COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Pope Francis, the most influential leader in the Catholic Church, declares capital punishment is not acceptable under any circumstance. The leader of more than a billion Catholics worldwide has adjusted his faith's teaching, the Catechism, to reflect his latest remarks. Pope Francis says the death penalty attacks human dignity.
In South Carolina, the death penalty cannot be carried out unless the inmate opts for electrocution. That's because prisons cannot secure the drugs for lethal injection. Although there was legislation to allow the electric chair as a backup method to lethal injection, and for drug providers' identities to be shielded, those bills failed to become law.
Sen. Karl Allen (D- Greenville) was against those measures and is against the death penalty. He says he is encouraged by the Pope's latest words. "If we cause unnecessary suffering to God's children, and we do it unjustly, then we have committed a sin," Allen explains.
Allen adds his opinion that future Catholic lawmakers and judges could be influenced to help reverse capital punishment law and end sentences. "It's hard to separate the upbringing, and the doctrines and the policies that you've been taught all of your life," he says.
Members of the Catholic community want to interpret and "clarify" the Pope's remarks. Father Jay Scott Newman, who pastors St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, says the Pope altered part of the Catechism that can be updated.
"Social conditions today are such that, people who are violent or who are a danger to others can be dealt with in ways that do not require the state to kill them," Father Newman says. "All violence against human beings is an offense against the personal dignity that is ours no matter how badly we behave," he adds.
However, Solicitor of the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Spartanburg, Barry Barnette, is a proponent of the death penalty. "I think there are certain people who deserve it," said Barnette. At least one inmate sits on death row now, prosecuted by Barnette. The Solicitor says families of victims feel justice can be served through capital punishment. He also feels that acts of violence can still be committed by inmates serving life. "The danger now is, inmates are killing each other," he said.
The Department of Corrections plans to try lawmakers again next session for laws equipping them with the means of carrying out a death sentence. "We have worked with the legislature the last few years on solutions to the state not being able to obtain execution drugs. This opinion does not affect the agency's legal requirements relating to carrying out executions," Director Bryan Stirling said in a statement.