A potentially problematic arson investigation that led to the conviction and 2004 Texas execution of Cameron Todd Willingham is shining a harsh light on capital punishment in a state where the majority of people, including Catholics, favor the death penalty. Can the case, which involved the brutal deaths of Willingham's three toddler daughters, turn the tide of public opinion?
One Catholic expert in the field says that to change hearts and minds on this issue,
it requires looking at problems with the larger system, not at individual cases like Willingham's.
In a Catholic News Agency story, Andrew Rivas, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, called Texas “ground zero” for a nationwide debate on the death penalty.
From the CNA story:
“We’ve got a serious road to cross to get to that point where we can have a definitive dialogue on the death penalty,” he told CNA in an interview.
Rivas previously worked on the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on criminal justice issues and the bishops’ campaign to end the death penalty. Drawing on this experience, he said that revisiting individual executions is “a very difficult proposition.”
“No prosecutor in the U.S. has ever admitted to making a mistake when executing somebody.”
He suggested that for the purposes of persuasion the better path for death penalty abolitionists is not to focus on individual cases but rather on the “inherent flaws in the system.”
Otherwise, he said, “almost every single time, it becomes about that person and case rather than the overall system.”
The bishops of Texas, the state with the most executions, are focusing their energies on creating a dialogue that they hope will eventually lead to the abolition of the death penalty, not only in their state but across the country.
From the CNA interview with Rivas:
“Here in Texas, it’s not a partisan issue. Everybody needs education on this issue and needs to know what the Church teaches.
“Our teaching is that life is a precious gift from God. We’re made in God’s image,” Rivas explained. “No matter what we do, the dignity and beauty of this gift is never diminished. Our position is that life should always be protected, whenever possible.”
Read the full story HERE. Then give us your take: Can a good Catholic support the death penalty and why?