A Frenzy of Federal Executions

We have been watching with horror the recent focus on federal executions in the last days of this administration. (The National Catholic Reporter has a good article here.) According to the Bureau of Prisons, more federal executions have taken place in the last five months than in any single decade since the 1920s. (If this sentence is confusing, I can state it as such: 47 federal executions have occurred since 1927. Thirteen of those, that’s 27%, have occurred in the last 5 months of this year.)

Attorney General William Barr, a Catholic, resumed federal executions in July 2020.  Since then, there have been 10 federal executions with three more set before President-elect Biden takes office on January 20, 2021. Six of these 13 total executions will be during the ‘lame-duck’ months, something that has not happened since 1889. One of these executions will be the first woman to be executed by the federal government in over 60 years.  

There is no denying that people who commit heinous crimes must be removed from society. Catholic Social Teaching tells us that all life is sacred, regardless of what that person has done. When you factor in the bias in our criminal justice system and the fact that some of those on death row have mental incapacities, it seems even clearer that we must stand against the government’s ability to put anyone to death.  The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur reaffirm the Holy Father's teaching that all life is sacred and that the death penalty has no place in a civil society. Being a victim of state-sponsored death himself, I think Jesus would agree.  

There is little we can do to spare the lives of the three individuals scheduled to die before January 20, 2021. Prayer for a commuted sentence is our best hope.  However, even if President-elect Joe Biden abolishes the federal death penalty, 28 states in the USA still allow the death penalty. 

As always, the first step is to educate ourselves on the topic. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is a good place to start. There are many actions you can take. Locally in Cincinnati, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center has just completed a report on the high cost of the death penalty and the disparities associated with it. 

Stay engaged! Stay committed!

Teresa Phillips
Director of Office of Justice Peace and Care for Creation