Abolish the death penalty Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Aug. 06, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

When I hear about someone being murdered, I say a prayer for the victim — and for the perpetrator.

Someone might question my praying for someone who has committed a crime. However, there are many circumstances that lead to that act of violence against another person.

We don’t know everything involved in that person’s life. Sometimes there may have been a lifetime of abuse he or she endured. There may have been mental illness leading to that act of violence.

Although we may be tempted to call only for justice for the victim — an “eye for an eye” — we also have to consider the possibility of forgiveness and healing for the murderer.

Perspective from our faith

Our Catholic faith tradition “offers a unique perspective on crime and punishment, one grounded in mercy and healing, not punishment for its own sake.”

That’s what two Catholic bishops said in a message on July 16, which was the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

“No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending human life, it should do so,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.

They are chairmen, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The U.S. bishops’ campaign to end the death penalty asks people to pray for victims of crimes and their families and to reach out to support them. It also calls for educating people about Church teaching on the death penalty and criminal justice; working for legislation to end capital punishment; and changing the debate in favor of defending life.

We can’t “demonstrate respect for life by taking life,” the bishops assert. That means respecting every life, from the innocent baby in the womb to the person who has killed another person.

Significant gains

The two bishops noted that there have been significant gains on eliminating capital punishment in the past decade.

A Catholic News Service article reported that several states — including New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and most recently Nebraska — have ended the use of the death penalty. Other states have enacted a moratorium.

Death sentences are at their lowest level since the reinstatement of the death penalty in our country in 1976.

I’m proud to say that Wisconsin abolished the death penalty in 1853. Wisconsin is the only state that has performed only one execution in its history. That execution was carried out on an immigrant farmer, John McCaffary, who was hanged in 1851 in Kenosha County for drowning his wife.

Our state abolished the death penalty just two years after his execution, in part due to public revulsion at the spectacle his hanging created.

Attempts have been made to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin, but they have not succeeded. I encourage Wisconsin citizens to maintain the abolition of the death penalty in our state.

Pope: end death penalty

Pope Francis has called for an end to the death penalty in light of the upcoming Year of Mercy, which begins on December 8.

“Pope Francis, like his predecessors, provided a clear and prophetic voice for life and mercy in calling for all people of good will to work to end the use of the death penalty,” said Archbishop Wenski.

“In anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September, we join our voices with his and continue our call for a culture of life. As a people of life, we say it is time for the U.S. to abandon use of the death penalty.”

All can seek forgiveness

I encourage people to join me in praying for the victims of crimes, for the perpetrators, and for an end to the use of the death penalty. Everyone should have the opportunity to seek forgiveness, even the most hardened criminal.

Remember how Jesus interacted with the thieves hanging next to him on the cross. One of the thieves asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus responded to his plea for mercy, saying, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

If Jesus can show mercy to a criminal, why shouldn’t we?