Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The soft-sell on ending the death penalty

Glad to see that bishops of the United States have reaffirmed their opposition to the use of the death penalty, arguing that the U.S. cannot "teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill." The statement follows on a new episcopal initiative to end the use of the death penalty in the U.S., inaugurated by the bishops to build on the declining support among American Catholics for capital punishment, less than 50 percent of whom think it should be used.

The USCCB press release goes on to acknowledge that because "people of goodwill can disagree on [capital punishment], the bishops encourage engagement and dialogue, not judgment and condemnation, in the hope of leading others to a reexamination and conversion." They go on to say they don't expect any big legislative or legal action to end the death penalty but, according to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chair of the bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee, "Rather, it will wither away in the daily and individual choices of prosecutors and legislators, judges and jurors and ordinary Catholics and others."

That seems reasonable to me; what puzzles me is that the bishops don't apply the same approach to other pro-life issues that are a little grayer. No one disputes that a Death Row inmate is a human person, but many across the scientific and religious spectrum wonder whether a newly conceived embryo is fully a person. While I think that the Catholic position on this question is the strongest and most reasonable, a softer sell on abortion might be more effective at winning hearts and minds than denying Democrats communion or seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet "judgment and condemnation" is often all we hear from Catholic bishops and other pro-life advocates when it comes to abortion.

Just a thought.


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