ORLANDO | Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine is quite familiar with upholding the Church’s moral stance to protect all human life. In his fifth pastoral letter that covers the negative consequences of the death penalty, Bishop Estévez uses Scripture, various quotes from popes and other advocates against capital punishment to display how significant the battle to preserve life still is in 2020 and always will be for the Catholic Church.
The 20-page letter by Bishop Estévez, “Standing Up for the Dignity of all Human Life: A Pastoral Letter on Capital Punishment in Florida,” is a well-versed document considering the arguments against the death penalty. Each page demonstrates easy-to-understand, logical advice highlighting why Florida needs a stronger influence against the taking of lives of convicted criminals.
The entire letter provides many philosophical moments to never forget that even people who have fallen to sin in their past is never without hope for their future. “We are called to stand for the inviolability and dignity of all human life, even when a person whose life is in the balance has made great mistakes, such as taking another’s life. Not even a murderer loses his dignity,” Bishop Estévez said.
“We believe that God – and only God – is the author of every human being, and only God should determine the end of that life.”
The bishop’s letter goes into detail of the history of capital punishment, beginning with St. John Paul’s II contribution against the death penalty in his “Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)” and Pope Benedict XVI’s “No Justice without Life” meeting with various countries to discuss the importance of valuing all life.
Pope Francis, a major opponent of capital punishment, is another example Bishop Estévez uses in his pastoral document. The bishop wrote of the pope’s revision to paragraph 2267 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” “(Pope Francis’) thinking is that capital punishment today is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been. The death penalty, regardless of the means of execution, entails cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. It should be rejected due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.”
Bishop Estévez acknowledges that while there have been countless investigations about capital punishment, some may use specific Scriptures as means to a misguided end. “There is a great deal of research and scholarly work available to us about the understanding of capital punishment in the holy Scriptures,” he said. “We must be mindful of the Catholic approach to Scripture, which discourages the fundamentalist or literal interpretation approach.”
This misunderstanding, Bishop Estévez writes of, is represented in one of the most common quotes from the Bible. “The famous ‘eye for eye… life for life’ quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures offered by some Christians today as supposed proof of God’s command for us to use the death penalty” doesn’t encompass the true nature of how the ancient Israelites handled matters between victims and criminals.
However, with passionate Catholics like Dale Recinella, who has an impressive background in law, published several books about capital punishment, and engages with death row inmates as a chaplain, Florida’s eventual abolishment of the death penalty is nearer each year. “(Recinella) identified 44 substantive (who can be given the death penalty) and procedural (how it is applied) requirements of the Biblical death penalty when it was the law of the land in Israel,” Bishop Estévez said. “Our death penalty, in Florida and the U.S., is zero for 44 on the requirements of the biblical death penalty. (Recinella) concludes: ‘The American death penalty fails miserably in every possible respect to meet any of the most minimal biblical standards.’”
Bishop Estévez wants the people of Florida to know that they are not alone in the struggle to overturn the death penalty. By participating in prayer and by showing that love for one another is the way to bring the attention needed. “Above and beyond the pastoral outreach maintained, members of our diocese are called to witness to the inherent dignity and value of every human life, even of those who have done great wrong,” Bishop Estévez said. “One way we perform this duty of our Catholic faith is to participate in prayer vigils in our parishes and city centers for each execution. We do not side against the parties involved. Still, we do stand in opposition to the state’s taking of human life, which is unnecessary to preserve public safety and shows no evidence to protect innocent life in society. This we oppose, in faith and with voice. And, we work to end the use of the death penalty in our state and our country.”