Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty

BY: 
There were two state-sanctioned executions in the United States on September 21, 2011. In Georgia, Troy Anthony Davis, an African American man, was put to death for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. In Texas, Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist, was executed for his participation in the racist hate crime dragging murder of James Byrd in Jasper in 1998. As theologians, scholars, and social justice advocates who participate in the public discussion of Catholic theology, we protest the state-sanctioned killings of both of these men, and we call for the abolition of the death penalty in the US.
Davis’ execution is particularly troubling for it shines a stark light upon many longstanding concerns about capital punishment in the US. We mourn the death of Officer MacPhail and express our deepest sympathies to his family for their tragic loss. However, we believe that a grave miscarriage of justice took place with Davis’ execution. As many legal experts have pointed out, including former FBI Director and federal judge and prosecutor William S. Sessions, serious doubt remains about Davis’ guilt. Until his last breath he maintained his innocence. The failure of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, a Federal Appeals Judge, the Georgia Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court to grant Davis a new trial reveals a deeply flawed justice system. We therefore call upon lawmakers and President Obama to immediately repeal the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which created the legal conditions for executing a man whose guilt was not established beyond reasonable doubt.
Even those who do not share our faith convictions ought to recognize, as Justice William J.  Brennan put it, “the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are innocent.” The horrific legacy of lynching in the US casts its evil shadow over current application of the death penalty. Studies have shown that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty. In many states with capital punishment, defendants are from 3 to 5 times more likely to be executed if their victim was white. In states that retain the death penalty, 98 percent of district attorneys are white and only 1 percent are black. Execution is also irrevocable, and innocent people have likely been victims of it. Since 1973, 138 persons have been exonerated from death row, most of whom were people of color and economically poor.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that “the sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity…Its application is deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors, and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation, and where the crime was committed. We have other ways to punish criminals and protect society.” In earlier eras, Roman Catholic tradition acknowledged the necessity of capital punishment, in rare cases, to protect citizens from threats to the common good. In recent times, with more secure prison facilities that give us the means to offer such protection without executions, our church leaders have affirmed the need to eradicate the death penalty.
There are, moreover, theological reasons for this stance, and here we speak especially to our sisters and brothers in faith. In calling for the abolition of the “cruel and unnecessary” death penalty, Blessed Pope John Paul II argued that “[t]he new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” Our theological tradition recalls that our Lord Jesus Christ was unjustly and brutally nailed to a cross to die. The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth put the matter this way: “Now that Jesus Christ has been nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, how can we still use the thought of expiation to establish the death penalty?” The Eucharistic celebration calls Catholics to remember all crucified people, including the legacy of lynching, in light of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His Gospel message of forgiveness and love of enemies presents a difficult challenge, especially to those who have lost loved ones at the hands of a murderer. Yet, the Gospel teaches us how to become fully human: love, not hatred and revenge, liberates us. We need to forgive and love both in fidelity to the Gospel and for our own well-being. The experience of groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, who advocate against the death penalty, attests to this.
Therefore, in concert with our recent popes and bishops, we oppose the death penalty, whether a person on death row is guilty or innocent, on both theological and practical grounds. While we especially deplore and lament the killing of Troy Davis, we also decry the death sentences of the more than 3,200 inmates on death row and the 1,268 executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. We urge our nation to abolish capital punishment, and we also implore our churches to work unwaveringly to end it as well as all other threats to human life and dignity.
Signed:
1. Gerald J. Beyer, Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Saint Joseph’s University
2. Alexander Mikulich, Research Fellow, Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans
3. Emily Reimer-Barry, Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
4. Tobias Winright, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University
5. Maria Pilar Aquino, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
6. Karen Teel, Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
7. Gerard Mannion, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
8. Meghan Clark, Assistant Professor of Theology, Saint John’s University (NY)
9. Dana Dillon, Assistant Professor of Theology, Providence College
10. Charles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Fordham University
11. Julie Hanlon Rubio, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Saint Louis University
12. Stephen B. Wilson, Associate Professor of Theology, Spring Hill College
13. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., Associate Professor of Biology, Providence College
14. Kathryn Getek Soltis, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Villanova University
15. Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology & Culture, University of Dayton
16. Jana Bennett, Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics, University of Dayton
17. Terrence W. Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, Professor of Catholic Theology, Fordham University
18. M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College
19. Todd David Whitmore, Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
20. John Sniegocki, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Xavier University
21. Nancy M. Rourke, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Canisius College
22. James F. Keenan, SJ, Founders Professor in Theology, Boston College
23. Nancy Dallavalle, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Fairfield University
24. John Inglis, Professor of Philosophy, Cross-Appointed in Religious Studies, University of Dayton
25. Dennis Doyle, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
26. Nancy Pineda-Madrid, Assistant Professor of Theology, Boston College
27. Daniel C. Maguire, Professor of Moral Theology, Marquette University
28. Anthony J. Godzieba, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, Villanova University
29. J. Milburn Thompson, Professor of Theology, Bellarmine University
30. Susan Paulik Babka, Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
31. Holly Taylor Coolman, Assistant Professor of Theology, Providence College
32. Kelly Johnson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
33. David O’Brien, University Professor of Faith & Culture, University of Dayton
34. Ronald Modras, Professor of Theology, Saint Louis University
35. Edwin L. Lisson, SJ, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Saint Louis University
36. John F. Kavanaugh, SJ, Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
37. June-Ann Greeley, Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, Fairfield University
38. Jennifer Beste, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Xavier University
39. Elena Procario-Foley, Driscoll Professor of Jewish-Catholic Studies, Iona College
40. Carl Procario-Foley, Director, Center for Campus Ministries, Iona College
41. Daniel Finn, Professor of Theology and Professor of Economics, St. John’s University (MN)
42. Bryan N. Massingale, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Marquette University
43. Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Co-President, Pax Christi International
44. James T. Bretzke, SJ, Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
45. Maura Ryan, John Cardinal O’Hara CSC Assoc Prof of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame
46. Francine Cardman, Assoc Prof of Historical Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
47. Dolores L. Christie, Independent Scholar
48. Daniel P. Horan, OFM, Franciscan Friar, Holy Name Province (New York)
49. MT Dávila, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Andover Newton Theological School
50. John Renard, Professor of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University
51. Laurie Johnston, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Emmanuel College
52. Nicholas P. Cafardi, Dean Emeritus & Professor of Law, Duquesne University School of Law
53. Christopher Pramuk, Assistant Professor of Theology, Xavier University
54. Bruce T. Morrill, SJ, Edward A. Malloy Prof of Catholic Studies, Vanderbilt Univ Divinity School
55. Matthew A. Shadle, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, Loras College
56. Michael E. Lee, Associate Professor of Theology, Fordham University
57. Kenneth Parker, Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Saint Louis University
58. Mary Dunn, Assistant Professor of Modern Christianity, Saint Louis University
59. James Caccamo, Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Saint Joseph’s University
60. Most Rev. John Michael Botean, DD, Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George, Canton, OH
61. Ronald Mercier, SJ, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Saint Louis University
62. Thomas J. Reese, SJ, Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University
63. David Cloutier, Associate Professor of Theology, Mount Saint Mary’s University
64. Thomas Massaro, SJ, Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
65. M. Therese Lysaught, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Marquette University
66. Randall S. Rosenberg, CSJ Endowed Chair in Catholic Thought, Fontbonne University
67. Vincent M. Smiles, Professor of Theology, College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University (MN)
68. David Meconi, SJ, Assistant Professor of Patristic Theology, Saint Louis University
69. Mark J. Allman, Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Merrimack College
70. Susan A. Ross, Professor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago
71. Christine Firer Hinze, Professor of Theology, Fordham University
72. Brian W. Hughes, Associate Professor of Theology, University of Saint Mary
73. Tim Muldoon, Assistant to the Vice President for University Mission & Ministry, Boston College
74. Carey Walsh, Associate Professor of Theology, Villanova University
75. Maureen O’Connell, Associate Professor of Theology, Fordham University
76. William T. Cavanaugh, Professor of Catholic Studies, DePaul University
77. Paul Lakeland, Alloysius P. Kelley SJ Professor of Catholic Studies, Fairfield University
78. Bradford Hinze, Professor of Theology, Fordham University
79. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College
80. John Langan, SJ, Cardinal Bernardin Chair in Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University
81. William L. Portier, Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology, University of Dayton
82. Paulette Skiba, BVM, Professor of Religious Studies, Clarke University
83. John R. T. Berkman, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Regis College, Univ. of Toronto
84. Michael Patella, OSB, Professor of Theology, Saint John’s School of Theology-Seminary
85. Una M. Cadegan, Associate Professor of History, University of Dayton
86. James B. Ball, Associate Professor of Theology, Saint Mary’s University (TX)
87. Mary Jo Iozzio, Professor of Moral Theology, Barry University
88. Christopher Steck, SJ, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Georgetown University
89. Beth Haile, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, Carroll College
90. J. Matthew Ashley, Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
91. Franklin T. Harkins, Assistant Professor of Theology & Medieval Studies, Fordham University
92. Angela Kim Harkins, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Fairfield University
93. Joseph A. McCartin, Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University
94. Anthony B. Smith, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
95. Lisa Sowle Cahill, Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College
96. Joe Holland, Professor of Philosophy & Religion, St. Thomas University
97. Dorian Llywelyn, SJ, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
98. G. Simon Harak, SJ, Director, Marquette University Center for Peacemaking
99. Mary Doak, Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
100. Stephen Schneck, Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, Catholic University of America
101. Stephen E. Lammers, Helen H.P. Manson Prof. of the English Bible, Lafayette College
102. Christopher P. Vogt, Assoc Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, St. John’s University (NY)
103. Teresa Delgado, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Iona College
104. Otto Hentz, SJ, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University
105. B. Andrew Lustig, Holmes Rolston III Professor of Religion & Science, Davidson College
106. Gerald Schlabach, Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
107. Anna Floerke Scheid, Assistant Professor of Theology, Duquesne University
108. Paul Niskanen, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
109. Brian Robinette, Associate Professor of Theology, Saint Louis University
110. Thomas O’Brien, Center for Interreligious Engagement, DePaul University
111. Edward Sellner, Professor of Theology & Spirituality, Saint Catherine University
112. Paul J. Wojda, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
113. William Trollinger, Professor of History, Cross-Appointed to Religious Studies, Univ. of Dayton
114. Mary Daly Twite, Senior Adjunct Instructor, University of St. Thomas (MN)
115. Colleen M. Carpenter, Assistant Professor of Theology, Saint Catherine University
116. Maura Donahue, Lecturer in Christian Ethics, University of Dayton
117. Kathy Lilla Cox, Assistant Professor of Theology, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University
118. Amy Levad, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
119. Thomas Schubeck, SJ, Professor of Religious Ethics, John Carroll University
120. Kelly M. Wilson, Adjunct Theology Instructor, University of St. Thomas (MN)
121. Robert Koerpel, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology, Saint Catherine University
122. Elizabeth Groppe, Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University
123. Sandra A. Yocum, Chair of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
124. Kathleen Maas Weigert, Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Prof of Women & Leadership, Loyola Univ. Chicago
125. Brian M. Doyle, Associate Professor of Theology, Marymount University
126. Patrick J. Hayes, Archivist, Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists (Brooklyn, NY)
127. Ronald A. Pachence, Chair, Dept of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
128. Thomas J. Bushlack, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
129. Lance Nelson, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, University of San Diego
130. David Whitten Smith, Emeritus Prof. of Theology & Justice & Peace Studies, Univ. of St. Thomas (MN)
131. Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier, Assistant Professor of  Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
132. Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, T. Marie Chilton Prof. of Catholic Theology, Loyola Marymount University
133. Matthew Tapie, Teaching Fellow, The Catholic University of America
134. Tisha Rajendra, Assistant Professor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago
135. Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, Assistant Professof of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
136. David Hollenbach, SJ, University Chair in Human Rights & International Justice, Boston College
137. Stephen Pope, Professor of Theological Ethics, Boston College
138. Patricia Beattie Jung, Prof. of Christian Ethics/Oubri A. Poppele Prof. of Health/Welfare Ministries, St. Paul School of Theology
139. James Fredericks, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
140. Richard R. Gaillardetz, Joseph McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology, Boston College
141. Amir Hussain, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
142. Mark Potter, Provincial Assistant for Social Ministries, California Province for the Society of Jesus
143. William Madges, Prof. of Theology & Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, St. Joseph’s University
144. Michael Baxter, Center for World Catholicism, DePaul University
145. William J. Collinge, Knott Professor of Theology, Mount St. Mary’s University
146. Jonathan Rothchild, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
147. Brian Stiltner, Assoc. Prof. & Chairperson of Philosophy, Theology & Religious Studies, Sacred Heart University
148. Catherine M. Mooney, Associate Professor of Church History, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
149. John F. Baldovin, SJ, Prof. of Historical & Liturgical Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
150. Ernesto Valiente, Assistant Professor, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
151. Brett C. Hoover, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
152. Mary R. D’Angelo, Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
153. Padraic O’Hare, Professor of Religious & Theological Studies, Merrimack College
154. Patrick T. McCormick, Professor of Christian Ethics, Gonzaga University
155. Johann M. Vento, Associate Professor of Religious Studies & Theology, Georgian Court University
156. Rev. Louis Arceneaux, CM, Peace & Justice, Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission, USA
157. Laurie Cassidy, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Marywood University
158. Margaret R. Pfeil, Assistant Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
159. Edward T. Ulrich, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
160. Christopher J. Viscardi, SJ, Professor of Theology & Spirituality, Spring Hill College
161. Kristin E. Heyer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University
162. Joseph Miller, Campus Minster, Stonehill College
163. Shannon Berry, Teaching Fellow in Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America
164. Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, O.P., Professor of Theology, Chicago, IL
165. Phyllis Zagano, Senior Research Associate-in-Residence, Religion Dept, Hofstra University
166. Kelle Lynch-Baldwin, Assistant Professor of Theology, Ohio Dominican University
167. Radoslav Lojan, PhD cand., Saint Paul University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
168. John W. Martens, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
169. Mark DelCogliano, Adjunct Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)
170. Julie McDonald, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Saint Joseph’s University
171. Nicholas Albares, Parish Social Ministry Coordinator, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New Orleans
172. Patrick Lynch, SJ, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Canisius College
173. Gregory J. O’Meara, SJ, Associate Professor, Marquette University Law School
174. Dennis Hamm, SJ, Holder of the Graff Endowed Chair in Catholic Theology, Creighton University
175. David DeCosse, Director of Campus Ethics Programs, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University
176. Denise Starkey, Assistant Professor & Chair of Theology & Religious Studies Dept., The College of St. Scholastica
177. Jason King, Associate Professor & Chair of Theology Dept., Saint Vincent College
178. Amanda C. Osheim, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, Loras College
179. Alan C. Mitchell, Associate Professor of New Testament & Christian Origins, Georgetown University
180. Julia Fleming, Professor of Moral Theology & Dept. Chair, Creighton University
181. Pam Rector, Director, Center for Service & Action, Loyola Marymount University
182. Philip Endean, SJ, Visiting Professor of Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
183. Kobi Ako Abayomi, Assistant Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
184. Andrea Vicini, SJ, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry
185. Thomas Ryan, Director, Loyola Institute for Ministry, New Orleans
186. Thomas Kelly, Associate Professor of Theology, Creighton University
187. Fr. Thomas Washburn, OFM, Executive Secretary, English Speaking Provincials Conference of the Order of Friars Minor (The Franciscans)
To be added to this list, email Tobias Winright at twinrigh@slu.edu with your name, position, and institutional affiliation. Those wishing more information about this statement may contact the first four signatories, who co-authored it.
Read also: Pope Benedict XVI’s plea to commute Troy Davis’ sentence: http://savannahnow.com/troy-davis/2007-07-20/pope-makes-plea-spare-life-troy-davis
The Catholic Bishops’ of Georgia letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles:http://www.archatl.com/media/storage/troydavis09122011.pdf