August 04, 2018

Chicago cardinal reflects on Pope’s statement on death penalty

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich spoke on an American Bar Association Annual Meeting panel in Chicago on the death penalty on the same day that Pope Francis deemed the death penalty “inadmissible” or unacceptable in all cases.

“For close observers of the Holy Father, this comes as no surprise,” said Cupich during the Aug. 2 panel, “Has the Death Penalty Become an Anachronism?” “Pope Francis has consistently called for the abolition of the death penalty.”

Cupich noted what Pope Francis said in an address in 2017 about evolving Church teaching.

“In discussions leading up to today’s meeting, I was told that advocates of the so-called doctrine of ‘evolving standards of decency’ were intrigued by what Pope Francis said,” Cupich said.

“I imagine they are even more intrigued today. On that occasion he observed that in the Catholic view ‘tradition is a living reality…’ as ‘the word of God cannot be mothballed like some old blanket in an attempt to keep insects at bay.’ ” Rather, it is “a dynamic and living reality that develops and grows.”

As the Pope revises the catechism to bar the death penalty, Cupich said this move nudges Catholics to apply the pro-life principle more broadly.

“This principle of the dignity of human life must underpin any reference to inequality, inconsistency and systemic injustice,” Cupich said. “It is what holds together our care for the poor, the sick, the migrant, the excluded. Our assertion that the value of a human life does not depend upon an individual’s quality of life or age or moral worth must apply in all cases.”

He added, “For if we protect the sanctity of life for the least worthy among us, we surely witness the need to protect the lives of those who are the most innocent and most vulnerable.”

Program attendee Martin Shukert sat on the edge of his seat during the program. He said the Pope’s statement was, “incredibly perceptive and appropriate.”

 “I was struck by the Pope’s statement and the cardinal’s view,” he said. “It’s consistent with my view even though I’m not Catholic or a lawyer, but I’m interested in the topic.”

Other panelists focused on the inequality and inconsistency of the death penalty. The discussion focused on the history, practices and changing laws of the death penalty.

An audience member cited the disproportionate number of minorities on death row and asked what could be done to fix it.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the “surest way” is to eliminate capital punishment.

To read Cardinal Blase Cupich’s remarks, click here.

To watch the program, sponsored by the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, view it here.