The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger has an op-ed in today’s South Bend Tribune in which he pleads for the life of admitted killer Eric Wrinkles.

Wrinkles guilt is not an issue. This is no case of mistaken identity or any such thing. Bishop Gettelfinger instead makes the case that execution, while perhaps once justified in frontier times, is no longer necessary or proper.

Capital punishment demands the life of the criminal to protect the members of society. On the frontier of our own land many years ago, execution provided quick and final justice. That may have been necessary to protect its citizens then, as there were no means to separate the criminal from society for a lifetime. Protective custody was impossible.

Frontier justice became the standard for states to protect their residents from murderers by killing them. Frontier justice employs various means for killing criminals; they include hanging, firing squad, gas chamber or lethal injection. Quick justice utilized lynching outside the law. Death was the inevitable result. Society was protected.

It seems that we in the state of Indiana are still invoking frontier justice. Indiana is no longer the frontier. The state of Indiana is able to protect its residents from murderous criminals by separating them from society by sentencing them to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Indiana residents can be protected without executing criminals.

This is an important distinction for those who try to compare the death penalty to abortion. Abortion, of course, is an intrinsic evil and can never be justified. The death penalty might sometimes be justified for the protection of society, but the standard is rarely met in today’s modern society.

Bishop Gettelfinger correctly comments that the death penalty should not be used to satisfy a desire for revenge. As followers of Christ we are called to “not only to forgive our enemies but we are also to love them without approving the wrongs they have committed.”

As example, Bishop Gettelfinger cites Mary Winnecke of Evansville, the wife and mother of Wrinkles victims.

Winnecke continues to grieve the loss of her family. Nonetheless, Winnecke has not only forgiven Wrinkles, she urges that the state of Indiana not kill him. It solves nothing nor will it bring peace to her or others suffering from his heinous acts. She prays for Wrinkles.

Amen. As a conservative, I think it is high time that politicians of all stripes stop using the death penalty as their law & order credentials. The standard should be protecting society and justice, nothing less and certainly nothing more.

Update: Matthew here. I know this is highly irregular but I thought it was worth it to toss out an opinion here even though Patrick wrote the above post.

Let me make it clear, I am absolutely against the death penalty. It seems it used to be employed because detaining prisoners was very difficult, as the bishop said.

But I think many Catholics still are ok with the death penalty because keeping prisoners in prison seems to still be very difficult today but for very different reasons. Too many judges and parole boards consistently give hardened criminals short sentences or parole them out early.

I think many people see the death penalty as the only way to protect society from liberal judges and idiotic parole boards (or even clemency happy Governors).