The death penalty has been in the news more and more recently. At the end of last year, there were 13 federal executions in the span of six months. Earlier this month it was reported that DNA evidence could have exonerated an Arkansas man who was executed in 2017. And just this week, a Texas man was executed, despite the pleadings of the victim’s family for clemency.
Beginning with the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, the Church has insisted that society should look for options other than the death penalty, and Pope Francis has now declared the death penalty inadmissible.
On an episode of The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick shared that he is against capital punishment. But that wasn’t always the case. He told listeners, “My thinking changed on this. I used to be, many years ago, in favor of capital punishment. And my thinking changed.”
Patrick pointed out that the common arguments against the death penalty weren’t what changed his mind. He said, “I don’t find them particularly persuasive. But something that did persuade me was mercy.”
“If I were, whether rightfully or wrongfully, accused of a capital crime I would want mercy,” he explained. “If I were on death row, if I were waiting to be executed, I would want mercy. I would not want to be executed.”
Recalling Matthew 7:12 where Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Patrick said, “So, for me, it’s a very simple thing. And that is that Jesus asks us to be merciful.”
Patrick also pointed to Matthew 5:44 in which Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
“Criminals who do heinous things to people, they are the enemies of our society,” Patrick pointed out. “They have made themselves so. They have turned against not only individual people who they have harmed or killed, but they have by doing so turned against society as a whole. They have become our enemies, and I understand that. I understand the idea of retributive justice. Retribution has a role to play in this.”
Just because he is against the death penalty doesn’t mean he thinks that criminals should not be punished for their crimes, or that life imprisonment will ensure justice.
“It’s not fool-proof,” he said. “There are people who have been spared the death penalty who have gone to prison for life, and wound up killing other people while in prison. Or situations where they avoided the death penalty, were sent to prison for life and were killed in prison. So this is not to say that life imprisonment somehow solves this issue. But it is the teaching of the Church that we turn away from the death penalty with a decisive ‘No.'”
Despite knowing the shortcomings of life imprisonment, it was when Patrick allowed the thought of mercy to germinate in his mind that he was convicted of the Church’s teaching against capital punishment. It wasn’t a complex legal or philosophical argument that changed Patrick’s mind. It was the knowledge that God desires mercy, especially for those who don’t deserve it.
“If I were in that situation, would I want mercy? Yes,” he said. “Therefore, should I extend mercy to someone in that situation? Yes. So, for me, that’s the simple question.”
Still have questions about the morality of the death penalty? Check back here on the Relevant Radio App tomorrow to hear Patrick explain the history of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment, and whether it is morally equivalent to abortion.
Listen to the full conversation below and tune-in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.