The Ohio judge said he believed in the sanctity of life and did not make the judgment lightly

An American Catholic judge has sentenced a serial killer to death, arguing that to do otherwise would be “theologically wrong”, despite the Pope’s recent assertion that the death penalty is inadmissible.

Patrick Dinkelacker, a common pleas judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, sentenced Anthony Kirkland to death row on August 28. The prosecuting attorney Joseph Deters, also a Catholic, had argued in favour of the death penalty in this case.

During Kirkland’s sentencing, Judge Dinkelacker said: “As a person who morally believes in the sanctity of life, to judge another to determine if the imposition of the death penalty is appropriate is not a duty I take lightly.

“In this great land of America, we live by the rule of law,” he said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Vatican announced a change to the Catechism on 2 August, making the death penalty inadmissible. The Catechism now reads “…the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide”.

The Church had previously ruled the punishment acceptable in certain circumstances. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, published in 1995, decreed that execution is only appropriate “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.”

Today, John Paul II wrote, such cases were “very rare, if not practically non-existent”.

Joseph Bessette, a professor of government and ethics at Claremont McKenna College, said with respect to this case: “Pope John Paul II made a prudential judgment in the 1990s that in the modern era the death penalty was only rarely necessary to achieve public safety. But even he did not claim that the penalty was intrinsically evil.”

“Catholic prosecutors and judges, guided by their state laws and the oaths they take to uphold them, retain every right to reach their own judgments about the value of capital punishment in securing public safety”, he added.

The man sentenced, Anthony Kirkland, 49, was convicted of killing three women, for which he had been serving a life sentence, and two teenage girls, for which he was sentenced to the death penalty.

The twelve-person jury had, after deliberating, recommended the death penalty in early August. It is possible, but extremely rare, for a judge to override a jury’s decision on the death penalty.

“I took an oath to follow the law and I will do that,” Judge Dinkelacker said, according to the local news channel Fox 19 Now. “To do otherwise is morally, legally, philosophically and theologically wrong.”