As the Filipino government makes steps toward reinstating the death penalty, the Catholic Church has challenged those who think the bible permits capital punishment to read scripture ‘properly.’
“To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?” the country’s bishops asked in a statement read on 19 March at Masses across the country.
“We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world,” continued the strongly worded statement signed by Archbishop Socrates, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
“Jesus was never an advocate of any form of legal killing,” state the bishops. Instead He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded she was punished and challenged "those who were without sin among them" to be the first to cast a stone on her, explains the statement.
A return of the death penalty, over a decade after it was abolished under pressure from the church, has been a top priority for Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, who swept to power on promises of a merciless war on drugs and crime.
Lawmakers of the country’s Lower House voted overwhelmingly in favour of bringing back the death penalty for serious, drug-related crimes, earlier in March.
In their letter, the Catholic bishops refer to the irony of the country’s lawmakers passing the death penalty bill on Ash Wednesday. They describe the legislators as captured on television “shouting in favour of death with their foreheads marked with crosses made of ashes.”
“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant?” they asked.
“Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime,” wrote the bishops.
“Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society," they continued, in a barely veiled attack on Duterte’s violent campaign to crack down on drug related crime.
“Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix,” added the statement.
The bishops also spoke about the victims and expressed concern that the death penalty will be applied more to the poor, who cannot afford adequate legal defence.
They concluded by calling for prayers for the country’s legislators.
“Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all,” they said.
PICTURE: Students and teachers protested against the reinstatement of the death penalty outside of the De La Salle University in Manila. Lawmakers in the country's Lower House voted unanimously in favour of the bill, meaning it could be enshrined into law by Christmas.