More death is not the answer for society

    The following interview took place before Christopher Sepulvado's scheduled execution was postponed by the Louisiana Department of Corrections for at least 90 days. The state and attorneys for Sepulvado agreed Feb. 3 to the delay after the Department of Corrections made changes to the lethal drug protocol used to carry out the execution at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Another death-row inmate in Florida is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 12.

Archbishop Aymond, what are your thoughts on all of this?
    First of all, the murder of Wesley Mercer, for which Christopher Sepulvado was convicted, was a heinous, evil crime. The seven bishops of Louisiana issued a joint statement on Jan. 30 acknowledging that fact. Our strong opposition to the death penalty – and our plea that he be given a life sentence without the possibility of parole – is based on the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church, which affirms life. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” makes it very clear, and I think it is important to quote paragraph 2267 in full:
    “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
    “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
    “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’”
    That final sentence is key. It is a direct quote from Pope John Paul II, who included this in his 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life.” As Catholics, we are opposed to the unnecessary taking of human life. Even if we are the victims of a grave injustice, we humans do not have the right to take the life of another human being.
    Do you see any signs that the church’s teaching on the death penalty is becoming more accepted by Catholics or is it still a hard teaching to accept?
    My impression is that there are more people who are open to discussing it and to changing their views than I have seen in the past. When I have given talks on pro-life activities, I mention that the legalization of abortion is a fundamental violation of human life. Once the taking of an innocent child from the womb is legalized – and spoken about in popular ways – it enables us to disregard human life in many other ways, such as the death penalty, euthanasia, assisted suicide and human trafficking. It opens all of that up.
    What kind of feedback do you get when you talk about opposition to the death penalty?
    People have come up to me after I’ve spoken and said, “I’m having a hard time swallowing that.” Others have told me, “I need to think about it.” On occasion, people have told me, “I’ve always been in favor of the death penalty, but I think I’m seeing it differently now.” The reaction has run the gamut.
    Besides our respect for human life, there are two other reasons we do not support the death penalty. The first is it takes away the opportunity for that person to experience repentance and conversion and to live a life of repentance for what he or she has done. Second, the actions of the perpetrator are evil, sinful and wrong, but taking that person’s life does not enact justice. It will not bring the dead person back to life and usually does not bring peace to the family and friends of the one who suffered the injustice.
    I very humbly tell the story of a couple I know. Their daughter was murdered, and they specifically asked the state not to invoke the death penalty. Once a month, on Friday, they fast and pray for the conversion of the person who killed their daughter. That is a powerful sign of faith and forgiveness. May God give us the insight that couple has – to support life in all cases, even in the very difficult and painful situations.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .   

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