Capital Punishment

Ending the life of a human being prematurely means denying that person a chance at reconciliation. Every human has fallen short of divine perfection and every human is deserving of grace. We must be advocates for true rehabilitation, not for vengeance. This page provides information on Capital Punishment as well as ways to get involved to advocate for forgiveness and healing instead of anger and death.

Check out our Being Pro Life Episode: Capital Punishment: Is It Truly Justice? Click the video or one of the icons to the left to watch, listen, and read.

General Information

Death Penalty Facts

In 1976, The US Supreme Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia that the death penalty was constitutional. This legalized a practice that the Church has deemed rarely necessary in the modern era. Since 1976, there have been 1,518 executions in the United States, the majority performed via lethal injection. As of 2020, more than 130 people have been exonerated of the crime that placed them on death row. Studies have shown that execution is not a strong deterrent for criminals. The Northeastern US performs less than .5% of executions, yet has the lowest murder rate, while the South performs 80% of executions and has the highest murder rate. The numbers become even more skewed when race is considered. The race of the defendant and of the victim has a great impact on if they jury will recommend the death penalty. If the vicitm of a crime was white, it is much more likely a defendant will receive the death penalty. If the defendent is black, it is far more likely he or she will receive the death penalty. 28 states, including Ohio, allow for the death penalty though Ohio has not executed anyone since 2017 under Governor DeWine.

As Catholics, we are called to remember the dignity of all life, even of those who do not show that same respect. Those in prison especially are in need of grace to find God’s healing and support. Those who are on death row still have the opportunity to reconcile and repent. Those who have been executed do not. CLICK HERE to read more about capital punishment in Ohio.

Church Documents

“At the heart of Catholic teaching on the death penalty is the belief that “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end…” -Catechism of the Catholic Church (2258)

We are tragically turning to violence in the search for quick and easy answers to complex human problems.  A society which destroys its children, abandons its old and relies on vengeance fails fundamental moral tests.  Violence is not the solution; it is the most clear sign of our failures.  We are losing our respect for human life.  How do we teach the young to curb their violence when we embrace it as the solution to social problems?

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.

[Punishment] ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (EN ESPANOL)

Each of us is called to respect the life and dignity of every human being. Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity.

Organizations & Webpages

Below are organizations, along with their webpages, that serve as wonderful resources for parishes, families and individuals who would like to learn more about the topic of capital punishment from the perspective of the Catholic Church.

United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB)

The USCCB offers a plethora of resources and information on their website. The Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities offers articles, documents, and prayer resources that cover the topic capital punishment. These resources address Church teaching, statistics, and legislation. For the “Capital Punishment” specific page CLICK HERE.

Ohio Catholic Conference of Bishops

The Catholic Conference of Ohio represents the Church’s position before the Ohio General Assembly, various state departments, bureaus, agencies and other organizations. The Conference also provides facilitation, coordination and joint programming for diocesan groups involved in various Church ministries.  This website also has a variety of resources regarding the death penalty in the state of Ohio.

Death Penalty Action

Death Penalty Action (DPA) provides high visibility resources, leadership, support, educational and direct action events and activities within the broader anti-death penalty movement. DPA is led by Abraham Bonowitz and Scott Langley, two seasoned anti-death penalty organizers and movement leaders. DPA is prepared to assist various local, state and national groups in their work to end the use of the death penalty.

Witness to Innocence

Witness to Innocence is the nation’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States. Through public speaking, testifying in state legislatures, media work, and active participation in our nation’s cultural life, our members are helping to end the death penalty by educating the public about innocence and wrongful convictions.

Journey of Hope

Journey of Hope – From Violence to Healing provides public education about the needs of crime victims, and specifically the needs of family members of murder victims. By centering the voices of those who have lost loved ones to murder, Journey of Hope provides a unique perspective and much-needed voice in the effort to abolish the death penalty and replace it with effective, constructive solutions.

Ohioans to Stop Executions

OTSE is a coalition of individuals and organizations working to reduce use of and ultimately end capital punishment in Ohio. We are ordinary Ohioans with an extraordinary vision for how society addresses violent crime and victims’ families needs.

We think Ohio will be better off when the needs of victims’ families come first. We believe the death penalty only creates more victims and does not serve the needs of Ohio’s law enforcement community. We value smarter criminal justice policies that hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe. We believe Ohio can do both, and that begins with rethinking death in a society that values life.

Death Penalty Information Center

The Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. Founded in 1990, the Center promotes informed discussion of the death penalty by preparing in-depth reports, conducting briefings for journalists, and serving as a resource to those working on this issue.

Catholic Mobilizing Network

Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the use of the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices. Through education, advocacy, and prayer, and based on the Gospel value that every human is created in the image and likeness of God, CMN expresses the fundamental belief that all those who have caused or been impacted by crime should be treated with dignity.

Media Resources

In our media-driven world, it is imperative to use media resources to work to spread the Gospel of Life. Below are a variety of these media resources that could be used as conversation starters to delve more deeply into the issue of capital punishment.

Articles & Books

Capital Punishment: Is It Truly Justice?

This article is part of the Being Pro Life Campaign and features personal stories of those affected by Capital Punishment. This campaign includes an article, video, and podcast that effectively convey what it means to have a consistent ethic of life. For Part 2 of this article CLICK HERE.

Crimson Letters: Voices from Death Row

Through thirty compelling essays written in the prisoners’ own words, Crimson Letters: Voices from Death Row offers stories of brutal beatings inside juvenile hall, botched suicide attempts, the terror of the first night on Death Row, the pain of goodbye as a friend is led to execution, and the small acts of humanity that keep hope alive for men living in the shadow of death.

Dead Man Walking

In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean became the spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers who was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. In the months before Sonnier’s death, the Roman Catholic nun came to know a man who was as terrified as he had once been terrifying. She also came to know the families of the victims and the men whose job it was to execute—men who often harbored doubts about the rightness of what they were doing.

Just Mercy

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.

Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

The Innocent Man

This true-crime novel tells the story of Ronald ‘Ron’ Keith Williamson of Ada, Oklahoma, a former minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted in 1988 of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada and was sentenced to death.

Videos & Movies

Dead Man Walking (1995) presents a rounded and riveting look at the life and work of this nun who demonstrates the spiritual practices of listening, forgiveness, and compassion with a death row prisoner and with the parents of his victims. This unforgettable film exposes the cruelty of death by lethal injection and offers instead an alternate path based on love. It also shows that hate is the worst prison of all. To read a synopsis of this film CLICK HERE.

For a Movie Discussion Guide CLICK HERE.

Just Mercy takes us inside America’s broken criminal justice system and compels us to confront inequality and injustice.

Based on the bestselling book, the Just Mercy movie presents the unforgettable story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and the case of Walter McMillian (Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx), who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.

For a Movie Discussion Guide CLICK HERE.

Two murders, four convictions, and a town full of secrets. Based on John Grisham’s only true crime best-seller, The Innocent Man, an old case that shook the small town of Ada, Oklahoma in the 1980s is re-opened with unbelievable evidence that has everyone questioning if the right men were charged, or if the killer is still out there.

Printable Resources

Get Involved

To end and prevent the practice capital punishment, we must take action. Whether that is through working towards advocacy, awareness, service or prayer. Below are a list of ways to get involved.

Advocacy & Awareness

In order to bring an end to capital punishment in our nation, we must not be silent and we must stay informed. Below is information about both the State and National Call to Action Websites.   You can sign up and receive important alerts about these issues to remain aware and take action.

USCCB Action Center

Looking for a way to make a change in our world? The USCCB Action Center provides a huge amount of information regarding National Legislation and how Catholic citizens can get involved. You can also sign up for emails and text messages from the USCCB. Click the link above to be taken to the webpage.

Catholic Conference of Ohio

The Conference represents the Church’s position before the Ohio General Assembly, various state departments, bureaus, agencies and other organizations. The Conference also provides facilitation, coordination and joint programming for diocesan groups involved in various Church ministries. You can sign up for statewide Action Alerts and will receive information on upcoming legislation in the state of Ohio.

Catholic Mobilizing Network

CMN highlights current legislative campaigns, legislative action, appeals for clemency, executions and provides sample letters and other resources to supporters to facilitate advocacy. Use and share these materials to make change happen! Please note that some online campaigns will only allow constituents of a specific state or legislative district to participate.

Prayer

Merciful Father, we ask your blessing on all we do to build a culture of life. Hear our prayers for those impacted by the death penalty.

We pray for all people, that their lives and dignity as children of a loving God may be respected and protected in all stages and circumstances.

We pray for victims of violence and their families, that they may experience our love and support and find comfort in your compassion and in the promise of eternal life.

We pray for those on death row, that their lives may be spared, that the innocent may be freed and that the guilty may come to acknowledge their faults and seek reconciliation with you.

We pray for the families of those who are facing execution, that they may be comforted by your love and compassion.

We pray for civic leaders, that they may commit themselves to respecting every human life and ending the use of the death penalty in our land.

Compassionate Father, give us wisdom and hearts filled with your love. Guide us as we work to end the use of the death penalty and to build a society that truly chooses life in all situations.

We ask this Father through your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.  AMEN

Service

To promote the Pro Life cause within our community, it takes many hands. We are called through the corporal acts of mercy to visit the imprisoned and to give them the opportunity to be reconciled. There are different levels of involvement ranging from writing letters to inmates to becoming involved in prison ministry in your area.  If you are interested in getting involved with Prison Ministry here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, you can contact Marty Arlinghaus at [email protected] for more information.

Contact Us:

Bob Wurzelbacher

Office Director
(513)263-6674

Kara Ross

Associate Director
(937)281-4127

Noelle Collis-DeVito

Associate Director
(937)281-4128