Federal Executions Pit The Trump Administration Against The Catholic Church

For the ninth time in six months, the Trump administration is preparing to put a federal prisoner to death.

Brandon Bernard, 40, is due to be executed Thursday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana, as punishment for the murder of a young couple in Texas in 1999. The Justice Department plans another federal execution later this month, with three more scheduled in January.

In a statement on the resumption of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus, Attorney General William Barr said the death penalties were justified because the people sentenced to die had been convicted of “horrific crimes.”

The spate of federal executions has put the Trump administration in sharp conflict with the Catholic Church, which in recent decades has vigorously opposed capital punishment.

In his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II declared that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” His successor, Benedict XVI, called on governments “to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty and to reform the penal system in a way that ensures respect for the prisoners’ human dignity.”

Pope Francis in 2018 took the cause one step further, revising the Catholic Catechism to make clear that capital punishment is “inadmissible” in all circumstances.

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