BY ISN STAFF | December 17, 2020
A new report released Wednesday by the Death Penalty Information Center paints 2020 as an anomalous year with regard to the use of capital punishment. Following a 17-year hiatus from federal executions, the Trump administration initiated an unprecedented execution spree in 2020, resulting in a greater total number of executions than all U.S. states combined.
“The Trump administration’s spate of executions this year is a shameful aberration,” commented Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. “It goes against nationwide declines in executions, falling death sentencing rates, and a long-term drop in public support for capital punishment. And it clearly violates Church teaching.”
With Colorado’s repeal of capital punishment in March of this year, more than two-thirds of U.S. states (34) have either formally abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least a decade. According to Gallup, the 43% of people who opposed the death penalty in 2020 is the highest level of opposition since 1966.
For decades, the global Catholic Church has called for the abolition of capital punishment, a stance cemented in 2018 with a revision to the Catechism calling the practice “inadmissible.” Pope Francis later leveraged the full weight of the Church’s opposition to the death penalty in his papal encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, released in Oct. 2020: “There can be no stepping back from this position.”
Despite the federal government’s 10-person execution spree, 2020 was the sixth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions nationwide. Only Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas conducted executions this year; state executions ground to a halt after July 8 due to COVID-19.
Conversely, the federal government rushed through executions during the global pandemic, contributing to an outbreak at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana that infected federal execution teams, lawyers, and even a religious advisor.
In response to the federal government’s restart of executions, thousands of Catholics across the U.S. advocated in opposition and participated in a series of Virtual Prayer Vigils lamenting the blatant attacks on human dignity. More than 1,000 faith leaders signed a joint statement to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr urging them to halt the resumption.
Throughout 2020, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released frequent statements urging the federal government to “stop these executions,” and several bishop chairmen participated in CMN prayer vigils.
“The outcome of the recent presidential election suggests that the current federal execution spree will soon, thankfully, come to an end,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “President-elect Biden’s platform was clearly opposed to the death penalty, but it remains to be seen how that stance might translate into measurable progress toward abolition.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Vaillancourt Murphy stressed that Catholics “must remain vigilant.”
“A strong, mobilized, and persistent Catholic voice will be needed in the coming months to move this nation away from the death-dealing practice of capital punishment.”