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New Debate on Death Penalty

PA Governor Tom  Wolf PA Governor Tom Wolf

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty in that state, provoking a new debate on the subject of capital punishment.

The Catholic News Agency is reporting that the governor has put a hold on the execution of 186 death row inmates in Pennsylvania pending a report from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.

“This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive,” Wolf stated on Friday, Feb. 13. “Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania.”

The Catholic Church has long taught that no matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.

“ . . . (T)he 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,” the Catechism states in No. 2267.

“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 more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

For this reason, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput praised the moratorium.

“I’m very grateful to Governor Wolf for choosing to take a deeper look into these studies and I pray we can find a better way to punish those who are guilty of these crimes,” the Archbishop said in a statement.

“Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief and they rightly demand justice. But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

In response to a reprieve granted to a death row inmate in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Archbishop Chaput pointed out that even convicted murderers “retain their God-given dignity as human beings” and that “we don't need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty.”

We need to end the death penalty now because it’s doesn’t heal or redress wound. “Only forgiveness can do that,” the Archbishop said at the time.

Until the advisory commission studies the effectiveness of capital punishment, as each death row inmate in Pennsylvania is scheduled, Wolf will grant a reprieve, but not a commutation, his office stated.

“This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row,” the governor said, “all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes.”

Thus far, 18 states have abolished capital punishment. Worldwide, 141 countries have abolished the death sentence with the majority of prisoner executions now taking place in North Korea, Yemen, the U.S., China and Iran.

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