The following comes from a January 7 Catholic News Agency article by Matt Hadro:
Executions in the United States fell to the lowest number in decades in 2015, and recent Popes may have helped spur the drop in public support for capital punishment.
“I think that there is continued erosion of support for the death penalty, and that’s manifested across the board,” explained Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., in an interview with CNA. The center gathers and tracks information on the death penalty in the United States.
The number of executions in the U.S. fell to 28 in 2015, continuing its overall decline since the peak of 98 in 1999. It is the lowest number in 24 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The number of death sentences also fell from 73 in 2014 to 49 in 2015, the lowest number since the 1970s when states began re-enacting death penalty statutes.
Public approval of the death penalty for convicted murderers has fallen along with the number of executions and death sentences. It peaked in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center, when 78 percent of Americans supported the death penalty for someone convicted of murder. That number has fallen to 56 percent in 2015.
And among Catholics the death penalty has similarly lost support. 53 percent of Catholics support its use now for convicted murderers, down from 59 percent in 2011. A 2004 Gallup poll showed its approval among Catholics at 66 percent.
However, the polls may not distinguish between faithful Mass-going Catholics and Catholics who do not practice their faith, Joshua Mercer, co-founder of CatholicVote.org, said. He suggested that the support for the death penalty may be significantly lower among practicing Catholics who take seriously the teaching of the Magisterium and recent papal statements against the use of capital punishment.
“Amongst Catholic voters, I think since Pope John Paul II spoke about the death penalty, we’ve seen the support for death penalty in the United States amongst faithful Catholics decline,” Mercer told CNA.