“Remembering the Lord’s call for mercy, we renew our plea: stop these executions!”, the US Bishops have cried to the government on the resumption of the federal death penalty.

– Not only has federal government resumed executions after 17-year hiatus, “they have scheduled even more”

“The Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear, and we have made many requests that the federal government should not resume these executions. Yet, not only has the government done so, they have scheduled even more executions”, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City lamented in an August 27 statement.

Coakley, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Naumann, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, were referring to a June Supreme Court decision that overturned an effective 17-year moratorium on capital punishment for federal crimes.

Since that decision, four men have been put to death, with three suffering that fate over a span of four days in July and the latest, Lezmond Mitchell, being executed just this last Wednesday.

Another federal execution – this time that of Keith Dwayne Nelson – is scheduled for this Friday, while two more federal death sentences are slated to be carried out in September.

– All people have an “irrevocable dignity despite their sinfulness”

In their statement Thursday, Archbishops Coakley and Naumann recalled that “we know from scripture that God created each of us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27)”.

“This gives each person an irrevocable dignity, despite their sinfulness”, the archbishops stated.

“When the Pharisees wanted to put to death the adulterous woman, they put the question to Jesus in this way: ‘Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ (Jn. 8:5)”, Coakley and Naumann continued, adding: “We must not forget the Lord’s answer!”.

Jesus told the Pharisees: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).

– US Bishops’ opposition to death penalty “not to be ‘soft on crime’, but strong on life”

Coakley and Naumann’s appeal to the government to put an end to the federal death penalty comes after Coakley in June this year reiterated a December 2019 plea that “to oppose the death penalty is not to be ‘soft on crime’. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life”.

The USCCB had earlier this year restated its opposition to the death penalty in an amicus curiae brief it filed in the Supreme Court in January 2020, in which the Bishops warned that as “a final, irrevocable termination of a gift from God – human life”, the death penalty is “a grave violation of human dignity”.

Death by execution “representas a judgment by fallible human beings that a person is beyond redemption. That is a judgment the Catholic Church rejects”, the US Bishops explained.

Up until August 2018, when Pope Francis modified it, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explained that “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”.

Francis changed that paragraph in the Catechism – number 2267 – to read, among other things, that “in the light of the Gospel” the Church teaches that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide”.

More on Novena on the Church’s opposition to the death penalty:

“Devalues the sacred dignity of human life”: US Catholics denounce execution of only Native American on federal death row

More on Novena on the US Church


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.