Many of us who consider the death penalty barbaric and unnecessary were cheering last week when Pope Francis ordered a change in what Catholics are taught about it. They now will be told that it is "inadmissable."
Among many others, an American group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty put out a statement of support for the change. It said: “The Pope’s announcement reflects what we are seeing in our work with conservative Catholics who increasingly understand the death penalty is a failed and unnecessary policy that does not value life and does nothing to make our society safer. We are grateful for the leadership of the Catholic Church, including Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in efforts to end the death penalty.”
If there is anything disappointing in the pope's action is that it took too long. Capital punishment is now inadmissable in almost every nation in the world. The exceptions put the U.S. in some bad company.
There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. Foremost among them in my mind is that sometimes the state gets it wrong and executes innocent people. But even when the state executes guilty people it lowers itself to the immoral level of the criminal.
Beyond that, of course, the death penalty cuts off any possibility of rehabilitation.
And one reason the conservative group I quoted above has come to work against capital punishment is that it is a far more expensive system than life imprisonment for those people who pose a continuing danger to society.
You would think that a religious tradition whose very Lord was a victim of capital punishment would have much earlier taken the lead in working toward its abolition everywhere.
Now that the pope has acted, perhaps other faith communities that continue to tolerate capital punishment will get on the right side of history.
(P.S.: Here's an interesting sidebar about what the pope's statement about capital punishment might mean for LGBTQ people.)
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MORMONS TO THE RESCUE?
Jana Reiss, an excellent writer who is also a Mormon, suggests a way here that Mormonism may come to the rescue of a badly divided U.S. It has to do with where Mormons worship. And I think she's on to something. Do you?