By Associates Sandy Figueroa and Bill Hurley
“Dignity and the Death Penalty” was the title of a webinar discussion featuring Cardinal Wilton Gregory and Sr. Helen Prejean. Both are strong proponents of eliminating the death penalty in all states. The purpose of their discussion was to ask viewers to open conversations in our communities and parishes. Associates Sandy Figueroa and Bill Hurley viewed the webinar and decided to share their thoughts in this blog post.
We heard that to be “pro-life” as Catholics we must support life from conception through material death. Our efforts must be all inclusive in our opposition to abortion, death penalty, euthanasia and death by gun violence. As Catholics we can’t pick and choose. If we do generate discussions we should start with prayer, develop dialogue and discuss in Christian charity, try to listen and most important remember to be tender.
Regarding the death penalty we heard that Jesus is all merciful, and who among us does not hope to receive that mercy? As human beings we have no special gifts to determine who deserves that mercy and when. All of us are sinners. Sometimes it takes years to recognize our sin and seek God’s forgiveness. Who are we to deny others the time needed before death to seek mercy? What about the “Good Thief” on Christ’s right? If his crucifixion had occurred earlier, would he have been ready to ask for forgiveness? Do we have any right to deny someone eternity in heaven? As Christians we also know that if we forgive, we give up the right to punish.
Our Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty can only be applied to persons committing the worst of all crimes, yet they give no strict structure. We all know that prosecutors seeking higher office brag as to the number of convictions with the death penalty attached that they have won. Have all such convictions been for the worst of the worst crimes? We also know that ninety percent of death penalty convictions are Blacks who killed whites.
Sister Helen had spoken of restorative justice and looking at the person and circumstances that caused the person to commit the crime. Where is the victim in determining punishment? Both the victim and the person who committed the crime need healing. Healing will never take place if the person who committed the crime is executed. In some cases, the victim may not want to add to the violence and death of another person.
Both Cardinal Gregory and Sister Helen asked us to look at alternatives to the death penalty and to look at the criminal justice in the United States. Listening to both of them, we can only wonder that with all the research, education, and advocacy for the perpetrator and victim of the crime, our country has not moved very much towards restorative justice, reconciliation, and healing. We still have a long way to go!