In 2015, Pope Francis called for the world to abolish the practice of capital punishment.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would be reinstating the federal death penalty and will begin carrying out such sentences again in 2019. From December to January there will be five federal executions, which will be the first executions of federal inmates since 2003.
Catholic News Service reports, in a statement explaining the decision, Attorney General William Barr, said:
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
Currently, there are 62 inmates on federal death row including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber, and Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter.
The announcement has drawn criticism from prominent Catholic leaders, who are calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Shortly after the Justice Department’s announcement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, of the USCCB released a statement citing Pope Francis’s 2015 call to do away with capital punishment.
“In light of these long held and strongly maintained positions, I am deeply concerned by the announcement by the United States Justice Department that it will once again turn, after many years, to the death penalty as a form of punishment, and urge instead that these federal officials be moved by God’s love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the announced plans for executions.”
On Twitter, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich decried the decision as, “gravely injurious to the common good, as it effaces the God-given dignity of all human beings, even those who have committed terrible crimes.” Cupich went on to remark that just last year Pope Francis revised the Catechism to consider capital punishment as, “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
The Sisters of Mercy said the decision was “tremendously disappointing” and vowed to continue to instruct on the Catholic teaching which calls for the protection of the dignity of all human life, in the hopes that their work may help see the death penalty abolished.
Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, noted that a 2018 survey found less than half of Americans support the death penalty and 25 states have in some way distanced themselves from the practice. She suggested that the Justice Department take current American values into consideration, when making such important decisions.