Kansas City Catholics Embrace Pope's Rejection Of Capital Punishment
Catholics in and around Kansas City said for the most part they support Pope Francis’ declaration Thursday, in which he officially changed Catholic doctrine to say the death penalty is wrong in all cases.
This is a departure for the church, which has historically accepted the death penalty for the most heinous crimes.
Rita Linhardt, liason for Death Penalty Activities for the Missouri Catholic Conference, said the statement by the Pope is a "shot in the arm" in the ongoing effort to end the death penalty.
"We've long maintained the death penalty is wrong," she said. "Pope Francis is saying, as did his predecesors Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, that it really is an afront to human dignity."
A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice shows the number of death-row inmates decreasing in the last 16 years, but Missouri has remained among the states with the highest number of executions. In 2014, Missouri and Texas both executed 10 people, the highest number in the country that year. Through 2015, Missouri was fifth in its per capita rate of executions.
The Pope's declaration affirmed their personal beliefs, some area Catholics told KCUR.
"The death penalty is used as vengence, a deterrance. These are not reasons to take another a human life," said Troy Hinkel, who was going to midday mass on Friday at Church of the Redemptorist Fathers at 33rd Street and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri.
He said he understands punishment is designed to "reform the soul of the perpetrator," and why some people might believe in execution for that reason.
“Its true, when facing the gallows, you're more prone to say 'Geez, I repent, I’m sorry,'” he said. "And you may not be as apt to own your mistake if you're facing life in prison."
But Hinkel said he believes life in prison without parole serves the same purpose and is the moral choice for him as a Catholic.
His son, Nicholas Hinkle, studies philosophy and theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, where he said he discusses capital punishment with professors and peers. He said he agrees with his father.
"It's important to understand the things that were addressed by popes in a different age," he said. "I think its important to make the distinction between things that were correct then and how institutions in society work today."