by Henry Organ
National Black Catholic Congress
Articles and polls reveal that a significant percentage of Catholics support the death penalty, which has a disparate and adverse impact on African Americans, people of color and the poor. This support of the death penalty is due, in part, to a lack of enthusiastic opposition to it by the episcopacy. And, it is due, in part to a lack of clarity in Church doctrine, specifically, Section 2267 of the Catechism that relates to the Fifth Commandment: “You Shall Not Kill.”
Sr. Camille D’Arienzo, Sister of Mercy, recently interviewed Catherine Jarboe of Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, a ministry of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. (National Catholic Reporter, August 2, 2013) In that interview, Ms. Jarboe stated that Catholics are not well informed about the Church’s position against the death penalty. She states that “Catholic support for the use of the death penalty has dropped significantly to 48 percent.” In spite of the drop, from whatever it might have been, this percentage should still be an embarrassment, and a challenge, to the Church.
The wording of Section 2267, specifically the last paragraph, states:
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ’are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’”
Clearly, these words do not oppose the death penalty—absolutely! One case is too many to sanction the death penalty…