A section of the official transcript from today's hearing.

A section of the official transcript from today’s hearing. Click the image to read the full transcript.

Today at a hospital in Boston, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings faced a federal judge and prosecutor. With his court-appointed lawyer present, the suspect was read his Miranda rights, and he nodded when asked if understood the charges against him. Those charges include the “use of a weapon of mass destruction” and “malicious destruction of property resulting in death”.

“[T]he maximum penalty on each count is death, or imprisonment for any term of years, or life,” the federal prosecutor told the judge.

This weekend, medical professionals spent considerable time—and money—saving suspect two’s life; it’s reported that he had bullet wounds to his neck. In some months, though more likely years, another team of medical workers may spend their time—and money—killing suspect two. The contrast will be striking.

But even before prosecutors have determined if the government would seek the maximum penalty, some faith leaders are speaking out against it.

In a homily on Sunday, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley preached forgiveness, lamenting what he dubbed a “culture of death.” Speaking to reporters after Mass, O’Malley expressed his opposition to the death penalty:

“Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred,” he said. “Obviously as a Catholic I oppose the death penalty, which I think is one further manifestation of the culture of death in our midst.”

At America, the Jesuit Michael Rogers published a letter he penned for suspect two. Rogers’ brother ran the Boston Marathon and several friends and former students were on the sidelines. Still, he wrote, he is unable to hate, and instead will pray:

I am glad that you are going to prison, and I hope that you will have many long years there in Supermax in Colorado. I hope that no one I love will ever be threatened by you again, but I can’t hate you.

I can’t hate you because whatever you brought into Boston was enough hate for a good long while, I won’t and can’t hate any more.

I can’t hate you because I remember being 19, and I thought many things were a good idea that weren’t. I never would have went where you were with that, but I was certainly not an adult at 19.

I can’t hate you because, even though you did unspeakable things…somehow you are still my brother and your death can never be my gain.

I can’t hate you, and not just because I am a Catholic, and a Christian, and because in a couple of months I will be a priest, I am a human and I simply can’t hate you.

Dear Dzhokhar, I still have hope for you.

The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is morally illicit, except in extreme cases when the state is unable to protect its citizens from continued harm. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for abolition of the death penalty in all cases, as has the National Council of Churches, and all the major Jewish movements in the US. (A full list of denominational views on the death penalty is available from Pew).

How will local faith leaders respond should the government seek the death penalty, especially in the context of Massachusetts abolishing the law in 1984? Will national faith leaders speak out against the death penalty in the face of such a high profile and emotional case?

Categories: Beliefs

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Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.

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