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Catholic Church changes stance on death penalty amid feud between La. Gov. and AG

Posted: 10:49 PM, Aug 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-03 12:11:50-04

The Catholic Church is changing its stance on the death penalty.

Pope Francis announced the Catholic Church will move toward abolishing the death penalty, calling it an "attack" on human dignity.

Here in Louisiana, there’s been a debate about the death penalty in recent weeks, after a federal judge approved a one-year extension to an order that has prevented the state from carrying out executions..

That lead to a dispute between the governor and attorney general, when Landry announced his office would no longer defend challenges to the state’s execution protocol. 

Landry tweeted he supports the death penalty by "lethal injection, gas, hanging and firing squad."

"The fact of the matter is, we have gotten to the point where our office has tried to work with the department of corrections to show them ways under which we can get these executions moving. and they have resisted," Landry told KATC a few weeks ago.

Governor Edwards responded, "why he did what he did yesterday, you will have to ask him because it makes absolutely no sense to me. The Twitter rant last night was, I thought, was relatively unhinged and extreme and does not reflect who we are as Louisianans."

And in a heavily Catholic part of the state, the death penalty could be an issue moving forward with the attorney general acknowledging he may run for governor.

"Where he does not seem to be saying that it’s objectively and morally evil in the same way that abortion is objectively and morally evil. But that it is inadmissible, it should never be done," said Fr. Bryce Sibley, a priest at UL.

He says this announcement comes as a progressive clarification.

Previously, the church didn’t exclude capital punishment "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." The pope’s predecessors criticized capital punishment but never officially changed the church’s position.

The new teaching says the previous policy is outdated because there are new ways to protect the common good, and the church should instead commit itself to working to end capital punishment.

"Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme means of safeguarding the common good," reads the new text.

"He’s saying that the death penalty is inadmissible because the dignity of a human person at all stages of life," said Fr. Sibley. "Sort of a  development of the doctrine as far as a I can see it from what John Paul II where the cases that where the death penalty would be admissible would be practically nonexistent

Louisiana has 71 inmates on death row, the last execution was performed in 2010.

It’s unclear if faith will influence politics on the matter moving forward, but unlike before the Church now has a firm stance.

"So whenever I teach on the death penalty, I’ll say that the church is clear that the dignity of a human person, even if they’re criminals, even if they’re rightly convicted, that we ought not take life because of the circumstances we have today where we can incarcerate and hopefully rehabilitate criminals," said Fr. Sibley.

We reached out to both Governor Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry, but haven’t heard back.

Below is Bishop Deshotel’s statement on the new stance of the Church

"Media are reporting that Pope Francis has called the death penalty for capital crimes “inadmissible” and that states should be working to abolish the death penalty.  His statement reiterates the teaching of the last two popes, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict.

In his encyclical, “The Gospel of Life”, St. John Paul II writes that the state has an obligation to protect innocent life from an unjust aggressor.  In our modern states, that can be accomplished by incarceration.  Also, given the culture of death in our times, abortion, murder, euthanasia, the state should opt for incarceration instead of the death penalty.

Pope Francis also adds that the opportunity for conversion, redemption, and rehabilitation exists even for one who has committed a heinous crime.  Opting for incarceration instead of capital punishment also makes a statement for the sacredness of human life, even of a person who has committed a serious crime."

+Most Reverend J. Douglas Deshotel, D.D.

  Bishop of Lafayette