened in any way, the Church is called to stand in defense of life.

Legitimizing the death penalty fails to recognize that our nation has the means and capacity to provide safety and security for all without eroding the respect for life that is essential for a morally sound society. We must share the pain, anguish, and suffering of those whose family, loved ones, and friends have been the victims of murder and other violent crimes. Rejection of the death penalty calls us to implement alternatives that acknowledge the victims’ suffering and assure our citizens of justice and their safety.

As we consider the ongoing national death penalty debate, it is important to also acknowledge that, in recent years, as a country, we have come to recognize that many people have been unjustly accused of serious crimes. More than 20 people sentenced to the death penalty have been exonerated by DNA evidence, which is only available for a fraction of capital punishment cases. The issue of crime and appropriate punishment goes beyond the death penalty, and requires further public attention, especially with regard to sentencing and the high rate of incarceration among minority communities in the United States.

In 2018, Pope Francis added the opposition to the death penalty to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and at a meeting with the International Commission Against the Death Penalty affirmed that every life is sacred, holding up the primacy of mercy over justice. The Pope shared with the Commission 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. It is my prayer that our nation can recognize the truth of the Holy Father’s words.