CATHOLIC CONFERENCE OF OHIO
Letter on the Death Penalty
Catholic Bishops of Ohio
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
For many years the Catholic Church has advocated for an end to the use of the
death penalty. In 1977, the Catholic Bishops of Ohio issued the first of many
teaching statements. This was followed with statements in 1987, 1994, 1996, 2011
and 2015. As executions resumed in Ohio, it became our practice to send a
letter to the Governor prior to each scheduled execution. In this letter, we
advocate for mercy. In 2015, we implemented an extensive death penalty
education and outreach program throughout our dioceses.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the cases in which the
execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not
practically non-existent” (#2267). Pope Francis has used strong words to call for
an end to the use of the death penalty. Writing in 2014, he said, “It is impossible
to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital
punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor.” In September of
2015, during his address before the United States Congress, Pope Francis
affirmed efforts of the United States Bishops to end use of the death penalty: “I
am convinced that this way [the global abolition of the death penalty] is the
best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an
inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those
convicted of crimes.”
Recognizing that for many, the death penalty is a challenging issue, we wrote a
letter in 1996, calling for spiritual healing and caring support for all those
impacted by murder. This statement urged a balancing of concern and pastoral
care for the families of victims and for offenders:
“Too often our call for compassion and concern for the offender is misread
as overshadowing our concern and empathy for victims and their loved
ones. Such is not our intent. We commit the Church’s ministry to extend
effective outreach and support services to victim families and friends.
Abiding with the victim is essential for that person’s physical, emotional and
spiritual healing. Never is one’s faith in a loving God more vulnerable than
when suffering strikes in a swift and meaningless fashion. As bishops, we
remind priests and other ministers of the Gospel of our mutual duty to attend
quickly to victims in order to pray with them and witness the love of God to
them by our compassionate presence.
At the same time, our faith also beckons us not to abandon the offender, to
love this person in Christ, and work and pray for his or her moral conversion
and rehabilitation . . . No human life, no matter how sinful or lacking in love, is
without value” (Affirming Justice and Mercy: Reassessing the Death Penalty).
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2015 began the
Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary
Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis invites each of us to follow the merciful example
of God, whose mercy endures forever (Psalm 136). He writes:
“[Mercy] is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends
on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us.
Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who
looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.
Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the
hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we
may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this
reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special
time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow
stronger and more effective” (Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of
Mercy, sections 2 & 3).
Perhaps, nowhere is this call for mercy more challenging than toward a person
who has committed a grievous crime. Mercy does not eliminate the need for
justice and just punishment. Pope Francis writes:
“ Mercy is not opposed to justice… On the contrary: anyone who makes a
mistake must pay the price. However, this is just the beginning of conversion,
not its end, because one begins to feel the tenderness and mercy of God.
God does not deny justice, He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an
even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true
justice… God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as grace that flows
from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (Bull of Indiction of the
Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, section 21).
Just punishment is a vehicle for the correction and conversion of the sinner. It
serves to defend society and its members, and provides for the restoration of the
public order made chaotic by the perpetrated crime. However, just punishment
can occur – and does occur – without resorting to the death penalty. If it is not
absolutely necessary to use the death penalty to defend and protect people’s
safety from the aggressor, the state is obligated to use “non-lethal means”
(Catechism of Catholic Church, #2267). Other states and other countries have
found effective ways to protect society by justly punishing offenders through
non-lethal means. Ohio should do the same.
May each of us live as faithful witnesses of God’s mercy, compassion and
The Catholic Bishops of Ohio
Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr
Archdiocese of Cincinnati
Chairman, Board of Directors, Catholic Conference of Ohio
• Most Rev. Joseph R. Binzer
Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati
• Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon
Bishop of Cleveland
• Most Rev. Frederick F. Campbell
Bishop of Columbus
• Most Rev. John Kudrick
Bishop of Byzantine Eparchy of Parma
• Most Rev. Jeffrey M. Monforton
Bishop of Steubenville
• Most Rev. Daniel E. Thomas
Bishop of Toledo
• Most Rev. George V. Murry S.J.
Bishop of Youngstown
• Most Rev. J. Michael Botean
Bishop of Romanian Catholic Eparchy of Canton
• Most Rev. Bohdan J. Danylo
Bishop of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Eparchy, Parma