Letter to Parishioners from Cardinal Hickey on the Death Penalty, September 14, 1997

Year Published
  • 2014
  • English

The following letter from Cardinal James A. Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, opposing recent proposals to legalize the death penalty in the District of Columbia was read to parishioners in all 41 Catholic Churches at Masses, Sunday, September 14, 1997:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In a 1992 referendum, the residents of the District of Columbia rejected capital punishment. The City Council ratified that choice in 1997. Nevertheless, proposals are now surfacing to legalize the death penalty in the District of Columbia. I writ to encourage you to express resolute opposition to those proposals.

In his encyclical entitled The Gospel of Life, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, teaches that capital punishment should be used only "in cases of absolute necessity -- when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." He goes on to state hat "such cases are rare, if not practically non-existent." (Evangelium Vitae, 56)

Out of regard for the dignity of all human life, and with a clear-headed recognition that the death penalty is disproportionately meted out to minority groups, the Archdiocese of Washington has consistently opposed efforts to re-instate the death penalty. While we deplore violent crime, particularly the murder of police officers, we believe that our city must find other means to redress such violence.

The Bishops of the United States have written:

The critical question for the Christian is how we can best foster respect for life, preserve the dignity of the human person and manifest the redemptive message of Christ. We do not believe that more death is the response to the question. We, therefore, have to seek methods of dealing with violent crime which are more consistent with the Gospel's vision of respect for life and Christs's message of God's healing love. In the sight of God, correction of the offender has to take preference over punishment. For the Lord came to save and not condemn.

Thank you for your attention to these important teachings of our Church. I pray that the Lord will bless you and your loved ones.