Serving the Church in Texas

HB 64 & HB 1537: Death penalty serves no purpose in Texas today

Michael Barba

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops support HB 64 and 1537. We thank Reps. Dutton and Farrar for filing this legislation.

Analysis of Capital Punishment. There are four goals or ends of punishment which the bishops use to analyze whether a punishment is legitimate and should be applied:

1. the punishment results in the rehabilitation of the offender;

2. the punishment protects society from the offender;

3. the punishment deters future offenses; and

4. the punishment satisfies the requirements of justice.

Under the first criteria, the TCCB recognizes that—when the death penalty is applied in any case— rehabilitation is not accomplished by the reintegration of the offender into society, but it is possible for the offender to repent before the imposition of the death penalty. Under this principle, capital punishment is not prohibited in all cases.

With regard to the protection of society from the offender, we note that there are rarely—if any— instances in which the death penalty is required in order to protect society from an offender. This is the result, in large part, of the current detention system.

Third, with regard to deterrence of future offenses, the TCCB contends that the death penalty has an inconclusive relation to deterrence. Therefore, this criterion does not support capital punishment.

Finally, regarding the criteria that punishments ought to fulfill the requirements of justice: the bishops maintain that wrongdoing merits punishment. However, we are also deeply concerned by studies which show that there is a high percentage of errors in capital sentences.1 Moreover, we contend that capital punishment has the unintended effect of whetting an inordinate appetite for revenge, rather than satisfying the requirements of justice. This is what moves the bishops to repeatedly intervene on behalf of condemned offenders in order to ask for clemency.

In sum, the bishops do not rule out capital punishment in every time and every place, but they maintain that it is not justified in the United States today because it does more harm than good.

Background. Catholicism & Capital Punishment, by Cardinal Avery Dulles and published in 2001, provides a helpful summary of the moral theology pertaining to capital punishment.