We are approaching a grim milestone. No, not the number of US military deaths in Iraq …. the number of Americans executed on our own soil by our own government, in our name. It is expected that the 1,000th execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 will take place November 29, 2005.
Did you know that the US is the only Western Democracy that continues to use the Death Penalty? Or that the US, China Iran and Saudi Arabia together account for 80% of executions worldwide? Let alone the fact that our justice system is biased - some innocent people have been put on death row and at least 23 innocent people executed.
In March the US Bishops renewed their push to end the death penalty. Their website says they were inspired by the 25th Anniversary of the Bishops' statement on the Death Penalty. My cynical side thought they were spurred to action at least in part by a Zogby Poll that shows a majority of American Catholics are now against the death penalty. Less than half (48%) of Catholics interviewed expressed support for the death penalty. This is a huge shift from past polls, where Catholic support mirrored that of the rest of the American public at close to 70%. I have to think this is in part due to a realization that our tradition supports a consistent ethic of life - we don't get to pick and choose which lives are worthy. That's up to God.
Now as the 1,000th death approaches, I wish they would promote their effort more strongly. American Catholics may be increasingly against the Death Penalty. But what (if anything) are we doing about it? What can we do about it?
Well, a good place to start is to pray for an END to the death penalty. We can pray for the approximately 3,500 inmates on death row in 38 states. We can pray especially for those who are pending execution. There's a list of pending executions here. You'll see off to the right side where you can Take Action on behalf of some of them.
We can also educate our friends and family about our criminal justice system and Catholic Social Teaching. We can educate ourselves too for that matter - the US Bishops campaign website is a good place to start.
And as the opportunities arise we can advocate for an end to the death penalty. If not us, who? If not now, when? We will no doubt not be able to avoid the 1,000th mark. But I hope and pray we can save the next 1,000 lives. There is a better way.