PHOENIX, Ariz. (Catholic Online) – State-sanctioned killing through the death penalty is an unnecessary violation of human life and dignity that does not make society safer and has led to tragic injustices against innocent people, said three southwestern U.S. bishops.
In a statement issued May 18 in light of the pending May 22 scheduled execution of a convicted murderer on death row for almost 20 years, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Ariz., Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., and Bishop Donald E. Pelotte of the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., which included northeastern Arizona, stated that life in prison without parole is a means to punish those convicted of most serious offenses and protect society without responding with the death penalty.
Robert Charles Comer, 50, will be first man executed in Arizona since November 2000.
Comer waived his right to appeal his death sentence for the brutal murder of a Florida man at an Arizona campground in 1987. Comer also is serving 339 years for rape and kidnapping.
“We oppose the death penalty,” the three prelates said, “because its use disregards the dignity of human life and the inherent dignity of each person.”
“State-sanctioned killing, whether by unnecessary use of the death penalty or by the intrinsically evil actions of abortion and euthanasia, violates human life and dignity,” the bishops said. “Our opposition to use of the death penalty in today’s society is derived from the continuum of the sacredness of life that our church teaches.”
Acknowledging the government’s right to protect the society from threats of those who break the law, the bishops said that the state does not have to react to “the violence of brutal crimes with the violence of capital punishment.”
“There is no doubt that the state has an obligation to promote the common good by punishing criminals and preventing the recurrence of crime. Furthermore, those who commit brutal crimes such as murder are certainly deserving of a punishment proportionate to the gravity of their offense,” the bishops said.
Yet, they added, “when there are means available to punish criminals and protect society from the recurrence of crime, the use of capital punishment is both unnecessary and undesirable.”
The bishops quoted Pope John Paul II in stating that the church teaches the death penalty must only be used in “extremely rare situations where it is necessary to defend society.”
Bishops Kicanas, Olmsted and Pelotte pointed to the wrongful conviction of more than 200 people sentenced to death in the last 20 years who were released after DNA evidence proved their innocence, including some in Arizona.
“We are left to wonder how many other innocent people have been wrongfully convicted or even executed,” they said.
The church leaders expressed “our compassion” for those victimized by violent crimes and their families, offering their prayers “for their healing.”
The use of the death penalty in today’s society not only disregards human life and the inherent dignity of each person, but it is also unnecessary to protect the public and is prone to serious flaws.