Pope Benedict and I are not personally acquainted even though we are both Catholics and have a mutual best friend in the form of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. I should even go a bit further and say that I have been quite wary of the Pope ever since he got the job. After all, it is kind of hard to cozy up to someone who has the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”. I am thinking that if he knew me personally he might even accuse me of being a “Cafeteria Catholic” (ouch!), picking and choosing the parts of Catholicism that I find most appealing to my personal lifestyle. Nevertheless, I find myself in total agreement with the Pope on several things. First of all I feel that both capital punishment and torture by “waterboarding” are wrong and they diminish us as a God fearing and civilized society. I also believe in the sanctity of all life and that includes the life of the unborn human fetus no matter what the argument is as to when the fetus actually receives a soul. Having said that, however, I must say that I believe in a woman’s right to choose just as Eve exercised her free will to choose to eat of the forbidden fruit and led Adam to do the same. To remove the free will choice of a woman or a man would be to make them less than human. The Lord said “Judge not lest ye be judged” and so I leave the consequences of free will decisions up to Him and to Him alone.
Here in Mexico the death penalty has not been applied since 1929, when the assassin of president elect Álvaro Obregón was executed. This was a pretty bizarre affair all in itself. Up until this time Mexico was no stranger to executions. It had just gone through the Mexican Revolution when death by firing squad was fairly common. After the constitution of 1917 was adopted there were many restrictive government policies imposed on the Catholic Church and this eventually prompted a widespread violent insurrection from 1926 to 1929 by Roman Catholics in a war known as the Cristero War. In 1928 Álvaro Obregón won a second term as president and after a bitterly contested election he returned to Mexico City to celebrate his victory. He was assassinated in a restaurant on July 17, 1928 by a guy named José de León Toral, a Roman Catholic who was vehemently opposed to the government policies on religious matters. In 1927 two of his friends, Humberto and Miguel Pro, had been executed after having been convicted of plotting to assassinate president Obregón. Because of this, and because of supposedly having been incited by a Catholic nun, Sister Concepción Acevedo de la Llata (who the press nicknamed La Madre Conchita), León Toral decided he should murder Obregón.
Two weeks after Obregón had been elected president, León Toral entered La Bombilla, a restaurant in San Ángel (a Mexico City suburb) during a banquet organized to honor president elect Obregón. León Toral was disguised as a caricaturist and he made a caricature of Obregón and showed it to Obregón, who told him the drawing had good likeness and suggested he continue. After Obregón turned around to sit down, León Toral suddenly drew a gun and shot Obregón five or six times in the back. Needless to say Obregón was definitely a “goner”. León Toral was arrested immediately and pleaded guilty, claiming he killed Obregón in order to hasten the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ on Earth. Madre Conchita was also arrested and received a 30 year prison sentence. León Toral was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in February of 1929. His last words were ¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Long Live Christ the King!).
The guy named Miguel Pro whose death Leon Toral was avenging when he killed Obregón was none other than Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, S.J., a Mexican Roman Catholic Jesuit priest. He had been executed during the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles after trumped up charges of involvement in an assassination attempt against former President Álvaro Obregón. Father Pro was beatified by John Paul II as a martyr on September 25, 1988. I know, I know…it really gets complicated. That’s one of the reasons that the death penalty is wrong. The Mexican federal death penalty was abolished under the Mexican Federal Penal Code of 1930, and by 1975 all state codes also had eliminated the death penalty. It is said that sixty percent of the American people favor the death penalty and yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States voted to pave the way to make lethal injection an acceptable practice. Personally I don’t see how people can claim to be a Christian nation on one hand and on the other hand ignore our Lord’s admonition that “He who is without sin should throw the first stone”. I think that pro death penalty people are generally either vengeful or fearful. As far as vengeance is concerned, God has told us that vengeance belongs to him. So be it. Regarding fear, I remember the last words of Pope John Paul II. He said “Don’t be afraid” and I intend to take that advice with me all the way to the grave.