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PhotoDeera Square is a public space located in front of the Religious Police building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which public executions (usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as Justice Square and colloquially called Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head is stitched to the body which is wrapped up and taken away for the final rites.
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The execution rates between 2015-2018 are amongst the highest recorded in the Kingdom since the 1990s and coincide with the ascension of king Salman to the t…

U.S.: What does Pope's death penalty shift mean for Catholic politicians?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis earned a standing ovation when he told Congress in 2015 that he supports protecting human life "at every stage of its development." When he added that "this conviction" includes working to end the death penalty, the response was far more subdued.

"You didn't see people jumping up and clapping," said John Carr, who was in the room, and is director of Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

For decades, Catholic politicians who support capital punishment, including the senators and representatives in the chamber that day, had an "out" when it comes to church teaching: The Catholic Catechism, the church's book of moral and religious teachings, had allowed the use of capital punishment in certain cases. Any other opinions, even the Pope's, were just that, opinions, and not necessarily binding on Catholic consciences.

But that is no longer the case, the Vatican announced on Thursday.

At the Pope's direction, the Catholic Catechism has been revised, and now calls the death penalty "inadmissible." While years in coming, the shift raises new questions about how politicians, particularly conservative Catholics in red states, will navigate the church's revised stance.

"Pope Francis has said several times that he considers the death penalty inadmissible," said John Thavis, former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service. "Now, however, he has enshrined it in official Catholic teaching. That's going to make it much more difficult for politicians to dismiss this teaching as 'the Pope's opinion.'"

The church's shifting position on capital punishment may even arise later this year when the Senate holds confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, a federal judge and faithful Catholic whom President Donald Trump has nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court.

"It's hard to side-step this issue now that it's definitive church teaching," said John Gehring, a Catholic writer and Catholic Program Director at the liberal-leaning group Faith in Public Life.

"I think there is a proper and respectful way to ask Kavanaugh how his understanding of faith and morality intersects with his judicial views."

"I suspect that the matter will come up," agreed Richard Garnett, a professor at the University of Notre Dame's law school. "I'm not optimistic that any senator's question will reflect any serious engagement with, or understanding of, what Pope Francis actually did, but ... I expect it will come up."

If confirmed, Kavanaugh would be the 5th Catholic on the Supreme Court, which regularly opines on death penalty cases and hears requests for stays of execution. (It is unclear whether Neil Gorsuch, who was raised a Catholic but has worshiped in Episcopal Churches, identifies with either tradition.)

The death penalty was a controversial subject during the Senate's confirmation hearings last year for Amy Coney Barrett, who now serves on the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Noting an article Barrett wrote examining whether Catholic judges should recuse themselves from capital punishment cases, Sen. Dianne Feinstein famously said, "The dogma lives loudly within you."

Quiet conservatives

Among Americans, 54% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May. Among Catholics, the survey found that 53% of Catholics favor capital punishment, while 42% oppose it.

Death penalty opponents celebrated the Vatican's announcement, calling it the culmination of years of planning and work, while hoping it could change more attitudes among lay Catholics.

"For people in the pews, it is a challenge to actively build a culture of life by abolishing the death penalty, especially in the 31 states that still have it on the books in this country," said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, who leads Catholic Mobilizing Network, an anti-death penalty group.

Many conservative Catholics, meanwhile, were mostly quiet on Thursday. Several prominent legal and political figures did not respond immediately for comment. But in the past, several Catholic governors had said that the Catechism gave them leeway to enforce the death penalty.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state overwhelmingly supports capital punishment according to polls, told journalists in 2014 that there's no conflict between his Catholic faith and state law on the issue.

"Catholic doctrine is not against the death penalty, and so there is no conflict there," he said.

Likewise, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is Catholic and lobbied against a state ban on the death penalty, has said capital punishment can be justified.

"The Catholic Church does not preclude the use of the death penalty under certain circumstances: That guilt is determined and the crime is heinous. Also, protecting society," Ricketts said in 2015.

Abbott and Ricketts' offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent opponent of capital punishment, called on Ricketts to fall in line with the Pope and cancel planned executions.

Nebraska's 3 Catholic bishop echoed Prejean's call to cancel the execution and urged Catholics and others to lobby state officials.

"Simply put, the death penalty is no longer needed or morally justified in Nebraska," the bishops said.

What the Catechism says now

"Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good," the Catechism will now say.

But an "increasing awareness" that criminals don't lose their human dignity, a "new understanding" of prison systems and the development of "effective systems of detention" have led the church, under Pope Francis, to revise its official views, the Vatican said.

"The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," the Catechism will now say.

Does all of this mean that Catholic politicians will immediately switch positions on the death penalty?

Don't bet on it, said Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

"The death penalty teaching may be observed or ignored, as is the abortion teaching, even though both are about killing," Alvare wrote in an email.

"Politicians of any religion seem to variously ignore, observe both as a matter of consistency, or take inconsistent positions!"

Source: CNN, August 3, 2017

Cardinal Cupich wishes Scalia had lived to see pope's new death penalty teaching

Cardinal Blase Cupich said Thursday that he wishes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had lived to see Pope Francis say the death penalty is wrong in all cases.

The exchange about Scalia, a conservative Supreme Court justice and devout Catholic who ruled and spoke in favor of the death penalty, capped an exchange on the legal and theological implications of the punishment between Cupich and 3 legal experts who oppose the death penalty.

The panel discussion, part of the American Bar Association's annual meeting in Chicago this week, came just hours after Pope Francis announced that the catechism of the Catholic Church would declare the death penalty always "inadmissible".

Previously, the church had taught that the death penalty could be used in rare instances when no other way of deterring a violent criminal was available.

Cupich was responding to a Scalia quote read by the panel's moderator, Ronald J. Tabak, the chair of the ABA's death penalty committee, in which Scalia suggested that Christian societies, confident in eternal life, tended to be more comfortable with the death penalty than secular societies.

"Would that he had lived to be here today, to see what the pope has done, because I think it would cause him to rethink that," Cupich said.

"I think that his understanding of salvation has great limitations. It's an atomistic view of salvation, that is, as individuals," Cupich said. "God saves a people. God doesn't just save by individuals. How is it that we integrate human beings into society, especially those at the margins? That's the question we should be posing here."

Cupich's concerns about the implications of the death penalty for social justice jibed with the concerns of the legal experts, who described a justice system that preyed on those least likely to get a fair trial, including the mentally ill and racial minorities.

The waning ranks of death row inmates are filled with "the most vulnerable, not the worst of the worst," said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Cupich said he believed that the church's categorical opposition to the death penalty could reinforce its teaching on abortion.

"Erasing the innate value of individual lives because of crimes committed, and removing such criminals from the human family, is an echo of the violence done to human dignity when pro-choice advocates imply that the life developing in the womb is not 'real human' life," Cupich said.

Cupich and his fellow panelists discussed death row "volunteers," who decline appeals and go willingly to their executions. Cupich encountered such a case as the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota.

"He wanted to die, his life was so terrible. When I spoke about it, I said, what we have here isn't the death penalty. We have state-assisted suicide," Cupich said.

Cupich said he understood some Catholics would struggle with the church's teaching on the death penalty due to "a desire to restore the order of justice that has been so viciously violated."

"But there is a flaw in that way of thinking," Cupich said. "When the state imposes the death penalty, it proclaims that taking one human life counterbalances the taking of another life. This is profoundly mistaken."

Source:  Chicago Sun Times, August 3, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
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