My Opposition to the Death Penalty in Contemporary America

I was recently offered a polite challenge to my opposition to the death penalty, and on the spot I did not spell it out well. My current thinking is based on three considerations

Social. In a former age, the criminal guilty of a capital crime was, in my opinion, more guilty of his outrageous behavior. Within my lifetime, however, the educational, judicial, and political systems have become more complicit in these crimes. The legal system has expelled religion and religious morality from the public school system in which the vast majority of American youth are educated. To paraphrase Romans 10:14ff, how can we expect people to believe and to do what is right if we do not instruct them? Public education has not only become complicit but teaches an intellectual and moral vacuum in which there is no objective truth, everything is subjective and there are no moral absolutes. Yes, the natural law is still written in the heart of every person, but the dominant cultural forces are combined to treat the silent entreaties in the heart as old fashioned taboos. The judicial system still permits the killing of the most innocent citizens at will; in fact such permission to kill the innocent is a foundation of the current Democratic Party. This combination has given us a culture that is toxic to basic morality. As Dostoyevsky had one of characters say, “If there is no God, you can do anything.” Thus society at large has to bear the burden of the humane imprisonment of those who commit capital crimes.

Repentance. I publish a rosary booklet (The Seven Day Bible Rosary) and offer it free to prisoners. I have distributed hundreds of these and have received only one letter saying “I didn’t do it,” and that was from a man on death row. Another death row prisoner made no such comment. Others have told me specifically that being sent to prison was the best thing that has ever happened to them. Without being specific, they admit that they had been living sinful lives. Now they are reading a Catholic newspaper in which I advertise and asking for something to help them pray the rosary. Some of these have had their first encounter with the Catholic faith in prison; others were raised in Catholic families but ignored what they were taught. Some have told me that it has taken years for them to get to this stage of repentance. Life imprisonment gives some prisoners the time they need to repent and grow in holiness.

Spiritual warfare. There is a spiritual warfare going on between the Lord Jesus and Satan for every person. Jesus gave his life for my sins, the sins of everyone who reads this, and also for the sins of every other sinner, some of whose sins are not only very serious but also public knowledge. I do not want Satan to win any of these battles— which he might do if some criminals are put to death before they repent.

The bottom line: Please join many prisoners who are praying the rosary every day as Our Lady of Fatima has asked us to do—for world peace, for the conversion of Russia, and for the conversion of sinners all throughout the world. I can hear it already, “Those folks have nothing but time on their hands but I am too busy.” It is a rare day when a person who wants to honor Mary’s request cannot find the time to do so. The daily commute provides many with plenty of rosary time. And the list of opportunities goes on.
The above was first written November 27, 2015. Obviously, I am in great agreement with some of the thinking of Pope Francis.

However, when he changes the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect this, I have to interpret that in the way stated by a Dominican theologian who says the changed text is a pastoral statement, not a matter of doctrine. That is, it may be considered widely applicable in developed economies which have prisons in which inmates can live out a lifelong sentence. That may not hold true in some developing countries that would have a very hard time providing food, shelter, medical attention, and sufficient security for a life-sentenced criminal. It may not always hold true even in developed countries when a convicted murderer manages to murder one of his guards. Perhaps the certainty of a death at a certain date might help such a person prepare to meet his Creator and Judge.
—John F. Kippley, August 5, 2018,

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