The pope is making the news again, but it is at least for something good this time:
Pope Benedict XVI voiced support Wednesday for political actions around the world aimed at eliminating the death penalty, reflecting his stance as an opponent of capital punishment.
He said he hopes "your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty."
This stance is not only a continuation of the philosophy of Benedict's predecessor, the much beloved John Paul II, but is an extension of the historical Catholic disposition toward capital punishment. Contrary to the prevailing popular mythos, the Catholic Church has never been in the business of executing people. In its very darkest days, it would collaborate with civil authorities in investigations of capital crimes before turning the accused over to the state for punishment, but the prevailing belief and practice for the Catholic clergy has been that the death penalty is something less than holy, inimical to true Christian faith. While I certainly don't see political activism as an appropriate means for pursuing Christian ethics, I do applaud the papacy for publicly continuing this historic position of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately for the pope, it appears that the majority of Catholics in America still support the death penalty and only a marginal number of them cite religion as the most important factor in shaping their opinions.