Ecumenical-Statement by Texas Catholic Conferences on Death Penanlty, February 24, 1998
Adopted unanimously by the General Assembly
of the Texas Conference of Churches
February 24, 1998
WHEREAS the Texas Conference of Churches, in 1973 and 1977, and many of the churches and judicatories belonging to the Texas Conference of Churches have made clear statements in opposition to and calling for the abolition of the death penalty; and
WHEREAS the Bible does authorize every government to "bear the sword" (Rom. 13:4) and the governments and nations of this world are also called upon to care for "the least of these brothers and sisters" of Christ (Matt. 25:40) thus imposing upon each government and nation the obligation to respond to human situations and crises with justice and mercy; and
WHEREAS Jesus clearly rejected any ideas of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," (Matt 5:28-39), and the God of Israel insisted that "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," (Deut. 32:35; and
WHEREAS in our modern society we have means of keeping an offender from harming others. Although in previous times people of faith have employed capital punishment, today we have the ability to realize better the principles of mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love for all people as evoked in the Hebrew Scriptures by the Prophet Ezekiel: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back from your evil ways." (Ez. 33:11)* and
WHEREAS the evidence is overwhelming that racism, classism and economics are governing factors in administering the death penalty; and that greater numbers of people of color are executed than is reflected in the general population; that mentally incapacitated people and far too many poor and uneducated people have been executed - thus demonstrating the injustice of the current practice of exercising the death penalty; and
WHEREAS we believe that the compassionate example of Christ calls us to respect the God-given image found even in hardened criminals, and we stand in solidarity with the profound pain of the victims of brutal crime,* therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Texas Conference of Churches in Assembly in San Antonio, February 24, 1998, calls on the State of Texas to put an end to the practice of exercising the death penalty and reaffirms its previous resolutions in 1973 and 1977 in opposition to the death penalty; and be it further
RESOLVED that all judicatories, churches, members and caring citizens acknowledge our complicity in the continuing use of and support of the death penalty. When we are silent in the face of injustice, cruelty or oppression, our silence becomes our assent; and be it further
RESOLVED that we call upon all judicatories, churches, members and caring citizens to work in every way possible to oppose the death penalty and to work to create a humane, just and decent society; and be it further
RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be given publicity within the churches of the Texas Conference of Churches, sent to the Governor of Texas, the Lieutenant-Governor, the Attorney General, to the members of the Texas Legislature, to candidates for these offices and to the Chair of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
*These paragraphs are quotations from he Statement of the Catholic Bishops on Capital Punishment, October, 1997.
Statement by Catholic Bishops of Texas on Capital Punishment
October 20, 1997
As spiritual leaders in the community we Catholic Bishops of Texas are acutely aware of the violence in our state. Despite a growing reliance on longer sentences, more prisons, and more executions, our state's crime rate has escalated.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have repeatedly condemned its use as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is inconsistent with the belief of millions of Texans that all life is sacred.
It is important that we address this issue at this time. Since 1976 Texas has executed more than 100 men, some of whom were mentally retarded or mentally ill. We currently have more than 400 men and women on death row.
We sympathize with the profound pain of the victims of brutal crimes; nevertheless, we believe that the compassionate example of Christ calls us to respect the God-given image found even in hardened criminals.
We must now take bolder steps to change the attitude of the American people regarding capital punishment as a means of dealing with a complex issue. It is unfortunate that a large majority of Americans, including Catholics, support capital punishment as a means of dealing with crime, even in light of strong evidence of its ineffectiveness, its racially-biased application, and its staggering costs, both materially and emotionally.
Capital punishment has not proved to be a deterrent to crime. States which have the death penalty do not have lower rates of violent crime than states without the death penalty. All other western democracies have abolished capital punishment and have lower rates of violent crime.
The imposition of the death penalty has resulted in racial bias. In fact, the race of the victim has been proven to be the determining factor in deciding whether to prosecute capital cases. Of those executed, nearly 90% were convicted of killing whites, although people of color are more than half of all homicide victims in the United States. More than 60% of the persons on death rows in California and Texas are either Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American.
In the State of Texas, it costs $2.3 million on an average to prosecute and execute each capital case as compared to $400,000 for life imprisonment.
Tragically, innocent people are sometimes put to death by the state. It has been proven in 350 capital convictions over the past 20 years that the convicted person had not committed the crime. Of these cases, 25 people were executed before their innocence was discovered.
Capital punishment does nothing for the families of victims of violent crime other than prolonging their suffering through many wasted years of criminal proceedings. Rather than fueling their cry for vengeance, the state could better serve them by helping them come to terms with their grief. We applaud the work of support groups of victims' families who have joined together to work toward reconciliation and rehabilitation of the people who caused tragic loss in their families.
While human logic alone seems to support the abolition of the death penalty, as moral leaders we call for alternatives because of its moral incongruity in today's world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "If...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 with the dignity of the human person."
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm--without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself--the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.
In our modern society, we have means of keeping an offender from harming others. Although in previous times people of faith have employed capital punishment, today we have the ability to realize better the principles of mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love for all people, as evoked in the Hebrew Scriptures by the Prophet Ezekiel: "As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!"
We believe that capital punishment contributes to a climate of violence in our state. This cycle of violence can be diminished by life imprisonment without parole, when necessary. The words of Ezekiel are a powerful reminder that repentance not revenge, conversion not death are better guides for public policy on the death penalty than the current policy of violence for violence, death for death.
As religious leaders, we are deeply concerned that the State of Texas is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life by employing capital punishment for heinous crimes. We implore all citizens to call on our elected officials to reject the violence of the death penalty and replace it with non-lethal means of punishment which are sufficient to protect society from violent offenders of human life and public order.
American Bar Association
Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities
Section of Litigation
Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law
Massachusetts Bar Association
RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association calls upon each jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that are consistent with the following longstanding American Bar Association policies intended to (1) ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process, and (2) minimize the risk that innocent parties may be executed: (I) Implementing ABA "Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death penalty Cases" (adopted Feb. 1989) and Association policies intended to encourage competency of counsel in capital cases (adopted Feb. 1979, Feb. 1988, Feb. 1990, Aug. 1996);
(ii) Preserving, enhancing, and streamlining state and federal court's authority and responsibility to exercise independent judgment on the merits of constitutional claims in state post-conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings (adopted Aug. 1982, Feb. 1990);
(iii) Striving to eliminate discrimination in capital sentencing on the basis of the race of either the victim or the defendant (adopted Aug. 1988, Aug. 1991; and
(iv) Preventing execution of mentally retarded persons (adopted Feb. 1989) and persons who were under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses (adopted Aug. 1983).
FURTHER RESOLVED, That in adopting this recommendation, apart from existing Association policies relating to offenders who are mentally retarded or under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offenses, the Association takes no position on the death penalty.
*Resolution passed by ABA House of Delegates on February 3, 1997 by a majority of 280 to 119. For text of the Report accompanying the Resolution, click on American Bar Association link at the start of the Resolution.