October 21, 2004
You have heard from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on
the issues impacting immigration within the House-passed version of S.
2845, the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act. I write now on
behalf of USCCB regarding those provisions in the legislation dealing
with the expansion of the death penalty for terrorists.
The Senate version of the bill, the National Intelligence Reform Act (S.
2845) does not contain any of the death penalty provisions. As a
member of the House/Senate conference committee we urge you to report
out a final bill without the expansion of the death penalty for
The cowardly attacks of September 11 and their tragic human costs still
haunt our nation. There can be no diminishing the horror of terrorism or
the responsibility of those who employ wanton violence on the innocent.
Based on our Catholic teaching, however, we oppose expanding the death
penalty even for terrorists. As you know, the bishops of the United
States oppose the use of the death penalty in any instance. Catholic
teaching on capital punishment is clear: If bloodless means are
sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect
public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit
itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete
conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity
of the human person (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Besides our Catholic teaching regarding the death penalty, there are two
other important considerations. First, the expansion of the death
penalty was not included in the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission;
Congress need not go any further.
Secondly, we feel strongly that suicidal terrorists are not going to be
deterred by the death penalty. In fact, many terrorists believe that if
they die committing an act of terrorism they will become martyrs. At
the very least, it would seem that executing terrorists could make them
heroes in the minds of other like-minded advocates of terror.
As pastors, we believe that the use of the death penalty under any circumstances diminishes us as human beings. As we said in Confronting a Culture of Violence:
“We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.” Once again, the
USCCB urges you to reject the expansion of the death penalty in the
House version of the bill.
Thank you for your time and consideration. With every good wish, I am
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops