Oppose the death penalty: Join Pope Francis in supporting abolition of capital punishment Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

As we continue our observance of October as Respect Life Month, perhaps one of the most difficult issues for many Catholics is opposing the death penalty. Yet it is an issue that should be remembered as we consider respect for all human life.

Many people still seem to have the “eye for an eye” mentality when it comes to crime and punishment. They want to see criminals punished by death, especially for heinous crimes. They believe that society is better off without these hardened criminals in our midst.

However, as followers of Christ, we believe that God will show mercy to all sinners if they repent. We should allow everyone the opportunity for forgiveness.

No death penalty in Wisconsin

Fortunately, the citizens of our state have continued to oppose the use of the death penalty. Wisconsin abolished capital punishment in 1853. In nearly every legislative session, supporters of the death penalty have tried to break this tradition. But so far lawmakers have succeeded in stopping efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

We all know about the cases around the country of innocent people sentenced to death. The Innocence Project has found numerous cases where new evidence clears someone convicted of a crime, often with the use of new DNA profiling.

Racial disparities in criminal justice system

The possible death of an innocent person is just one reason to oppose the use of capital punishment. We can be thankful we don’t have the death penalty in our state, because a reports continue to show racial disparities within the criminal justice system in Wisconsin.

Statistics reveal that a disproportionately high number of African-Americans are incarcerated in Wisconsin. A 2013 study at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee looked at that state’s incarceration rates and found they were the highest in the country for black men.

The UW-Milwaukee researchers say their analysis was truly eye-opening. They found that Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for black men — 13 percent — was nearly double the country’s rate. “We were so far above everybody else. That just sort of stunned us when we saw that,” said Professor John Pawasarat, who studied two decades of Wisconsin’s prison and employment data.

If the death penalty were legal in our state, we could find that racial disparities might occur in use of capital punishment, too.

Support a moratorium or ban

While continuing to oppose any efforts to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin, state citizens can also influence our senators and congressional representatives on the federal level to support a moratorium on capital punishment — if not an outright ban — in our country.

Pope Francis has continued his predecessors’ call for abolition of the death penalty. In a message to participants of the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty held in Madrid in June of 2013, Pope Francis reiterated support for abolition of the death penalty.

Opposition to the death penalty is part of the Church’s defense of the dignity of human life, he said, and it is “a courageous reaffirmation of the conviction that humanity can successfully confront criminality” without resorting to the suppression of life. The Holy Father recalled that his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II made similar pleas. He asked that “capital sentences be commuted to a lesser punishment that allows for time and incentives for the reform of the offender.”

To learn more about this issue, go to the Web site of Catholics Against Capital Punishment at