The death penalty has been brought before our consciences again by three recent events. The first was Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in January, where he persuaded Missouri's governor to commute the death sentence of Darrell Mease. It did not matter to the pope that Mease had been convicted of a triple murder and had never shown any special amendment of life. The pope was not looking for an appealing born-again prisoner, another Karla Faye Tucker, to justify his witness. He simply sought, as a matter of principled opposition to capital punishment, to save a human life.
The pope's pro-life ethic cuts across the usual contours of the liberal-conservative divide in American politics. Americans (and Catholics) who support the pope's opposition to abortion and assisted suicide may waver when it comes to opposing the death penalty. In fact, polls show that a majority of American Catholics support the death penalty.
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