IOWA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ STATEMENT ON DEATH PENALTY
February 4, 1998
We speak in opposition to the death penalty and its possible reinstatement in Iowa.
We challenge the people of Iowa, especially our own Catholic faithful, to examine the issue of capital punishment in the light of basic moral and religious values. After further review and in light of current discussions and initiatives, we speak more strongly than ever against the death penalty.
We dare to take this position and we raise this challenge because of our commitment to a consistent ethic of life, by which we wish to give unambiguous witness to the sacredness of every human life from conception through natural death. We proclaim the good news that no person is beyond the redemptive mercy of God.
The recently updated and definitive edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, released September 9, 1997, includes stronger language against the death penalty to reflect the teachings of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). The new language in the Catechism states that recourse to the death penalty is not excluded “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” The Catechism then affirms strongly that “today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime…the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent'” (paragraph 2267).
The United States Catholic Conference, responding to the situation in our country, has for more than 30 years opposed the use of capital punishment. The Iowa Catholic Conference hereby reaffirms that position. We oppose the death penalty in any form, even a “limited” death penalty.
We oppose reinstatement of the death penalty to send a message that we can break the cycle of violence, that we need not take life for life.
We oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty to manifest our belief in the unique worth and dignity of each person, made in the image and likeness of God.
We oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty to give further testimony of our conviction that God is indeed the Lord of life.
We oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty to follow the example of Jesus, who both taught and practiced the forgiveness of injustice.
We find certain difficulties inherent in the use of capital punishment:
- Use of the death penalty extinguishes possibilities for reform, rehabilitation, and compensation for evil done.
- Use of capital punishment involves the possibility of innocent persons being executed.
- The legal imposition of capital punishment in our society involves a long and costly process.
- The criminal, his/her family and loved ones, and those who perform or witness the execution suffer great and unavoidable anguish.
- Executions attract enormous publicity, much of it unhealthy, stir considerable acrimony in public discussion, and may even increase the level of violence in society.
We affirm that there is a special need to offer sympathy and support for the victims of violent crime and their families. Our society should not flinch from contemplating the suffering that violent crimes brings to so many when it destroys lives, shatters families and crushes the hope of the innocent.
Recognition of this suffering should not lead to demands for vengeance, but to a firm resolution that help be given to the victims of crime and that justice be done fairly and swiftly.
We urge our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as all people of good will, to remember the teachings of Jesus, who called us to be reconciled with those who have injured us (Mt. 5:43-45) and to pray for forgiveness for our sins “as we forgive those who have sinned against us” (Mt. 6:12). We call on you to contemplate the crucified Christ who sent us the supreme example of forgiveness and of the triumph of compassionate love.