ANAHEIM — Pope Francis has called for an end to the death penalty on several occasions, Father Chris Ponnet pointed out during a Feb. 27 panel discussion at the Religious Education Congress.
“The commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ has absolute value and concerns both the innocent and the guilty,” Pope Francis said Feb. 21 during his Sunday Angelus.
Father Ponnet, pastor of St. Camillus, is part of Death Penalty Focus, an organization working for alternatives to the death penalty. Death penalty abolitionists are gathering signatures for a ballot measure in November that would eliminate capital punishment in California.
Aqeela Sherrills, who brokered a truce in Watts between the Crips and the Bloods in 1992, shared how his son Terrell was shot to death in 2004.
“Nothing prepares you for the loss of your child,” he said, adding that revenge wasn’t “Terrell’s legacy.” While some who support capital punishment cite the Bible’s “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” from Exodus, Sherrills doesn’t think it’s the answer.
“This game is going to leave us blind and toothless,” he said. His son’s killer “wasn’t only guilty of taking my son’s life. He was also a victim of the way society is. People are more than their worst mistakes.”
Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role of Army Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on “M*A*S*H,” joined Sherrills on the panel.
“The death penalty is a lid on the trash can that is the problem,” he said. “When we take the lid off, people will see the maggot-infested waste that is our criminal justice system.”
Farrell said prisons need to be schools and hospitals. As it is, California spends $184 million a year to maintain the death penalty, he said.
“We are all victims of the idea that human beings are disposable,” he said. “Nobody gets to take your life. Your value doesn’t go away because of your mistakes. Your value is intrinsic.”
Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homebody Industries, has been working with gang members for 30 years.
“The absence of hope will lead human beings not to care,” he said. “Damaged people damage people. They keep transmitting it.”
Father Boyle argued that how society views God has consequences on what laws exist.
“God sees past our faults and sees our need,” he said. “God loves us so much he doesn’t have time to be angry with us.”