BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday July 9, 2018 – Archbishop of Port of Spain and Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgetown, Reverend Charles Jason Gordon, has welcomed the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) recent decision that declared as unconstitutional and a violation of the right to life the mandatory death sentence for a conviction of murder in Barbados.
But he said more needs to be done to scrap the death penalty from the statute books.
The CCJ ruled on the unconstitutionality of the mandatory death sentence late last year, in a pair of unrelated death penalty cases from Barbados – filed by lawyers for Jabari Sensimania Nervais and Dwayne Omar Severin. The Trinidad-based CCJ held that Section 11 of the Constitution, which gives the right to protection of the law, was enforceable, and that the mandatory death penalty breached that right as it deprived a court of the opportunity to exercise the quintessential judicial function of tailoring the punishment to fit the crime.
“The CCJ’s decision is a step in the right direction but does not remove the death penalty from the laws in Barbados, so there is still some work to be done,” Archbishop Gordon said in a statement of support for the CCJ decision.
“Every life is a precious gift from God. We are all created in the image and likeness of God and thus have inherent dignity. The taking of one life does not therefore justify the taking of another.”
In 2016, Archbishop Gordon and the other Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) appealed to “politicians and citizens in our region to abolish capital punishment or the death penalty and embrace a restorative justice approach to crime and violence . . . . A restorative justice approach focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way and helping to achieve a sense of healing for both victims and the community. It embraces socialization, rehabilitation and reconciliation, rather than retribution and vengeance”.
In that 2016 statement, the Bishops underscored that, “to reject capital punishment is not to make light of the loss of loved ones and the violation of human dignity and rights experienced by victims of crime. The pastoral care of the Church is directed first towards the comfort and assistance of these victims”.
Archbishop Gordon added: “The compassion and love shown by the Church and society to victims and the support given to their families to help them cope with a tragic loss continues to be vital. Prayer, love and counselling can help grieving families reach a place of peace and, hopefully, healing.”
Successive popes, including Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, called for the abolition of the death penalty, encouraging nations to work instead towards a just means of punishment and public order. Pope Francis has contended that the death penalty “is in itself contrary to the Gospel because it voluntarily decided to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of which God only, in the final analysis, is the true judge and guarantor.”
Archbishop Gordon commented that the death penalty did not provide justice but was a barbaric form of revenge.
“It does not act as a deterrent for violent crimes in society – in fact it supports the very act which took a life. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life. The mandatory death penalty left no room for a judge to consider mitigating circumstances. It did not allow for conversion, mercy or forgiveness. As Pope Francis said, ‘For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the State to kill in the name of justice’,” he said.
There is a growing movement worldwide to abolish the death penalty, with many countries taking into consideration moral and social implications as well as alternatives such as restorative justice, which seeks to give the perpetrator an opportunity to take responsibility for his/her actions, to show remorse and to be rehabilitated. In the region, the charge is being led by the group known as The Greater Caribbean for Life.
“There has been increasing concern about the level of violence in society, especially incidents ending in death. These demonstrate the diminishing respect for life and the need for all societies to promote integral development of their citizens so they can become the best version of themselves,” Archbishop Gordon said.
“The application of sound traditions and values, including love and respect for our neighbour, can help to rebuild a just and peaceful society, where conflict does not end with the taking of a life and where disagreement does not destroy but can strengthen relationships. This is not a lofty ideal. Every person, every family, every faith leader and every policymaker has a role to play to promote the value and dignity of life, this wonderful gift from God.”