By Tony Magliano
The crucifixion of Jesus should have been enough to convince humanity – at least all Christians – that capital punishment is not of God. One would think that the suffering endured by our Lord’s execution, would intuitively touch human hearts and convince society to reject the inhumanity of this ungodly practice.
The death penalty is raw, brutal punishment – especially when it’s directed at the innocent. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org), since 1973, 138 people in 26 U.S. states have been released from death row due to evidence of their innocence. The very real possibility of executing an innocent person is reason enough to ban capital punishment all together.
But there are also other strong reasons for ending the death penalty.
It is inhumane. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), of the 1,245 persons who have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, 1,071 have been killed through lethal injection, 157 through electrocution, 11 through use of gas chambers, three were shot to death by firing squads and three were hung.
Next, consider the cost. The DPIC states that it is far more expensive to taxpayers to complete the process of executing a person, as compared to keeping a person in prison for life. For example, “the California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life.” And the most comprehensive study in the U.S. found that capital punishment cost North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of sentencing murders to life imprisonment.
Now what about deterrence? According to the Death Penalty Information Center, when polled 88 percent of former and present presidents of the country’s top criminological societies reject the argument that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. And consistent with past years, the 2009 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the highest homicide rate in the country was in the south, even though the southern region of the U.S. accounts for 80 percent of executions. While the northeast region – with less than 1 percent of all executions – again had the nation’s lowest murder rate.
Since states allowing the death penalty clearly run the risk of killing an innocent person, and since capital punishment is far more expensive to taxpayers than life imprisonment, and since the death penalty does not deter murder, why do millions of Americans – including millions of Catholics – favor it?
The obvious answer is vengeance. It all comes down to raw, unholy vengeance.
But killing does not bring peace – forgiveness does. This is the lesson we can learn from Bud Welch. Before Timothy McVeigh – convicted of killing Welch’s daughter and 167 other people in Oklahoma City – was executed, Welch asked himself, “What does Bud Welch need to do to move on?” In reflection he realized that only forgiveness leads to reconciliation and healing.
He realized that executing McVeigh would be an act of vengeance and rage. “And vengeance and rage,” he concluded, “are the very reasons that Julie and the 167 others were killed.”
We all know that from the cross Jesus exclaimed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But what many still do not want to know, is the Lord’s profound lesson here, the lesson Bud Welch discovered: That only forgiveness leads to reconciliation and healing – a Good Friday lesson the whole world needs to learn!
Tony Magliano writes on issues of peace and social justice. His column is carried in diocesan newspapers across the United States.