WASHINGTON -- After a three-year hiatus, Catholic teaching against the use of the death penalty in modern society has again found a place in the national resource materials for the U.S. bishops’ annual Respect Life Program.
A reflection titled “Divine Mercy and the Death Penalty,” by Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is one of seven featured articles in this year’s materials.
It is the first time since 2006 that church teaching against use of the death penalty has been one of the featured issues in the program. In the seven years before 2007, it was the topic of theme articles in 2006, 2005, 2003, 2001 and 2000.
In this year’s article, Finn cites Pope John Paul II’s dramatic pleas against the use of capital punishment, including his 1997 revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say that in most modern societies -- where the state has the capability of preventing dangerous criminals from doing further harm once it has captured and convicted them -- the cases where execution of the offender is absolutely necessary “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
Finn goes on to argue that the papal teaching is a minimum of justice; the Christian perspective of divine mercy adds an entirely new dimension to Christian opposition to use of the death penalty.
The Respect Life Program was inaugurated by the bishops in the spring of 1972. In the earliest years it focused on October as Respect Life Month and on the first Sunday of October as Respect Life Sunday in parishes across the country.
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While keeping those October focuses, it has evolved into a yearlong program, so that the national program materials offered late each summer serve as principal liturgical, educational and action resources from that October to the next in parishes, schools and other Catholic settings.
In its August newsletter, Catholics Against Capital Punishment pointed out that the three-year hiatus of materials on Catholic teaching on the death penalty was broken this year after Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston became chairman last November of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The committee coordinates the Respect Life Program.
For the previous three years, the committee was chaired by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.
Catholics Against Capital Punishment said it was encouraged by DiNardo’s election to chairmanship of the committee because he has personally spoken out against the death penalty in the past. The group wrote to him asking him to restore that issue to its former prominence among issues addressed by the yearly resource materials of the Respect Life Program.
The typical yearly program offers six to eight new reflections on respect for life. Issues relating to abortion always constitute one or two of the areas of focus.
Among others over the years (some often repeated) have been euthanasia, assisted suicide, universal health care, war, torture, poverty, embryonic research involving destruction of human embryos, healthy sex relations, artificial birth control, the dignity of those with disabilities, forgiveness of sins against life, and capital punishment.
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2010-2011 Respect Life Program
Catholics Against Capital Punishment