The South Dakota Catholic Conference supports passage of Senate Bill 109, legislation that proposes a provisional repeal of the death penalty.
In his landmark encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), St. Pope John Paul II explained the Church’s teaching on criminal punishments:
“Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.
“It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
South Dakota has the means to protect the safety of its citizens without recourse to the death penalty. Considering this, the state should choose non-lethal punishments for criminals, as this is consistent with the demands of justice and shows respect for human life and dignity.