Posts Tagged ‘Death Penalty’

MIRACLE OF MIRACLES? WELL NOT YET BUT MAYBE

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

In my younger days, long, long ago and far, far away I would never have imagined that I would see the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa, an African American president and an American pope, yet all have come to pass. Now there is a glimmer of hope that in Florida there is a possibility, perhaps not yet a probability, that the death penalty will be abolished. I think of these words spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, “now Master you have kept your word, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”

Several things have come together which place the death penalty in Florida on a new trajectory. First there was the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court which ruled that Florida law which made a jury’s deliberations about the death penalty in a case merely consultative and not deliberative (leaving it ultimately up to the judge) was unconstitutional. Bundled within this decision was that merely requiring a simple majority of the jury to recommend execution to the judge was also unconstitutional? As I have pointed out so often when addressing this topic in previous blogs, this minimalist approach to a life and death decision cried out to heaven for vengeance. Happily heaven can wait, the SCOTUS found similarly.

Florida is one of only three states (Alabama and Delaware) which do not require a unanimous jury and earlier this year, the Florida legislature took an easy path in applying what they hope is a “fix” by raising the number from seven jurors to ten. SCOTUS did not set a size for the jury’s vote but made it clear the seven was a legally unlucky number. Last week the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments derived from the U.S. “Supreme’s” decision in the case of the inmate on death row whose appeal formed the basis of the latter’s decision.

Then, manna from legal heaven descended yesterday upon the state when a Miami judge found the death penalty fix also to be unconstitutional. Now, before deciding the case heard last week, the Florida Supreme Court knows that a more foundational issue is on its way to them which may just skew their thinking in the earlier case. Wow!

Our Attorney General, Pam Bondi, has often said publicly and in conversation with the state’s bishops that she fully supports the application of the death penalty, fully supported the simple majority allowance in the Florida law, and is fully against any effort to require a unanimous jury. I suspect that she was pleased to argue the case before the Florida Supreme Court last week. She would have me say: make no mistake about it; I am 100% in support of the death penalty application and hopeful that it can be attained with the minimum roadblocks possible. At least she is clear, if wrong-headed. She assures us of her unambiguous pro-life position, which is strong when it comes to abortion. But for me, it is like asking Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the first act?”

Governor Scott is a more interesting case. After many conversations, he has said that he is very uncomfortable signing the death warrants but is obligated to do so by oath and office. He has intimated that were the Legislature to outlaw the death penalty he would likely sign and not veto the bill. He has also said that he only signs those warrants where the evidence is rock-solid that the person accused and found guilty actually committed the crime. He is also fully supportive of most other pro-life positions and I actually believe his wrestling with his conscience when it comes to executions. Equally candidly, he has said, that one cannot be elected to any office in Florida if one is seen as “soft on crime and/or criminals.”

That leads me to the conclusion of this reflection. Those of us who see the death penalty in America as a pro-life issue need to ratchet up our opposition to Florida’s inhumane approach to capital punishment, using whatever means might be available to us to make our case. We can think of the Baptist Church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina who earlier this year, including survivors of those murdered, went to the prison to forgive the perpetrator. They surely did not tell him that it was forgive and forget, for they will never forget his atrocity and they don’t ever want him on the street again. The same for the Amish community in Pennsylvania whose children were massacred but who also marched to the jail to forgive the aggressor. And how about the early Christian community who found it in their heart to forgive Saul of Tarsus, directly responsible for the death of Stephen and the torture of many others. If as we say so pointedly and well in our pro-life effort that God alone has the ability to choose when life begins and when life ends, then justifying capital punishment is beyond the logical pail.

Step up Florida. End the barbaric death penalty in the sunshine state. While I feel deeply for those whose lives have been changed, transformed, deeply hurt by violent crime and we must do everything to see that it does not happen again and those who committed the crime are never free to do it again, it is time to take a deep breath and do the right thing. Finally, if any Catholic wishes to use Saint John Paul’s minuscule opening against me, bring it on, but recall the words of Pope Francis to the US Congress on this very topic.

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ONE POPE, FIVE JUSTICES, ONE NATION UNDER GOD

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The recent weeks have been momentous in many ways but also quite predictable in other ways. In the following thoughts I hope to demonstrate that both perceptions are possible within a single fortnight.

Chronologically first out of the block was the papal encyclical letter, Francis’ first, Laudato Si. Most of my readers were quite in accord with the Holy Father’s brilliant and prophetic support for the moral equation to be found in the environment and our responsibility for caring for it. There were some strong voices to be heard objecting to the Holy Father entering the realm of science and suggesting he should stay in the realm of theology (these people I suspect did not read the encyclical in its entirety) as well as fewer still who thought the interlocking rationale between finance, business and ecology was a step too far. But almost two weeks later, my sense is that those who took the time to plough through the encyclical in its entirety were proud once again of their Pope, his amazing teaching ability and his constant focus on the vulnerable – human and environmental. While there can, will, and perhaps always should be scientific debate about something like global warning, Pope Francis’ invitation to the world community to join in a discussion of how best to protect and save creation is worth a read, worthy of discussion, and a source for continual prayer for saving creation. There is more than enough moral theology in the encyclical letter to qualify the Holy Father’s concern.

Then came the Supreme Court decision on a small but very important aspect of the Affordable Care Act, the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts. I was both thrilled by and grateful for the upholding of the device most recently used to help the poor gain access to health care. The bishops of the United States in general and this bishop in particular have long been in favor of universal access to health care which has been achieved in some part by the aforementioned act. Health care is a right of every one of God’s children and the ACA is but a first step in achieving that Gospel goal. While I have troubles with certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act and their requirements upon employers like ourselves, the larger goal is now more guaranteed by the recent SCOTUS decision and that’s good. The Chief Justice wrote well in his majority opinion in this case.

Next in order came the establishment of a new constitutionally situated “right” to marriage and this time the Chief Justice was even more eloquent, albeit in dissent. He said several things which I fully embrace: five lawyers should not be rewriting the constitution to create a new right never before seen in over two hundred years as that is the task belongs to the people of the nation; then the Chief said that if you love the Constitution and look for this new right to be found therein, guess again – it is not to be found there, anywhere. The Chief’s dissent was measured, respectful of the majority even in disagreement with them and he even intimated a respect for the dynamic, which is sweeping the country in equality for all regardless of sexual orientation. The reaction to this decision from our Church has run the gamut of emotion and words from outrage to sadness that it has all come to this. Everyone should have seen this coming. We Florida bishops have known for some time that the constitutional amendment passed by our state electorate in 2008 would for sure not pass in 2016.

For many gays and lesbians, for many other people and for the majority of the Supreme Court, the issue is one of denial of equality with married people in basic rights – inheritance, health care benefits, etc. The only avenue, in their minds, to equality quickly, was the courts and the hope that a “constitutional right” could be found guaranteeing equality of treatment. Some predict further challenges to the Church as we assert time and time again that our definition of sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s not going to change. What needs to change is that as a community of faith, we as Church must become more tolerant of the many different ways people choose to live their lives, put an end to painful language like “perverse”, be loving, caring and compassionate towards all.

If gays and lesbians adopt, the children they have chosen to raise are God’s children and they will be loved by God and their parents. We already see this in a number of our elementary schools where Johnny or Jane has two mothers, or two fathers. I strongly dispute any claim that they can not be loved, raised and cared for. We have decades of intolerance, painful language, and abusive behavior to work to overcome and our Church should be an agent able to, in the words of St. Francis, “change those things which can be changed.” For me a marker has always been how Jesus (and now the Holy Father especially) dealt with those whom others saw as sinners. Recall the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus approached first publicly and asked her in the presence of others “has anyone condemned you? . . . .Then neither shall I.” Privately, out of earshot, he encouraged her “to go and sin no more.” The same approach can be seen and heard in the conversation of Jesus and the woman at Jacob’s well. May we as a Church be full of love, not hate; of welcome not exclusion; of forbearance and forgiveness not denunciation and character assassination. As Archbishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago said last week, we must learn how to use and live with culturally shifting mores while gently, quietly, and lovingly sharing the truth we have received.

Finally, I wished to withhold this blog until I had learned the outcome of the Court’s decision on lethal injection. I only wish Justice Breyer could have found one more vote because I too believe that the death penalty is an assault on life inconsistent with the will of the Creator. Believe me, good reader, its days are numbered. One state after another has abolished it in capital crimes, and the fifty states joined with the federal government are now an anomaly among the world family of nations throughout the whole world who view it as barbarism.

Just as among the nine, unelected Justices of the Supreme Court there are many minds and many voices, so true also is it of the Church. I know there will be some Scalia’s among the respondents to this post, as I know there will be some Breyers and Roberts type voices. I just ask our faith community to think and pray with civility as we try to fashion ourselves as a Church and nation of mercy and compassion.

 

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OF LIFE AND DEATH

Friday, March 6th, 2015
With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes' Facebook page.

With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes’ Facebook page. See more photos from Catholic Days at the Capitol here.

The bishops of Florida, minus our dear brother Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach who is rapidly recovering from very serious surgery, met Tuesday and yesterday (Wednesday)  in the state capitol, Tallahassee. We do it every year, usually always during the first week of the annual legislative session and conclude it with a Red Mass at St. Thomas More Co-cathedral. During the bishops’ visit to Tallahassee, about 350 people, mostly women, come wearing red almost always and they call on their elected representatives to “lobby” for the province’s agenda for the session. They meet with the staff of the Florida Catholic Conference before invading the capitol and they have lunch with us at the Convention Center midday on Wednesday and prior to the Mass. A stirring call to religious liberty was delivered by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to the assembled during the lunch. I hope to share the content of that talk with you soon.

It has been a long custom that during this visit to our state capitol we usually have a meeting with the Governor. In my now nineteen-plus years, I began with Governor Lawton Chiles, followed by Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Charlie Crist, and now Governor Rick Scott. All have been gracious hosts for these meetings, patiently listening and one of us after the other brings up matters of concern to the Church. For some inexplicable reason I have become the spokesman for “health care matters” which was not all that hard until the Governor was suddenly someone who spent his whole professional life in the health care arena.

One aspect this this year’s visits which I wish to share with you, especially in light of the fact that the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS later in this blog) will be hearing soon a case involving capital punishment is that very subject. I do this secure in the knowledge that my comment responses will be overwhelmingly negative and nasty (second only to the immigration issue I might add).

We also met Wednesday afternoon with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who was also gracious and very hospitable.

On the death penalty, we bishops unanimously wish that it would be abolished in Florida. It is a natural, logical and responsible extension of our commitment to the protection of all human life, born and unborn, and flows from the basic belief that God is the author of all life and to God alone falls the task of determining both birth and death. Seven states in recent years have abolished the death penalty (either the legislative branch supported by the governors or the latter acting alone). There are now about two-thirds of the states where the death penalty no longer exists and then there are Florida and Texas which lead the others in annual executions.

A tandem issue is that Florida is only one of two states (Delaware is the other) which does not require a unanimous jury for the death penalty sentencing phase. We find that an embarrassment of the highest order.

We got no where with either the Governor or the Attorney General on either of these matters, although the former is willing to think through the unanimous jury question. Every Governor during my time here as bishop speaks, truthfully I think, of  how much they dislike having to sign the warrants which lead to an execution. I am sure that it is not easy. All have said that they have done so with a clear conscience that the one being executed was indeed guilty of the crime beyond a shadow of a doubt. I believe them also on that. And finally they seek the cover of fulfilling their oath of office to uphold the laws of the state of Florida which I can also understand.

Governors Bush and Scott have embraced our pro-life position on abortion and euthanasia. Governor Chiles respectfully demurred always and who knows what Governor Crist’s real position was/is. But it is so hard to get any elected official, pro-life or not, Republican or Democrat to see the natural extension that God alone should determine when we are born and when we will die. Saint John Paul II on the matter of the death penalty, said that while it might be justifiable in the rarest of instances, he knew of no good reason to justify it. Pope Francis has condemned it as barbaric as does the world community at large when it looks as us (the US) from a distance.

Yesterday, four Catholic newspapers/publications of very differing leanings and differences signed a single editorial against the death penalty. What may never be decided in Tallahassee, ever, may be decided soon by SCOTUS as they wrestle with “death by lethal injection” as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. With this court, who knows? Utah is thinking of reinstating the firing squad and will Florida return to using that never too certain to work “electric chair” if this form of execution is ruled unconstitutional.  It takes all the restraint which I can manage not to invoke recent images from other parts of the world.

I love my adopted state and I deeply respect everyone elected to public office. They have a hard job. In such cases, one can invoke instead the power of the Holy Spirit. That the same Spirit come upon all those who exercise any measure of control over the beginning and end of life and grant them wisdom to choose life over death, always. Hence, the Red Mass.

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A POX ON ALL THEIR HOUSES

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

The 2013 regular session of the Florida legislature has come to an end and the impasse between the Congressional Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate continues with no hint of progress on many fronts. It is enough to drive a person of feeling and compassion to despair. Little was done in Tallahassee of benefit to all the residents of the state (lobbyists for big business generally got what they sought) and a number of important matters were left on the table at the end because of the intractability of many members of the legislature.

Among the more egregious actions to my mind or in some cases inactions would be the following:

(1) The failure to come to any agreement about the expansion of Medicaid benefits for the poor under the Affordable Care Act which practically guarantees that over fifty million dollars and benefits which would have come to Floridians from the federal government will now find their way to another state. Shameless!

(2) Not only does the Florida legislature not wish to do away with the death penalty (as last week did the Maryland legislature and two years ago the New Mexico legislature) but they wish to speed up executions in the state. Establishing a strict timeline almost insures that the number of innocent people executed will increase (DNA results applied to Florida death-row inmates alone has resulted in a score of convictions of those planned to be executed in this state to be reversed but it took a lot of time). I hope Governor Scott vetoes this possibly prairie popular law.

In the interest of fairness, I do wish to acknowledge that additional protection for the pre-born has been provided this session and a long overdue increase in salary for public school teachers has been put in place as well.

Now, for the Washington scene, a major disappointment was the defeat of a very modest first effort at very limited gun control. It came close but not enough. Immigration reform now seems caught up in the party partisan debate and at times it seems like President Obama has decided he can not do anything about the Congress he has been dealt so doing nothing is a virtue. How many more Sandy Hooks (Newtown) or Auroras (Colorado) will it take, ladies and gentlemen of the House and Senate? Finally, there will be someday a national debate on drone missiles, but how much discussion on collateral damage and loss of innocent life will precede that?

Some may think that this bishop got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but I hope a few of you can see the strong stream of Catholic moral theology which courses throughout political debate and decisions. Thirty years ago last Saturday, the bishops of the United States issued their pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” It had its critics but it also had its effects, all salutary. Today it would seem that corporately, we bishops, at times, solely tend to focus on abortion, contraception, euthanasia when once all “life and death issues” were a part of a “seamless garment.” No political party I know of is truly and fully pro-life. No legislative body either, at the state or federal level, is truly and fully pro-life. Hence, a pox on all their houses.

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DEATH COMES TO THE COUNTY

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

HOMILY AT THE PRAYER VIGIL TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle

April 10, 2013

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

Giving the homily at the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz. To see a few more photos from the prayer vigil, please click here.

Giving the homily at the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz. To see a few more photos from the prayer vigil, please click here.

For the first time in my seventeen years as bishop of this diocese, the consequences of a heinous crime and the application of the death penalty has come to our area and in just a few minutes Larry Mann will himself experience death by lethal injection. My thoughts first go out to the family of Elisa Nelson, the young girl brutally murdered by Mann over three decades ago who are hoping that the death of this man will help bring closure to their long period of grief and suffering. No one, least of all myself, can speak of their experience of the loss of a daughter in an unspeakable way which this family has lived with. It would be tragic not to take this moment to pray for the Nelson’s and to commend again their darling daughter Elisa to eternal rest with God.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

We gather this evening also to pray for the abolition of the death penalty in our state. We take as articles of faith that even one who has fully violated the fifth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, should not have their life taken by anyone other than the author of all life, the Lord God. All of the modern popes since the Second Vatican Council have spoken to the issue of capital punishment. While all have allowed it in the narrowest of circumstances, it was Blessed Pope John Paul II who said that it should be extremely rare. It is extremely hard to be pro-life when it comes to its beginning and postulate the arguments against abortion and still be for capital punishment. That same heart and mind which abhors the horror of abortion should logically abhor the state deciding who will live and who will die.

Proponents of the death penalty argue that justice can only be served when one violent act is responded to by another. As a child, my parents always taught us that two wrongs do not make a right. When “right dwells in the desert” and “justice abides in the orchard”, then the great prophet Isaiah promises that “justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.” After over two hundred years of the exercise of the death penalty, there is no valid evidence that it reduces crime, that murders diminish, and that the people live in greater security. It is not and never has been a deterrent.

Florida’s use of the death penalty is one of the most egregious in the nation. It does not take the same unanimous jury which convicted the felon in the first place to initiate the death penalty. In fact, it only takes seven out of twelve members of a jury to recommend death, by lethal injection or the electric chair. Only one state in the union shares this sad statute with ours. Our elected judges can overrule a jury and assign the death penalty if they do not concur with the jury’s recommendation in capital cases. Death comes cheaply in Florida in our statutory law.

In the last two years, the governors and legislatures in two more states have abolished capital punishment: New Mexico and Maryland. Tonight we pray once again that what the rest of the world views as a barbaric response to admittedly heinous crimes becomes rarer and rarer to use our Holy Father’s words. “Forgiving one another as God has forgiven” us is part of our religious DNA. It is why we are here tonight. We use this occasion of yet another moment in Florida’s sad history to pray to God, the author of all life, to enlighten the hearts and minds of our people and elected officials and remove this last statutory remnant of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

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