On Thursday, August 2, the catechism of the Catholic Church was officially updated to deem the death penalty always “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans. As Prosecutor Joe Deters is currently seeking the death penalty in the trial of Anthony Kirkland, he was asked about how his faith impacts his decision to seek the death penalty. He remarked, “There is evil in this world and there comes a point where society needs to defend itself.” Sr. Andrea Koverman published a response that we have sent to the Cincinnati Enquirer but it has not yet been published.
Andrea is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati and manages the Anti-Death Penalty and Peace/Nonviolence Programs at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Yes, Mr. Deters, there are evils in the world, and capital punishment is one of them.
My day at the Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center began on a hopeful note as I read that Pope Francis announced a change in the Catholic Church’s official position on capital punishment. Though generally not supporting the practice for the obvious reason that it breaks God’s commandment not to kill, the Catechism of the Catholic Church left a loophole that has been used to justify executing high profile murderers. Pope Francis prescribes to the idea that society can be protected without killing perpetrators, and so do I.
I manage the Anti-Death Penalty programming, and it is my job to create opportunities to educate the public about the realities of the death penalty. In all that we do, we acknowledge the lives taken by those who are on death row, while we advocate for abolition. We are supported by some faith-based communities but our information is not only for people of faith, it is for all of society. Everything I’ve learned while in this position would affirm my opposition to capital punishment even if I weren’t a sister, a Catholic, a Christian, and was simply a rational human being.
In 2007, the American Bar Association found that Ohio failed to meet 93% of the guidelines to ensure a “fair” and “accurate” death system. That is evil. In 2014, a task force formed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio and the President of the Ohio State Bar Association made 56 recommendations that would have gone a long way to reduce the institutionalized injustices within the system. To date, only a few of them have been addressed through legislative action. That is evil. Color of skin and level of affluence have more to do with receiving a death sentence than the circumstances of the crime. That is evil. Legal errors, misconduct and negligence result in high rates of wrongful convictions, near-death experiences of innocent people, and wrongful state sanctioned killing. That is evil. Families of murder victims are promised closure but must endure decades of reliving the loss of their loved one while awaiting an execution, only to discover that it did nothing to stop their grief. That is evil. We ignore the well-documented fact that our death-row population is characterized by mental illnesses and/or horrific abuse and neglect during their formative years, expecting that they would overcome the damage such trauma causes without assistance simply by reaching the age of reason. We choose to spend the precious revenue that could be used to better fund our foster care, mental health and social welfare systems instead to kill those who failed to be good victims of these failing systems. That is evil.
But the implication that Catholics, including Mr. Deters’ “dear friends who are priests” who oppose the death penalty on moral grounds “just don’t understand what we’re dealing with” is both condescending and inaccurate. A litany of names of Catholic activists come to mind who do get it, Fathers: Oscar Romero, Roy Borgeois, Greg Boyle, James Martin, John Dear, Lawrence Hummer, Neil Kookoothe…Not to mention women, like Sr. Helen Prejean. Did they, did she just not understand the evils in the world? Hardly.
Catholics and all Christians claim Jesus Christ as their God and Savior and profess to be followers of the way of mercy and love for all people, but in particular those most rejected by the rest of society. There are no people more demonized and devalued than those on death row, and hard as it is to recognize and respect the inherent value in human beings who commit heinous gruesome crimes, that is what Christians are called to do. That isn’t always popular. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous, as it was for Jesus. Who, may I remind you, was wrongfully convicted and became a victim of state-sanctioned killing by execution.