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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

In his final opinion column appearing in the Nov. 10 issue of the News Herald, Deacon James Toner writes about reconsidering his longtime position against the death penalty, citing authors who have convinced him that executing a person convicted of capital crime, whether guilty or not, “...plays a vital role in upholding human dignity and promoting a culture of life.” This view, anchored in society’s traditional clamor for revenge and execution, has been argued as the only way to keep the public safe.

Toner: Column conclusions and a farewell

Thank goodness our Church is an evolving Christian community. It’s modern popes, bishops and advocates for Catholic social teaching who recognize that today’s prisons can hold convicted murderers for life.

Twelve years ago, the dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh spoke forcefully against the use of the death penalty in North Carolina. Our bishops called for a two-year moratorium on executions so as to study the arbitrary and unfair nature of who gets death and who does not. The moratorium continues to this day.

In his May 3, 2005, letter to the faithful the Diocese of Charlotte, Bishop Peter Jugis wrote, “The Church’s teaching on the death penalty is based on the principle that all human life is sacred, made in the image and likeness of God. If the innocent of society can be protected from aggressors with non-lethal means, then indeed, such means are preferable to the use of lethal force. Modern society has the resources to separate the violent offender from society and protect the innocent, a choice that also gives the violent offender the opportunity to reflect on wrongdoings and seek a path to redemption.”

Since these remarks, support for the death penalty and across the nation continues to drop. People have become educated on the uneven and costly application of the death penalty. One aspect not addressed in Deacon Toner’s commentary concerns a built-in racial bias in the state’s judicial system. Two prominent studies from Michigan State University have concluded that those who kill a white person are 2.6 times more likely to be executed than those who kill a black person.

Capital punishment is a pro-life issue. It is a controversial one with many sides. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established the Catholic Mobilizing Network for Catholics to learn more about the death penalty and restorative justice. Visit www.catholicsmobilizing.org or call 202-541-5290.

George Burazer lives in Charlotte.