On January 13, I woke up to the news that Lisa Montgomery had been executed just hours earlier in Terre Haute, Indiana. My heart sank. Earlier in the week, while working on an action alert calling on Congress to repeal the federal death penalty, I learned that a federal appeals court had issued a stay of execution in this case. A day later, however, I saw that the Trump Administration had appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the stay.
Given the circumstances of this case—that Lisa’s life had been one long nightmare of sexual abuse and torture, and that the federal government had not executed a woman in nearly 70 years—I was shocked that the Supreme Court paved the way for this state-sanctioned killing to proceed with breakneck speed. The Supreme Court issued its decision around midnight, and Lisa was killed by lethal injection approximately an hour and a half later. As with most executions, this one took place in the middle of the night.
Lisa was the eleventh federal death row inmate executed under former President Trump, whose administration reinstated the punishment after 17 years.
What I find particularly disheartening about this case is that five of the six Supreme Court justices who greenlighted this execution are Catholics. Unconditional opposition to the death penalty is now part of Catholic Social Teaching. In 2018, Pope Francis directed that the section on the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church be revised to read:
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. … Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2267 (August 2, 2018)
It is probably safe to say that many Catholics do not know what the Church teaches about the death penalty. The same could be said about Church teaching on economic justice, war and peace, immigrationand care of creation. However, Church teaching on abortion, contraception and LGBTQ issues is forcefully promulgated and clearly understood by most Catholics, even if they do not agree with it.
If only we could see this same passion around opposition to the death penalty.