A Catholic’s stance on the death penalty

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This is a lethal injection execution chamber in a Texas prison. Texas has the largest annual number of executions in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Dallas Morning News.

While I was catching up with a childhood friend over the summer, we started talking about the differences between my University of Dallas and his Thomas Aquinas College in California. UD might be one of the most conservative schools in America, he said, but what about the most Catholic school? My nod was cut short by his next comment.

“After all, aren’t conservative and Catholic the same thing? Or they should be, anyway.”

Although the world might be more simple that way, we cannot just equate a purely conservative perspective with our Catholic beliefs. One major disparity between the two approaches was shown clearly on Aug. 2, when the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to include a new development on the official Catholic stance on the death penalty.

Before the revision, the Catechism stated that the death penalty was occasionally permissible in the modern world, but only in cases of “absolute necessity,” as “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

However, Pope Francis took into consideration recent developments in our understanding of human dignity, the “significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state,” and increased security in detention facilities. Due to this progress, the Catechism has been revised to read:

“[T]he Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

UD finds itself in a unique position in the midst of these developments. With approximately 80 percent of the student population identifying as Catholic, it seems as though the revisions to Catholic teaching on the death penalty would fit right in with UD’s “commitment to the Catholic Church and its teaching,” as stated in our manifesto.

However, the UD community also prides itself on its primarily conservative perspective, even being included in several rankings of Most Conservative Colleges in America.

The dichotomy between conservative and Catholic interests in the death penalty is only exacerbated by our surroundings. According to the Texas Politics Project, thirty-eight percent of Texans support the death penalty, with nine-tenths of the supporters identifying as conservative.

In fact, UD is located in the state with the most notoriously high execution rate. Since 1982, 553 people have been put to death by the state of Texas, and half of the people executed nationwide this year alone have been executed in Texas. Frankly, our surroundings do not provide a supportive environment for vocal opposition of the death penalty.

From a Catholic perspective, the amount of lives taken in Texas — indeed, as shown in the developments to the Catechism, any lives taken — demonstrates misuse of government power, as well as a disregard for the dignity of human life. No political loyalty can excuse the sheer magnitude of this systematic destruction of people’s lives.

Although UD may always pride itself on its predominantly conservative student body, hopefully UD’s Catholic students will also continue to wholeheartedly support the doctrine of the Catechism, which, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “presents what Catholics throughout the world believe in common.”

With these new developments, however, it is not enough simply to accept the Church’s teachings and continue with our everyday lives. As we find ourselves in the very heart of the death penalty’s American stronghold, UD students have the unique ability to be significant forces of change.

We cannot linger in ignorance while lives remain at stake. Nothing less than fighting for the permanent and worldwide abolition of the death penalty is sufficient anymore.

Decades ago, Pope St. John Paul II expressed that opposition to the death penalty is a sign of hope and resilience for the culture of life. Now is our opportunity to make a lasting change.

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