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June 27, 2002 Edition

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Death penalty ruling:
Moves U.S. justice system closer to Catholic teaching

On June 20 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded people, moving the U.S. justice system thankfully closer to current Catholic teaching.

The Supreme Court follows the trend of a growing number of states that have already banned executions of the mentally ill. Eighteen of the 38 states with a death penalty ban such executions. Another 12, including Wisconsin, have no capital punishment at all. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority in the 6-3 ruling, said, "The practice, therefore, has become truly unusual, and it is fair to say that a national consensus has developed against it."

Cited views of religious groups. The Supreme Court specifically cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups who urged the court to halt executions of the mentally retarded.

Executing people with diminished mental capacity, the religious leaders said in a joint amicus filing, "is the very embodiment of arbitrariness and disproportionality which this court (previously) rejected. . . and is contrary to contemporary standards of decency."

Pope expands church's opposition. Pope John Paul II has been responsible for expanding the Catholic Church's opposition to capital punishment. While the church still permits legitimate public authority "to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense," the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly calls for other alternatives to punishing offenders.

Says the Catechism, "Today, . . . by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitively 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.'"

The last reference in this quote is taken from Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Evangelium vitae. Modern methods of incarceration allow the state to put a prisoner away for life if necessary for the safety of society. Yet life imprisonment also gives an offender the opportunity to seek forgiveness and reform his life.

Errors in death penalty cases. It has been evident, too, that there have been many errors in death penalty cases. Evidence has been weak, testimony has been shaky, the wrong people have been executed.

But even a person who admits to a crime may not be fully capable of understanding right from wrong or the severity of his actions. This is true with the mentally retarded, but it may also be true for young people, the mentally ill, and others under duress. And, it has been proven the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime.

In the long run, our country would be better to follow the advice of the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II in outlawing all capital punishment. This Supreme Court ruling is another step in that direction.

Mary C. Uhler, editor

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Thanks for diocesan contributions

To Bishop Bullock:

Mailbag policy
We reserve the right to edit or reject letters. Limit letters to 200 words or less. All letters must be signed.

Send letters to:
The Catholic Herald
P.O. Box 44985
Madison, WI 53744-4985

Fax: 608-821-3071
E-mail: info@madisoncatholicherald.org

On behalf of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, I am writing to thank you and all of the faithful of the Diocese of Madison for your very generous 2001 collection contribution of $44,560.36. This support enables the Church in the United States to help break the cycle of poverty across our nation - the mandate given to CCHD by the Bishops in 1970.

CCHD helps people living in poverty to become self-sufficient, and to develop lasting solutions to poverty in collaboration with those who are not poor. In our country, thirty-one million people are living in poverty, this includes one of every six children.

We are grateful for your leadership and for the invaluable partnership of your diocesan director Mr. Mark Brinkmoeller. Many thanks to your clergy, religious, and laity for their support which is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty in this country.

Gratefully in Our Lord,
Robert J. Vitillo, Executive Director
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
Washington, D.C.

We must support renewed morality

To the editor:

I have a real problem with the attitude expressed by Rev. Robert Silva, head of the National Federation of Priests' Councils toward the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" (recently passed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

He is quoted as saying that "the policy is driven a lot more by public sentiment than the principle of compassion." Does he think that abusive priests can live above the law (both the laws of this country and the law of God)?

Inappropriate contact with a child of any kind is a crime and a mortal sin. There is no gray area here. I realize that not all priests are abusers and it is unfortunate that the good ones are being painted with the same brush of suspicion because the hierarchy of the church has allowed this to go on for so long.

Priests are supposed to be models of trust and moral behavior. What happened? How can they tell me how to live in order to meet God in his kingdom when they don't know how to live to accomplish this themselves? All adults are supposed to protect children and pray for them, not prey on them.

All priests who have been proven to be an abuser need to be out of the church. There needs to be an absolute zero tolerance policy for any sort of lewd or licentious behavior.

What must the dear Lord think of His disciples? We all need to always ask, "What would Jesus do?" Everyone needs to support the protection of children and a renewed morality in the church.

Linda Eckels, Plover

Be courteous, lift spirits of priests

To the editor:

With so much attack on the priesthood and priests, some people are asking what they can do to help lift the spirits of their priests. One small help would be to greet the priest when you meet him on the street.

Often hundreds of people who are Catholic are passing the priest and never say "hello" or "good morning." It lifts my spirits when people greet me in public. Even in Catholic institutions, that friendly greeting is lacking.

Let us be courteous to our spiritual leaders.

Fr. Robert DeGrandis, SSJ, Washington, D.C.

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