OKLAHOMA CITY – Archbishop Paul S. Coakley spoke on the Catholic Church’s opposition to capital punishment in a recent interview for Vatican Radio.
In the words of a press release from the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, Coakley clarified the church’s formal opposition “in no uncertain terms.”
Coakley is chairman of the Commission on Domestic Justice and Human Development, an arm of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB). He spoke in an interview with Vatican Radio as the pace of federal executions picked up in recent weeks. The U.S. government has carried out five executions so far in 2020.
David Watkins outlined the recent interview in a post for Vatican Radio. Coakley’s reflections came several months after he assumed chairmanship of the USCCB commission last fall. The timing was driven by the resumption, after a 17-year hiatus, of federal executions.
According to a press release at that time, the panel “assists the bishops, both collectively and individually, in advancing the social mission of the Church through education, poverty awareness, outreach, policy development, advocacy and the organization of low-income communities. The committee advises the bishops on issues of human dignity, development and poverty.”
In 2014, Archbishop Coakley received the Catholic Leadership Award for organizing peaceful opposition after the municipal government of Oklahoma City permitted rental of space in the downtown tax-supported Civic Center to a group which sponsored a Satanic ceremony. Recognition of his unapologetic stance came from the Catholic Leadership Institute of Wayne, Pennsylvania.
In the Vatican interview, Coakley told Watkins, “We’ve obviously been opposed to it and have been working ardently for years to combat not only the federal government’s but also state government’s use of the death penalty,” he said.
In the exchange, Coakley noted that the Church’s teaching on the issue has developed over the past few decades, beginning during the pontificate of Saint Pope John Paul II. Subsequent teachings from the church’s leaders are “making it ever clearer that the death penalty, as Pope Francis says, is inadmissible in today’s time.”
Coakley stressed said this stance lies in the “inviolable dignity of the human person, which [capital punishment] does not protect or preserve in any way.”
Advocacy and education are among the tools the bishops employ to help Catholics understand the Church’s teaching on the use of the death penalty.
Archbishop Coakley denies accusations that the Church’s stance minimizes the cry for justice. “It’s not that we’re ‘soft on crime’ but we’re very firm on the dignity of the human person,” he observed in the exchange with Watkins. “Even a person who has sinned terribly, or committed terrible and heinous crimes, does not and cannot forfeit their human dignity.”
The inherent dignity of human beings, Coakley added, comes in virtue of the fact “that we’re all created in the image and likeness of God and we have all been redeemed by Christ.” Pointing to the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross at Calvary, he said, “As long as we draw breath, there’s the possibility of repentance and conversion.”
Archbishop Coakley pointed out that the Church also advocates for the rights of victims and seeks to console them. “We are very committed to the rights of crime victims,” he said. “The Church doesn’t believe that executing a criminal is a way of bringing about the healing, reconciliation, and peace that the victims have suffered and are in need of.”
The final words of the exchange, as Watkins reported for Vatican Radio, drew upon both modern church teachings and Biblical texts.
Considering the seriousness of crimes, Coakley said: “We don’t deny the evil done, but we appeal to God’s mercy. We hope to receive God’s mercy.” Note and disclosure: Patrick B. McGuigan, publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, compiled this report from multiple sources. A member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), McGuigan has commented on and reported frequently about legal policy issues since the 1980s