"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope's call to Congress to abolish death penalty comes at a critical moment

Pope Francis's bold statement arrived as several US states are preparing to restart the controversial practice after several months of hiatus

Pope Francis's unequivocal call in his speech before Congress for the death penalty to be abolished in the US comes at a critical moment in the history of the ultimate punishment, with several states preparing to restart the controversial practice after several months of interlude.

The pontiff's bold statement on Thursday could not be misconstrued: he told the assembled members of Congress that he wanted to see the "global abolition of the death penalty".

He rooted his opposition in fundamental moral ground, saying the conviction stemmed from his belief that "every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes".

A total of 1,414 prisoners have been executed in the US since the modern death penalty started in 1976. Overall, the practice has been on the wane since its peak in 1999 when 98 prisoners were killed - last year that number fell to 35.

But though the wind of change is blowing against US capital punishment, a group of states, mainly in the south, continue to adhere doggedly to the contentious penalty. In June, the US supreme court in effect removed barriers to carrying out executions when it gave the go-ahead for the use of a controversial drug, midazolam, in death protocols - thus clearing a legal barrier that had been holding states back for several months.

Now the death penalty rump is cranking back in to executions with renewed vigor. Between now and the end of October, 11 executions are scheduled in seven states - Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. It was within that context that the pope delivered his forthright words. Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center said that Francis commanded significant influence.

"People's views about the death penalty are affected by a number of different things - concern for the innocent, racial discrimination, cost. But they also have moral views about the death penalty and statements by the pope and other religious figures are influential in changing beliefs," Dunham said.

While the most heated debate over the criminal justice system is reserved for the death penalty, the pope also vented his dismay over another extreme judicial practice in the US - the meting out of life without parole sentences. Otherwise called "life means life" sentences, this involves committing convicted prisoners essentially to remain behind bars for the rest of their natural life.

The pontiff said he opposed the sentence because it removed all hope from the prisoner. "A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation," he said.

The US is the only country in the world that still sentences juveniles under 18 to life without parole, with some 2,500 people currently serving that sentence for crimes they committed as a child. As the ACLU has also reported, there are more than 3,000 prisoners of all ages who have been sentenced never to be set free for non-violent offenses that in one case included stealing a jacket valued at $159.

Source: The Guardian, September 24, 2015


Cruz takes exception to pope on death penalty

Senator Ted Cruz
Senator Ted Cruz
GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz said he disagrees with Pope Francis' call Thursday to abolish the death penalty, calling the use of capital punishment a "recognition of the preciousness of human life."

In an interview with POLITICO shortly after the pope's historic address to Congress, the Texas senator said he respects Francis' views and the Catholic Church's teachings on the issue, but "as a policy matter, I do not agree."

"I spent a number of years in law enforcement dealing with some of the worst criminals, child rapists and murderers, people who've committed unspeakable acts," Cruz said. "I believe the death penalty is a recognition of the preciousness of human life, that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply."

Cruz also said that whether the death penalty should be in place is an issue that should be left up to each state.

Though Francis touched on several hot-button policy issues during his speech to lawmakers, one of his sharpest messages came on the topic of the death penalty. He called for its "global abolition" and arguing that any punishment should never preclude the chance for rehabilitation.

"I am convinced that this way is the best," Francis said. "Since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes."

Source: politico.com, Sept. 24, 2015


Pope Francis wouldn't have to call for ending the death penalty in most developed nations

Pope Francis addresses U.S. Congress
Pope Francis addresses U.S. Congress
Pope Francis, in his speech to Congress on Thursday, renewed his call for the US to end its use of the death penalty.

"The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development," Francis said in his prepared remarks. "This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes."

But if Francis were in almost any other developed country, he wouldn't need to make this call - because the US is the only developed nation, with the exception of a few in Asia, that still allows and actively uses the death penalty.

The death penalty is abolished in most of the developed world.

In fact, it is the rest of the developed world's opposition to the death penalty that is now making it more difficult to carry out executions in the US: Over the past several years, states have had trouble obtaining drugs used for lethal injections in large part due to a European ban on exporting the drugs and abolitionists' work in European countries to get companies to stop selling the drugs for execution purposes.

But states continue pushing on with the death penalty, sometimes relying on untried drugs like midazolam, and resulting in several botched executions over the past couple of years.

So Francis is left calling for the abolition of the death penalty in the US through a moral argument - one that sounds a lot like the reasoning conservative lawmakers in the US use to speak out against abortion rights. Of course, these same conservative lawmakers are more likely to support the death penalty in the first place - so it's clear whom the pope was trying to appeal to in his speech.

Source: vox.com, Sept. 24, 2015

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