Californians should vote for Proposition 62, a ballot measure to end the death penalty, the Archbishop of Los Angeles has said in a reflection on justice, Catholic teaching and American society.
“It is time for us to end the death penalty – not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Sept. 21.
“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”
His essay is part of a special issue of the Los Angeles archdiocese’s newsweekly Angelus dedicated to the Church and the death penalty.
Rather than condemn criminals to death, he said, Christians “should pray for their conversion and encourage their rehabilitation and ultimate restoration to society.”
Those who seek an end to the death penalty must not forget the victims of crime and their loved ones.
“We entrust them to the Father of mercies and we pray that he grant them healing and peace,” the archbishop continued.
California’s ballot measure Prop. 62, which is on the November ballot, would replace the death penalty with lifetime in prison without parole.
Public opinion survey results have been mixed.
A Sept. 1-8 online poll of 1,909 registered voters sponsored by the USC Dornslife College and the Los Angeles Times found that only 40 percent of registered voters would approve the proposal. Another survey, run by the Field Poll, polled 942 likely voters Sept.7-13. It found support from 48 percent of voters and opposition from 37 percent.
Another ballot measure, Prop. 66, would limit the appeal process for death row inmates and shorten the time from sentencing to execution.
Archbishop Gomez cited St. John Paul II’s words in his final U.S. visit in 1999, in which the Pope called the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary.”
“The reason is that every life is sacred and every person has a dignity that comes from God,” the archbishop explained. “This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those convicted of the most violent crimes.”
He acknowledged historical Catholic support for the death penalty.
“The Catholic Church has always taught that legitimate governments have the right to impose the death penalty on those guilty of the most serious crimes. This teaching has been consistent for centuries — in the Scriptures, in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the teachings of the Popes,” he said.
“But in recent years, there has been a growing consensus that the use of the death penalty can no longer be accepted.”
Archbishop Gomez cited a “strange appetite for violence” in American culture, violent video games, demeaning music and entertainments.
“In this cultural context, I do not see how the death penalty can ever again express society’s ultimate value for human life. In this cultural context, the death penalty can only function as one more killing.”
Archbishop Gomez and the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace have established a website supporting a Yes vote on Proposition 62, www.killingisntjustice.org.