The Iowa Catholic Conference calls on Iowans to oppose Senate File 357, which would reinstate the death penalty in Iowa for first-degree murder offenses involving kidnapping and sexual abuse against the same victim who is a minor. The state legislature abolished the death penalty 58 years ago, but legislators over the years have attempted to restore it, despite a commitment to protecting life.
Protecting life from conception to natural death transcends politics. Keep in mind that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both called for an end to the death penalty and Pope Francis revised Church teaching on it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church now states that the death penalty is “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and (the Church) works with determination for its abolition worldwide” (No. 2267).
Iowa’s bishops, responding to proposed legislation to reinstate the death penalty in 2021, issued a joint statement in opposition, acknowledging the state’s duty to “punish offenders and defend the common good.” They pointed out that conviction of first-degree murder in Iowa results in life without parole. The bishops also acknowledged the special need to offer sympathy and support to the victims of violent crimes and their families.
However, the bishops said, “We oppose reinstatement of the death penalty in order to send the message that the cycle of violence can be broken without taking life. We ask the people of Iowa, and especially members of the Catholic Church, to join us in opposing capital punishment out of respect for our common human dignity and in light of the teachings of Jesus about vengeance.”
“Even those who have committed great harm retain their human dignity and the capacity to reform, to love, and to be loved,” notes the ICC, which is the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops. Quoting Pope Francis, the ICC adds, “… in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor.”
Just before Christmas this past year, Bishop Thomas Zinkula celebrated Mass at the Iowa State Penitentiary where several of the inmates in attendance are serving life sentences for murder convictions. The bishop gave a homily in which he shared the story of a Christmas Day truce during World War I. He described it as an incredibly inspiring Christmas story of “humanity recognizing humanity for a time.”
One of the inmates serving a life sentence, reflecting on the homily, said, “You can’t change what happened in the past that brought you to prison but you can grow as a person, as an individual. I can’t change the past but I can change how I treat others and how I handle myself.” “Even those who have committed great harm retain their human dignity and the capacity to reform, to love, and to be loved,” as ICC staff testified last month during a Senate subcommittee hearing on the death penalty.
Here’s how we can respond to the ICC’s call to oppose reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa:
• Go to the action center on the ICC’s website (https://tinyurl.com/22kahmae) and ask your state senator (legis.iowa.gov/legislators/senate) to oppose Senate File 357. Explain why you oppose the death penalty. Monitor the ICC website at iowacatholicconference.org to follow developments on the death penalty issue and to read the bishops’ statements.
• Read about the death penalty issue at Catholic Mobilizing Network (catholicsmobilizing.org) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website (https://tinyurl.com/4s2wutnk).
The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund (email@example.com) offers suggestions as well, such as:
• Contact Senate Republican leadership and urge them to not debate the death penalty bill. Share these talking points: the death penalty is unfair, unnecessary, ineffective, costly, and morally wrong. It is not a deterrent to crime. Innocent people have been sentenced to death. African American men are adversely and disproportionately impacted in states with the death penalty.
Let us also pray for a change of heart, that Iowans accept and appreciate the value of every person, regardless of guilt or innocence. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in God’s mercy and ask for it every time we attend Mass. We reciprocate that gift even to those we don’t think deserve it.