The Catholic Church Sex Scandal and the Dying Death Penalty: Issues at the Intersection of Religion, Crime, and Punishment
Published in the State of Criminal Justice, 2019
10 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 3, 2019
Recent developments in law enforcement and the judiciary reveal the ongoing interconnections between religion, crime, and punishment. In recent months, federal investigators have taken an interest in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and have launched an investigation into whether evidence exists of federal criminal law violations. This first-of-its-kind inquiry into the Church poses new challenges for church leaders, particularly because it may place some of its clergy in jeopardy of prosecution. Beyond, the investigation may stoke genuine fear that federal inquiries may spread to other states. In the area of punishment, Washington recently became the twentieth state to abolish the death penalty. As the death penalty continues its decline among states, religious faith and morality have played some role in this development. Exactly how much is uncertain, but there is even greater potential for religious ideas and narrative to influence death penalty reform.
This chapter examines these startling developments, which underscore the ongoing tensions between law and religion. It concludes that the time is ripe for death penalty foes to try to harness the power of religion as a means of garnering sympathy and support for their cause. To date, there has been little attempt by advocates to rely on religion as a means of illustrating their message, and there has been little attempt to attract religious allies to their cause. There is obvious overlap between death penalty abolitionism and Christian moral principles. Moving forward, the question is whether abolitionists can access this largely untapped resource to help hasten the decline.
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