First the good news.
Last week the South Carolina Supreme Court blocked the planned executions of two inmates.
Now the bad. The executions are blocked until the state can put its new “death by firing squad” option in place.
That’s right, firing squad.
The state supreme court said the two inmates scheduled to die this month should have a choice in determining how. They can die by electrocution or at the hands of the new firing squad.
The state decided to turn to the “ready, aim, fire!” method of execution after having difficulties getting its hands on lethal injection drugs. The only option available before the new firing squad law was passed was the electric chair. That’s unfair, the high court said. Those about to die should have a wider set of options to determine how.
And believe it or not, South Carolina isn’t alone in its desire to use the “death by firing squad” option. Three other states have passed similar laws.
All of this comes at a time when, according to the most recent Gallup Poll on the subject, support for capital punishment is at its lowest point in nearly five decades. Just 55 percent of people polled were in favor of state-sanctioned killing. That’s the lowest number since 1972 when just 50 percent of those polled supported the death penalty.
Those who work for the abolition of capital punishment — such as the Catholic Church and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty — are always happy when executions are halted. But this time the reason for the delay is troubling.
The director of the national non-profit Death Penalty Action told the Associated Press last week that he was grateful the two South Carolina executions were blocked. But Abraham Bonowitz added that the decision shows the need for even greater change.
“It’s always good news when executions are put on hold,” he said. “But if the conversation is only about how we kill our prisoners rather than if the state should have this power, something is very, very wrong.”
Some national television news hosts serve, unwittingly, as examples of one side of the national dichotomy on the subject of the death penalty. The South Carolina firing squad law, one said, provides a “more honest” means of killing prisoners.
“Now they can shoot ‘em, stick ‘em or fry ‘em,” he said.
Such a callous comment illustrates the work to be done on the subject. But Catholics can take heart knowing that the church’s stance on the death penalty is clear and unequivocal.
When he approved of a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 — a revision that strengthened the church’s stance against the killing of prisoners — Pope Francis noted that capital punishment is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
No matter how it is carried out, the pope said, the death penalty “is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life.” And human life, he noted, “is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator.”
In the last analysis, said Pope Francis, “only God can be the true judge and guarantor” of life. And back in 2015 in a letter to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, the pope said that capital punishment is “cruel, inhumane and degrading.”
“It does not bring justice to the victims,” the pope wrote, “but only foments revenge.”
At a time when political argument and social discourse are often clouded and confused by misinformation and obfuscation, the Church’s position is clear and undiluted by such rancor.
The Church says that capital punishment is wrong. Period.
Record Editor Emeritus