Killing the killer is not the solution

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

As we prayerfully recall the execution of Jesus Christ, I urge all people to reflect on the unintended consequences of the death penalty and to work for its repeal nationwide.

A culture ultimately defines its moral character by the value it places on each human life, particularly those lives which seem burdensome, inconsequential or unworthy. Violent criminals present an especially difficult moral challenge for us, because their own cruelty has forced them to the margins of society. Recognizing a criminal's humanity is difficult when our hearts are clouded by anger and pain.

Still, killing the killer is not the answer. The death penalty may provide us with a momentary sense of vengeance, but it won't bring back the lives of innocent victims. And in our quest to "send a message" to would–be criminals, we also send a disastrous signal to our children. We teach them that the problem of violence can be solved by more violence.

The agony a family suffers when a loved one is murdered cannot be expressed in words, and as a community, we have a responsibility to punish violent criminals. But we focus so much on what murderers seem to deserve, we do not fully consider what state-sanctioned killing does to the living. It can only diminish the value we place on all human life.

Finally, I ask you to remember in a special way those people whose daily cross includes the tragedy of a loved one lost to violence. May God grant them the grace, inner peace and strength of the crucified Jesus, who said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)