During the just concluded Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called for a moratorium on the death penalty throughout the world, declaring that rendering justice “does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender.” He declared that the system of penal justice must allow the guilty party’s reinsertion in society, because: “Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.”
In December the U.N. General Assembly is to vote on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty. Similar resolutions proposed in previous years have not passed, and it is unlikely that this year’s attempt will succeed. Most certainly the moratorium will not be supported by the United States, which is one of only 11 countries in the world to have carried out executions in the last five years, according to Amnesty International.
Despite the fact that that the death penalty is irreversible, that it clearly kills innocent people and also that there is no empirical evidence to show that it is an effective deterrent, 31 U.S. states and the federal government still use capital punishment. In Europe only one state retains it – Belarus. Three states had referenda on the ballot this November: California voted not only to keep the death penalty but to expedite the court process for it; Nebraska voted to overturn a previous ban on the use of the death penalty; and in Oklahoma voters approved the use of any method of execution that is not banned by the U.S. Constitution.
Especially for Christians, whose faith is centered on Christ’s unjust execution, there is surely an obligation to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty which denies the condemned the right to life and the opportunity to reform. It is to be hoped that just as Francis has spoken out against its use, Christians, especially those with public platforms in the United States, will do likewise.
[Audrey Wells a member of the management committee of Action by Christians Against Torture in the United Kingdom and coordinates the group's campaigns against the death penalty.]