Say what you like about American "puritanism" and the rest of it, there are some things we do have over the Europeans, like social priorities. According to veteran Catholic reporter John L. Allen, who provides sometimes sensible analysis for the National Catholic Reporter, there is a huge moral divide between American and European Catholics, and presumably between Americans and Europeans generally. Speaking about a visit to Rome this past April, he noted that
if the dominant “single issue” temptation for American Catholics is to focus almost exclusively on abortion, the analogous “single issue” tendency within Catholicism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe is the death penalty.
Although my guess is that Allen also opposes the death penalty, like many Catholic leaders, including the current pope, he points out that
For American Catholics, this focus on the death penalty rather than abortion can often seem terribly imbalanced. According to Amnesty International, there were 1,591 executions worldwide in 2006, while the estimated number of abortions around the world each year is on the order of 45 million. On a purely quantitative basis, some would argue, there’s no comparison in terms of which is the more grave threat to human life. Moreover, many abortion opponents would also argue that while all killing is wrong, with the death penalty we’re usually talking about convicted criminals, while abortion strikes at the most innocent and vulnerable ("What
abortion is to American Catholics, the death penalty is for Italians").
It should be pointed out (and Allen does point out) that opposition to the death penalty on the part of the Church is a prudential option rather than a matter of dogma. Some believe that executing criminals is "unnecessary." I respect those who are at least consistent in being against the death penalty and killing the unborn. But personally I say: punish the guilty, protect the innocent. To me the two are inextricably intertwined.