Reflections on Capital Punishment After an Oklahoma Botched Execution

Oklahoma State Representative Mike Christian told reporters this week that “he doesn’t care whether inmates are executed by injection, electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or “being fed to the lions”.” Rep. Christian is also calling for the impeachment of the Oklahoma Supreme Court because they wanted to halt the executions. I find this deplorable. Number one, he is sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States. Yes, that includes Amendment 8 and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Number two, the system of government we have here in the United States results in a “checks and balances” model, where one branch (in this case, the judicial branch) can intervene to block another branch from abusing its power. Over the past week, I have heard many people comment on the (botched) execution of Clayton Lockett by saying “rot in hell,” “he deserved it,” or “he didn’t suffer enough,” among many others.

Capital punishment in this country was never instituted for the purpose of revenge, as that is immoral. Rather, it was instituted when the United States was a developing country and did not have the ability to adequately protect the population from evildoers. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says The Lord” (Romans 12:19 NABRE). We must trust in The Lord to judge and not take matters into our own hands. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about Capital Punishment:

CCC 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

“[The cases] are rare, if not practically non-existent.” I looked up both condemned men’s DOC records. Neither of them had committed any other crimes while in prison. It seems to me that it is not an “absolute necessity” to execute these men.

Finally, The Lord said in the Gospel of St. Matthew that “Stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NABRE). How are we to know that these men did not repent, and come in faith to God? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? We are all sinners! Sure, some people are capable of much more heinous offenses to the people and to God, but God forgives all sins, not just the meager ones. Also in the Gospel of St. Matthew, The Lord says “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4,5 NABRE). Finally, in St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NABRE).

Are we really perfect enough that we can adequately judge whether someone is guilty or innocent? Much less whether or not they should be executed? I urge everyone to stop playing God and focus on “removing the wooden beam from your own eye.” Oh, and pray for the souls of the victims as well as the condemned.

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