A statement approved during this week’s meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) calls for an end to the death penalty in the United States and notes that the death penalty “contributes to a cycle of violence in our society that must be broken.” The statement, drafted by the USCCB Domestic Policy Committee, is the first comprehensive statement focused on the death penalty by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 25 years. It is part of the wider “Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.” This program aims to improve victims’ services, to educate Catholics and other citizens about the Church’s teachings regarding the death penalty, and to advocate for an end to capital punishment in the U.S. The campaign and the proposed USCCB statement echo the position of the late Pope John Paul II on the death penalty. The statement notes:

It is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life. When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but what it does to all society.

[Victims of violence] deserve our compassion, solidarity and support - spiritual, pastoral and personal. … No act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death.

[This issue] is more than public policy; it involves our faith…[it] is about more than how to respond to violent crimel it is about justice and what kind of society we want to be…this initiative is not about ideology, but life and death.”

A November 2004 and March 2005 Zogby International survey found that support for the death penalty among Catholics had dropped from 70% in the 1970’s to under 50% in 2005.

(U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Press Release, November 14, 2005). Read the press release. Read the Bishops’ Statement. See New Voices.