Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City laments the resumption of federal executions.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas is opposed to capital punishment. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering most Catholic bishops have made statements against the death penalty. In fact, near the end of August, he joined in a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voicing opposition to additional federal executions, which had resumed this year after a 17-year moratorium.
But there’s a twist in Naumann’s case. His family suffered a tragedy when he was still in his mother’s womb, a murder that took the life of his father. If anyone has reason to be in favor of capital punishment, it’s victims of such heinous crimes.
So Naumann sympathizes. In a video recently produced by a Catholic anti-death penalty group, the archbishop acknowledges that “the suffering and the circumstances of each family who has lost a loved one by a violent crime are unique. I do not presume to be able to speak for all victims of murder. Yet, I did witness how my mother struggled to provide for our family without the benefit of my father, and the pain that she suffered as a result of losing the love of her life. I also know what it is like for children to grow up without a father.”
According to Catholic News Agency, Naumann’s father, Fred, was the assistant manager of a St. Louis liquor store. A week before Christmas 1948, he told an employee to help unload a delivery truck. “When the employee refused, Naumann fired him. They argued, and then the man turned around with a pocketknife, and slashed Naumann’s throat. He died before he reached the hospital,” CNA relates.
Joseph Fred Naumann, the future priest and archbishop, was born six months later.
In the video, which was put out by the Catholic Mobilizing Network, Naumann says that in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty and pleading for the federal government not to continue with the resumption of capital punishment, “it is not my intention to minimize the pain and loss of individuals and families who have suffered the death of a loved one as a result of a violent crime.” He acknowledges that the criminal justice system has a responsibility to protect the innocent from victimization and to deter the commission of violent crimes. “However. in the United States in 2020, we have the ability to protect society from violent criminals without resorting to the death penalty,” he says.
“When we choose to kill in the name of justice, our society lowers itself to imitate the violence of the perpetrator,” he concludes. “Our criminal justice system should strive for rehabilitation and transformation of criminals, not their execution. … If anything can bring healing to the hearts of those mourning the death of a victim of a violent crime, it’s not the destruction of another human life, but the possibility of saving a soul.”