In a way, Timothy
McVeigh has served as a perfect poster boy for those who seek to
justify the death penalty. He seems to lack any remorse, and his
indifference to the suffering he wrought will make it so very easy
for all of us — I say "all of us," because the executioners act
in our name — to stick the fatal needle in his vein.
But none of
us really knows his heart. Only God does — and implausible as it
may sound in the midst of our national anger, Jesus died for Timothy
McVeigh too. Even for him. Why? Because he's a child of God;
because as a human person his dignity is greater than any evil he
can commit. Whether he knows that or not is irrelevant. We should.
justice. Citizens have a right to personal safety. The victims of
the Oklahoma City bombing have suffered enormously for years. But
none of these things demands or requires that Timothy McVeigh should
die. And exactly because he has chosen to make himself so
repellent in his final months, he's purified the capital punishment
debate of any shallow sentimentalism.
This man committed
a grievous crime. He deserves punishment. But we still shouldn't
kill him — for his sake as a human being, but even more importantly,
for our sake as human beings. Repaying cruelty with cruelty does
not equate to justice.
stake in the debate over capital punishment is what we mean when
we talk about the sanctity of human life. As Bishop José Gomez says
elsewhere in this issue (see page 6), "the Catholic witness on abortion
is cut from exactly the same fabric as Catholic service to the poor,
the homeless and the immigrant. These issues are connected. They
can't be separated. If the world doesn't yet understand that, then
God is inviting each of us as believers to speak more clearly and
on capital punishment is part of that same vital fabric. It's not
"the same as" abortion, or euthanasia, or help for the homeless,
or aid to the immigrant and the poor. It doesn't need to be. Each
of these issues has its own weight and content in our faith. But
all of them are serious, and all of them are connected.
execute Timothy McVeigh on June 11, July 11, or at some time in
the undetermined future is irrelevant. The date doesn't matter.
For the sake of our own humanity and the humanity of the children
who'll come after us, for the sake of his and our dignity as children
of God, we shouldn't do it at all.