Yesterday, Pope Francis came out against the death penalty about as strongly as a pope can come out against anything. In a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, he pretty much declared a crusade:
“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment,” he said. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”
Let’s leave aside the public policy quibble that in America nothing has done more to reduce the number of death penalties handed out by juries than the life-without-parole sentencing option. What His Holiness has done is definitively reject the assertion of former Denver and current Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput when he told Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate and staunch Catholic Bob Beauprez that it wasn’t against their religion to also be a staunch death penalty advocate.
At least that’s what Beauprez said a few weeks ago when asked about his support for the death penalty in a debate with his Democratic opponent, Gov. John Hickenlooper. According to Beauprez:
He said, “Bob, you pray on it, sleep on it, reach the conclusion that is right for your soul.” And he said, “I’ll back you up, because church doctrine is not anti–death penalty.” I want to be very clear about that.
When reporters tried to check on the quote, Chaput’s spokeman said the archbishop wouldn’t comment on a private conversation between himself and the candidate.
Now, as you may have noticed, Chaput gave a speech the other day expressing dismay at the Vatican’s recent synod on the family for sowing confusion among the faithful. “I was very disturbed by what happened,” he said. “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”
So far as I am concerned, Candidate Beauprez is entitled to support the death penalty even though his church doesn’t. But thanks to him, the public image that’s come across is of a church that both opposes and does not oppose the death penalty.
The Bishop of Rome has spoken. It’s of the devil for the Archbishop of Philadelphia not to clear up the confusion that’s been sown.