San Diego bishop speaks from experience in Riverside County
The following op-ed piece by coadjutor bishop Cirilo Flores appeared on April 25 in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
This year, in the Easter season, San Diego reels from two recent murders – a young Iraqi mother of five and a 14-year-old boy visiting friends with his brother. Our community comes together in grief and to comfort the families who have lost loved ones. We recognize their profound pain.
During this difficult period, Easter’s promise of rebirth can seem like an illusion. The cycle of violence seems endless, with justice an impossible ideal. Some have even called for the death penalty for those responsible for these crimes.
So it is fitting that San Diegans should pause and think deeply about executions as many of us are celebrating new life. After all, Easter reminds us that before the Resurrection, an innocent man, Jesus of Nazareth, was executed by his government more than 2,000 years ago.
We know that innocent people have been convicted of murder in California – three were released in 2011 after serving a total of 57 years – and that innocent people have been executed in other states.
Nationwide, 140 inmates from death rows have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were wrongly convicted. In light of possible innocence, using the death penalty puts all Californians at risk of perpetrating the ultimate injustice of executing an innocent person, for when the governor gives the final order to execute, he does so in the name of California residents, and the death certificate will read, “Homicide,” as the cause of death.
The Catholic Church holds that all human life is sacred, even the life of someone who has done grave harm. In its 1998 “Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty,” the U.S. Catholic Bishops stated, “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, the state of California has devoted more than $4 billion to carry out a mere 13 executions. For the same $300 million we spent per extremely rare execution, we could have funded a full K-12 education for 3,000 children. We could have provided after-school programs for over 200,000 students.
Or we could have hired nearly 6,000 police officers to prevent and solve violent crimes. An outrageous 46 percent of homicide cases are never closed and 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved every year in California because of a shortage of resources. While we spend hundreds of millions every year on our broken death-penalty system, we fail to fully protect our neighborhoods from violent criminals. We already have a much less expensive way to protect our society and to secure accountability from the guilty – a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Our conscience and budgets can no longer justify any other option.
Growing up in a barrio neighborhood in Riverside County, I saw firsthand how violence destroyed lives and families. I knew perpetrators and victims of violent crime, yet I came to the conclusion that the death penalty serves no one – not society, not victim’s families, not those seeking personal safety.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 12:15 AM By Clinton Again, it seems the bishops are more concerned with the death penalty than abortion. 13 executions in California since 1978. How many abortions in this state since 1978? Thousands! Those executed on death row received a trial, numerous appeals, and were not put to death until years after their conviction. The unborn receive no trial, no appeals, no clemency from the governor and the death sentence is rendered immediately. And yet the bishops and priests were largely silent about the parental notification for abortions of girls under 18. But let the ACLU push an agenda and the bishops trip over themselves to support those causes.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 4:56 AM By MAC The death penalty is not intended to be justice or revenge, but merely to protect society (including those in prison and prison staff) from dangerous unjust agressors. Money is not the issue either. CCC – QUOTE “2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, 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 are more in conformity to 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 definitely 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 non-existent.” UNQUOTE. If the death penalty is outlawed all together, then there is no protection from the serious unjust aggressor. Don’t you think it is interesting that most Diocesan Bishops in CA refuse to actively promote the reading of the CCC by all Catholics over age 16 ? ? ? – very interesting.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 4:57 AM By Daphne de Rutte We can,t be forgiven if we don,t forgive. I would rather err on the side of life and let the Good Lord handle the justice.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 5:21 AM By Ted Why don’t the bishops take into account that we do NOT always keep those who kill in prison for life ? I agree capital punishment needs to go away, but first we must have laws in place to ensure the safety of innocent citizens. We do let them out to re-offend. When we cannot do that, I’d agree to ban capital punishment but not one minute before that.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 6:32 AM By JMJ For many years I used to have the mindset of most people and to use the death penalty and of course, when Manson’s gang did their horrible crimes, I was all for putting those fiends to death, thankfully, it didn’t happened as a few of them became Christians, and had deep remorse for their actions (unlike Manson, at least not yet, keep praying for him), and I finally woke up to see the wrongness of killing someone just to get ‘even’. Our Blessed Pope John Paul II, had it right: only use this when it is absolutely necessary, of which in the U.S., this means NEVER. +JMJ+
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 6:45 AM By Sue in soCal Agreed. The death penalty in 99% of the cases is unnecessary. I do take issue with the good Bishop’s suggestion that the money spent would be better spent on education since currently 45% of the General Funds in this state are spent on education. This amount is mandated by the California State Constitution via Prop 98 which mandated a minimum of 39% when it was instituted along with mandated increases since then. (Has anyone else noticed that the more we’ve spent on education the worse our education system has become?) This is why any money saved by eliminating the death penalty will NOT be saved unless we follow the idea of subsidiarity. Sorry, Bishop Flores: while eliminating the death penalty is a great good, shuffling money around the budget is not. I know this is slightly off point but it is a point I think needs to be made. Our bishops have been slightly off point in a number of their statements by promoting bad policies when they write about Church teaching. This is a case in point.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 7:22 AM By Steve Phoenix I would like to see as much emphasis by Bp. Flores and his compatriot bishops placed on the innocent millions aborted in the womb as on those waiting on death row for a just punishment, upon whom the $4 billion is lavished because we are blocked from our lawful fulfilment (T Aquinas) of their punishment. I am always amazed at our cloistered bishops and their ilk. For those who want to know the truth, regarding Evangelium Vitae (EV), JP2 did NOT include his death penalty opinion in the ordinary magisterium. Other parts of EV, on willful murder, abortion, and euthanasia were. “Before writing Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II surveyed every Catholic bishop in the world asking whether they agreed that murder, directly-willed abortion, and euthanasia were immoral, and they all agreed that they were. To make this connection clear, the pope concluded each of these passages in Evangelium Vitae with a reference to the “ordinary and universal magisterium” (Francis A Sullivan Theo. Studies 9/95). Notably absent from this list: the alleged prohibition of the death penalty. The bishop’s death penalty position cannot square with what centuries of orthodox theologians (Aquinas included), the Church Fathers, and previous popes (P Pius XII in 1952 clearly affirmed the death penalty) have held, and conflicts with St Vincent of Lerins’ rule that Catholic doctrine can only be “what the Church has always taught and held everywhere and at all times.”
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 8:13 AM By Patrick The Bishop’s view is personal, not church doctrine. The reason the State of CA has spent so much money regarding executions is that prisoners have unlimited appeals. They should be cut off.
Posted Tuesday, May 08, 2012 8:44 AM By Anne I would remind the bishop that the Vatican had the death penalty on its books for persons who attempt to assassinate the Pope up until 1969. Pope-saints, like Pius V, as temporal rulers over the Vatican states imposed the death penalty on criminals. I think we’re all for making sure we don’t execute an innocent person, just as we’re all for not putting an innocent person in prison, but fear of making a mistake can’t take us to the point of eliminating punishment for criminals. The death penalty does need to be fixed in California…it’s absurd that the appeals process can take more than two decades…but I’m sure that most of us, Catholic or not, do not support its abolition.