The Common Good

Executions Worldwide Nearly Doubled in 2008

The number of executions worldwide nearly doubled last year compared with 2007, according to a study released in March by Amnesty International.

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At the same time, Europe and Central Asia have become virtually death penalty-free zones, with only Belarus still maintaining capital punishment. The United States is the only country in the Americas that consistently executes, but the number of executions in 2008 was the lowest since 1995.

In response to these convicting statistics (see Global Death Penalty, Sojourners, July 2009), Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the world's largest Catholic peace organization, told Sojourners:

I am concerned about the increase in executions because it reflects a loss of respect for the basic dignity of every human life. It represents a failure to believe in the possibility of reform and reconciliation, a failure to recognize the injustice and inadequacies of our justice system, and a misguided belief in the deterrence effect of the death penalty.

I hope people of faith will respond to the increased use of capital punishment around the world by deepening our commitment to the gift of each person's life. We need to nurture relationships with people who have been victims of violent crime as well as with people who are on death row and probe our own experiences of reconciliation. It is time for all people of faith to advocate for social and racial justice and for an end to the death penalty.

I appreciate Marie's perspective. I also appreciate that of arch-conservative -- and also a Catholic -- Richard A. Viguerie who wrote When Governments Kill in the same issue of Sojourners. Using the rigors of Catholic social teaching, both these Catholics come to the same inevitable conclusion-the death penalty is wrong and unacceptable for Christians to support in any way, shape, or form.

The U.S. is slowly retreating from capital punishment -- it's barbaric, ineffective, and very expensive. Christians can use this political and economic moment to light a fire for the end of capital punishment in the United States. It's time for this country to also be counted among those civilized nations who are considered a "death penalty-free zone."

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at

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