A plea for the abolition of the death penalty has been included in the text of the Way of the Cross, which will be led by Pope Francis at the Colloseum in Rome on Good Friday.
At the Eleventh Station, ‘Jesus is nailed to the Cross,’ the following meditation will be read: “We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross. And our conscience is troubled. We anxiously ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?
“When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defence of the human person, of every human being.”
Pope Francis has spoken out against the death penalty a number of times during his pontificate. He recently outlined his opposition to capital punishment in a letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty, when he wrote: “When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past.”
“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed,” he continued.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Christian religious leaders of various churches signed up to a Holy Week call to end the death penalty in the United States.
A statement released on March 31 said: “Torture and execution is always a profound evil, made even more abhorrent when sanctioned by the government in the name of justice when other means of protecting society are available. All who reverence the sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, must never remain silent when firing squads, lethal injections, electric chairs and other instruments of death are viewed as morally acceptable.”
The statement urged governors, prosecutors, judges and “anyone entrusted with power to do all that they can to end a practice that diminishes our humanity and contributes to a culture of violence and retribution without restoration.”
Co-ordinated by the group Faith in Public Life, the statement was signed by three retired Catholic bishops, two of whom served as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; by death penalty abolition advocate Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St Joseph, and another dozen or so women religious, hundreds of clergy and academics as well as other Christian leaders.
The Catholic bishops who signed it were retired Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and retired Bishop William S Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, both of whom have been president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Episcopal Bishop Robert Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta also was a signatory.
The statement offered prayers for those who have been killed and the families that mourn their loss, adding “we can never know your pain and anger”.
It called for joint efforts for healing, restorative justice and “a system that punishes criminals without bringing more darkness and death into our world”.