I used to be for the death penalty, but when I became Catholic, I changed my mind. I’ll be honest, it’s one Church teaching I have a hard time with. On one level, the consistency of the life ethic makes it easy for me to accept Church teaching, but I can’t deny that I have an instinctive reaction when I hear of what these people have done and desire retribution.
In the end I submit to the teaching authority of the Church and go with the life consistency.
But at some level, it becomes easier and easier for me when I see the statistics on how things work out in practice. Take this data from the state of California:
Since 1978 when the death penalty was reenacted in California, a total of 89 people have died on death row. Yet only 14 of them, FOURTEEN, were actually executed. The rest died of natural causes, suicide or a number of other means:
-Natural causes: 52
-Killed: 2 (not clear if the killing was done by guards or other inmates)
-Drug overdose: 2
-Pepper spray induced heart attack: 1
To put those numbers in perspective, looking into the future, there are 720 people currently on death row in California, the youngest of which are about 20. Since people only live to about 80, AT BEST, only 100 or so of the 720 will actually be executed, if we return to our peak rate of about 2 executions a year (from 1999 to 2001, 5 people were executed, our fastest stretch in modern state history).
Forget for a moment the politics or the justice issues… seriously, who are we kidding? The vast majority of people on “death row” are really on life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.