A Texas prison cell block.
A Texas prison cell block.
When students from Columbia University law school last month declared after an extensive investigation that Texas executed an innocent person, many thoughtful people asked, “What execution isn’t wrongful?”

America is one of the few remaining countries that allows its states to use the death penalty. For a state to kill people to demonstrate that killing people is wrong is crazy.

The Vatican and the U.S. bishops have spoken out against the death penalty.
Archbishop John Vlazny has called for an end to the death penalty in this newspaper.

“Human life is a gift from God, sacred from conception to natural death ,” he wrote last year.

In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict asserted that “society lacks foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially when it is weak or marginalized.”

Even as a deterrent to crime, the death penalty is not reliable. States with more executions do not generally have lower murder or crime rates.

The death penalty not only demeans the life of the one executed, but erodes our national dignity. This is because the dignity of a nation depends in large part upon its logic. And it makes no sense to kill people who kill people to show that killing is wrong.

Can we hope that one day, instead of seemingly perpetual reports about wrongful men’s executions and tawdry, corrupt politicians, might we we read headlines that blare triumphantly that “Capital punishment banned in U.S.”