Ted Cruz vs. the Pope on the death penalty. Guess who wins?

In his speech to Congress yesterday, Pope Francis made it clear that Catholic social doctrine is indeed political, making strident, moral cases for reducing economic inequality, fighting climate change, opening our arms to refugees and immigrants, and so on.

Among many other topics that the Pope addressed, he spoke briefly on the importance of human life, most notably coming out strongly against the death penalty.

The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.

This is consistent with what the pope has said in the past. Just last fall, Francis had called on all Christians to oppose the death penalty outright, saying “It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor,” he said then.

His comments went beyond just the death penalty, extending to the way we treat criminals serving out lengthy prison sentences.

All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.

Francis’s views on the death penalty aren’t exactly radical or revolutionary. Pope John Paul II warned against governments in today’s society continuing the practice of capital punishment, stating that the practice may have been acceptable in the past, but that “[t]oday, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Pope Benedict XVI also said that the death penalty ought to be abolished.

This opposition to capital punishment is rooted in Scripture. As Jason Anson wrote back in June, “Matthew 5:38-42 is very clear about how little Jesus cares for the idea of ‘an eye for an eye.’ Given that support for the death penalty is highest amongst non-churchgoing protestants, it appears that much of the latent support for the capital punishment stems from an uninformed religious impulse.”

It takes a lot of compassion and humility to recognize the needs of those in prison. But many conservatives couldn’t stand for Pope Francis’s reminder that protecting human life means, well, protecting human life. Especially Ted Cruz.

“I spent a number of years in law enforcement dealing with some of the worst criminals, child rapists and murderers, people who’ve committed unspeakable acts,” he said following the pope’s comments. “I believe the death penalty is a recognition of the preciousness of human life, that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply.”

“…the death penalty is a recognition of the preciousness of human life.” Take a second to let the sheer backwardness of that logic sink in.

Setting aside for the moment what Pope Francis would call the hopelessness of Cruz’s claim, Cruz also assumes that we’re good at avoiding wantonly killing innocent people via capital punishment. We aren’t. While many death row inmates spend decades of their lives in prison, only to be released from their punishment due to new evidence, others are not so lucky. For them, innocence comes only after they are executed. For them and their families, there is no justice, only the cruel outcome of an outdated mode of punishment.

There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. It’s cruel and unusual. The process is expensive. The result may actually be too good for the offender (life in prison seems a more fitting punishment, if you ask me). People are wrongfully sentenced to death, and worse, some are killed before their innocence is proven.

The Pope’s message on capital punishment is one of hope and redemption. Ted Cruz’s is one of lazy vengeance. I may not be Catholic, but you don’t have to be one to see that Francis has the moral high ground here.

Chris Walker has been a political writer for more than ten years, contributing freelance opinion pieces to several online publications as well as managing his own blog, Political Heat, for more than six years. With a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism, Chris tries to bring a unique angle to every article he produces, including Millennial perspectives on the issues he's covering. Chris resides in Madison, Wisconsin, and proudly owns both a cheesehead and stock in the Green Bay Packers.

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8 Responses to “Ted Cruz vs. the Pope on the death penalty. Guess who wins?”

  1. Larry Linn says:

    There have been 155 people convicted and sentenced to death, only to eventually been acquitted, charges dismissed or granted complete pardons. The United States has the greatest legal system in the world, but it is not perfect.


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  4. BeccaM says:

    The death penalty is nothing but bloody-minded vengeance, and the way it’s applied in America most often a form of racist lynching with a shabby facade of it being about ‘justice.’

    The fact the death penalty has been undeniably racist in its application ought to be reason enough to abolish it and replace it with ‘life without parole.’

    The fact people known to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted have been executed anyway ought to be reason enough.

    The fact we have a state-sanctioned murder of someone, even if they’re a very bad person, when life imprisonment would serve amply to protect society ought to be reason enough.

    The fact we know the existence of the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent for crimes ought to be reason enough.

    The fact that execution itself is barbaric and counter to civilized culture ought to be reason enough to abolish it.

  5. mgiltz says:

    By the way, “an eye for an eye” in Biblical terms is actually a call for mercy and moderation. It’s not vengeance; it’s a desire to make the punishment fit the crime. True, it doesn’t preclude the idea of execution for someone who committed murder. But it’s often seen as a bloody demand for vengeance when in fact it was a demand to stop punishments grotesquely out of whack with the crime committed. (Cutting off your hand for stealing a loaf of bread, etc.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_for_an_eye

  6. Don Chandler says:

    Here’s an old piece by Cardinal Burke with a lazy title

    Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good


    30. Some Catholics have suggested that a candidate’s position on the death penalty and war are as important as his or her position on procured abortion and same-sex “marriage.” This, however, is not true. Procured abortion and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, and, as such, can never be justified in any circumstance. Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil; neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human beings. In some circumstances, self-defense and defense of the nation are not only rights, but responsibilities. Neither individuals nor governments can be denied the right of lawful defense in appropriate circumstances (CCC, Nos. 2265 and 2309). While we must all work to eradicate the circumstances which could justify either practice, we must stop the killing of innocent unborn children and the practice of euthanasia, and safeguard marriage and the family now. One cannot justify a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex “marriage,” by appealing to that same candidate’s opposition to war or capital punishment.

    Back in the day, Scalia had some stuff to say on the Death Penalty (2002 GOD’S JUSTICE AND OURS.) Since Scalia’s little essay, Burke went from St Louis to the Vatican and then to Malta.

  7. MoonDragon says:

    As long as the anti-choice, forced birth, enforced sexuality ignorance, traditional marriage crowd needed the support of Catholics, they were welcomed as fellow moral warriors. Now that Pope Francis is extending the message to include all of traditional Catholic dogma, not so much. The latent anti-Catholic bigotry, so long suppressed by “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thinking is resurfacing. Where once these people chastised pro choice, gay tolerant “cafeteria Catholics” they are now screaming for Francis to get in line at the steam table.

  8. 2patricius2 says:

    So true.

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