The Catholic Church speaks out against the death penalty in Japan and Myanmar

After the execution of Tomohiro Kato, coincidentally with that of Myanmar dissidents, the Justice and Peace Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan warns that, “The violence of the death penalty can never build a peaceful society. It is a barbarity that goes against the times and creates new violence.”

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – In Asia the past few months have been marked by the death penalty. In Myanmar, four political opponents were executed last week, the first death sentences carried out in the country in more than thirty years. In Japan, the authorities on Tuesday executed Tomohiro Kato, a man who stabbed seven people to death in 2008, while in Singapore, the end of the pandemic saw the latest of five executions carried out over the past five months.

Against this backdrop, the Justice and Peace Council of the Catholic Church in Japan issued a statement that renews a broader reflection on the magisterium of the Church regarding the death penalty, starting with Japan itself.

“We express our deep sorrow and our strongest objection to the execution on 26 July 2022 of Tomohiro Kato, 39, who was held at the Tokyo detention centre. His precious life, in fact, was taken away at the hands of the State.”

The Council notes that in 2016, on 26 July, Japan mourned the death of 19 people at a facility or disabled people in Sagamihara. It was “an unprecedented episode of murder and injury. We prayed for the victims and renewed our conviction that no life is not worth living.”

Two years later, on 26 July 2018, six death row inmates linked to the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo were executed at the same time. “We are horrified by the fact that the state chose this same day once again to end life viewed as not worth living,” reads the note.

“In light of the Gospel revealed by Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church firmly believes that the life of every person is precious and that, however serious the sin a person may have committed, their dignity is never forfeit.

"Given her mission to protect every life, she not only teaches that the death penalty is an unacceptable attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, but she is also determined to work for its abolition throughout the world.

“At a time when the rigorous application of the law has made it possible to prevent the recurrence of crimes and guarantee the security of society by means other than the death penalty, we believe that the death penalty has lost its raison d'être because of the preciousness of human life.”

The Council’s also notes that “for the first time in decades”, the death penalty was carried out in Myanmar, an act condemned by the international community. “As the Japanese government stated, there is serious concern that this will ‘lead to further isolation’. Yet, we are ‘gravely concerned’ that [. . .] the Japanese government set out on the same path and carried out an outrageous act of self-degradation of its international position.

“The violence of the death penalty can never build a peaceful society. It is a barbarity that goes against the times and creates new violence."

“Having learnt from Jesus Christ the truth that every life is precious, we nourish the hope of conversion, forgiveness and true reconciliation. Because even if this is hard, it is not at all impossible.

"In unison with Pope Francis and the Catholic Church around the world, and uniting our hearts and minds with people of good will around the world who respect human rights, we will continue to press for the abolition of the death penalty, a cruel and unmerciful punishment, and for an immediate moratorium on executions.”