Bishop Kopacz: end death penalty instead of expanding

Bishop Joseph Kopacz released the following statement on Monday, March 6, opposing the death penalty. The statement is in reaction to House Bill 638, which calls for additional forms of execution in the state of Mississippi if the current method, lethal injection, is declared unconstitutional.
Lethal injection has come under fire in recent years as some inmates have seemed to suffer as they were executed. The drugs used have also become more difficult to obtain because of the controversy. Mississippi has not been able to execute anyone since 2012 because of pending court cases. This bill would allow a gas chamber or electrocution as alternate methods.
As the State of Mississippi’s Legislature debates the expansion of methods in support of the resumption of capital punishment, (H.B. 638) we respectfully submit the perspective and teachings from our Catholic faith that promote the abolition of the death penalty. We encourage and pray for a more comprehensive debate that calls into question our assumptions the moral legitimacy of the death penalty in the state and in our nation.
If, however non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority ought to limit itself to such means as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with dignity of the human person. Today the state, by rendering one who has committed the offense incapable of doing harm, without definitively taking away from him or her the possibility of redemption, the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity, are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267)
When dwelling on legal and moral arguments concerning the death penalty, we should do so not with vengeance and anger in our hearts, but with the compassion and mercy of the Lord in mind. It is also important to remember that penalties imposed on criminals always need to allow for the possibility of the criminal to show regret for the evil committed and to change his or her life for the better. We do not teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill others. Saint Pope John Paul II has said the penalty of death is both cruel and unnecessary. Likewise, the antidote to violence is not more violence.
It has been nearly a year since our Catholic community suffered the tragic murders of Sister Paula Merrill, SCN, and Sister Margaret Held, SSSF, who served at a medical clinic in Holmes County. Immediately, in the midst of their profound loss, both the religious communities to which they belonged and their families stated time and again that they are opposed to the death penalty as a further assault against human dignity. We wholeheartedly agree.
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz