[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----KANSAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 17 02:02:18 CDT 2005
Why the church holds sacred the life of even those who take life
In the end, it wasnt his depravity that was so shocking, but his
ordinariness. Dennis Rader was a family man, church leader, city employee,
Cub Scout leader - and serial killer. Between 1974 and 1991 he killed 10
people in the Wichita area, most of them women.
The public knew him by the name of his own choosing, taken from his method
of murder: BTK, or "bind, torture and kill."
After years of silence he surfaced in 2004, sending notes to Wichita area
newspapers and TV stations. Police used this evidence to arrest Rader this
past February. At last, the faceless terror had a name and face, and it
was an ordinary face. People who had known him for decades were shocked to
learn of his violent and perverse secrets.
Subsequent evidence was so compelling - and horrific - that there was no
trial. Rader pled guilty in June . His sentence was 175 years without
parole. There was no question of applying the death penalty. Kansas
reinstituted capital punishment in 1994, 3 years after his last known
A perfect storm
Nevertheless, many in Kansas thought death would have been the appropriate
punishment for Rader. Like any sensational murder case, the capture and
trial of BTK brought the issue of the death penalty into the public
But at the same time the BTK drama was unfolding, Kansas death penalty law
was also undergoing a major challenge.
In December 2004, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kansas v.
Michael Marsh II that a section of the law was unconstitutional. This
section compelled jurors to choose the death penalty when confronted with
equal aggravating and mitigating factors during sentencing.
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme
Court, which agreed to hear the case on Dec. 7. The ruling will be issued
in the spring of 2006.
These two items alone - the BTK case and the invalidation of the Kansas
capital punishment law - were enough to bring the issue to a head for most
Kansans this year. A 3rd factor, however, made it a "perfect storm" of an
issue for Catholic citizens of the state.
On March 21, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched the Catholic
Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
"The Catholic campaign will work to change the debate and decisions on the
use of the death penalty: building a constituency for life, not death;
calling on our lawmakers to lead, not follow; to defend life, not take it
away," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, of the Archdiocese of
"This cause is not new. Our bishops conference has opposed the death
penalty for 25 years," he noted. "But this campaign is new. It brings
greater urgency and unity, increased energy and advocacy, and a renewed
call to our people and to our leaders to end the use of the death penalty
in our nation."
An awakening conscience
There was a time not long ago when the death penalty wasn't a major issue
for most Catholics.
For many centuries support for the death penalty could be found in papal
teachings, theological works, and catechisms. Traditionally, the Catholic
Church taught that the death penalty was justifiable according to the four
purposes of punishment: defense of society against the criminal;
rehabilitation of the criminal; retribution or reparation of the disorder
caused by the crime; and deterrence.
Since the 1970s, however, an increasing number of U.S. Catholic bishops
have spoken out against the death penalty. Pope John Paul IIs appeals for
clemency for death row prisoners (such as when he visited Missouri in
1999) and his 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life")
have solidified the universal churchs opposition to the death penalty.
While admitting a theoretical justification of the death penalty in
earlier times, Pope John Paul II argued that in modern times - with life
imprisonment a viable option - there is no longer any practical
justification for capital punishment.
In Kansas, the state's Catholic bishops opposed the reintroduction of
capital punishment in 1994, and most recently spoke against it in December
The cumulative effect has been to slowly reduce support by Catholics for
the death penalty.
A November 2004 poll of 1,700 Catholics by public opinion polling company
Zogby International discovered declining support and intensity of support
for the death penalty among Catholics. Zogby found that while past
Catholic support for capital punishment was as high as 68 %, today only 48
% of Catholic adults support it, while 47 % are opposed. Almost 1/3 of
Catholics (29 %) once in favor of the death penalty now are opposed,
mostly for reasons of religion or belief.
"In all my experiences with the death penalty, when I've been a part of
marches and conventions, its obvious that the Catholic Church and people
of the Catholic faith have been leaders in the call for the abolition of
the death penalty," said Sister Therese Bangert, SCL, a lobbyist for the
Kansas Catholic Conference.
"I think the average Catholic in the pew does not know how much energy,
effort and resources the church in the United States puts into working
against the death penalty and working with people on death row, and at the
same time working with those who have lost loved ones to cruel murder,"
Now that the USCCB has launched its campaign to end the use of the death
penalty, it's important for Catholics to do some directed study about why
the bishops have given us this teaching, she said.
In conjunction with the USCCB, and the Catholic bishops of Kansas, the
states Catholic newspapers will offer a series of articles about the
churchs teaching on the death penalty, information about the states
experience with the death penalty, ways individuals can work toward the
prohibition of the death penalty, and alternatives to capital punishment.
For information on the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death
Penalty, contact the USCCB, Office for Domestic Social Development, 3211
Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017-1194, or by e-mail at: deathpenalty
@usccb.org. Other Web-based resources can be found at www.ccedp.org.
(source: The Leaven)
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