U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Urges Halt to Federal Executions

Members of the Catholic church say a prayer during an opening session of the annual US Conference of Catholic Bishops November 12, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have called on the government to declare a moratorium on federal executions, citing the Church’s opposition to the death penalty.

“The Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear, and we have made many requests that the federal government should not resume these executions,” reads a USCCB statement Thursday. “Yet, not only has the government done so, they have scheduled even more executions. After the first three in July, there are two this week, and two more at the end of September.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The bishops released their statement in light of additional federal executions this week and new executions set for September. On Wednesday, Lezmond Mitchell became the fourth federal inmate executed this summer, being killed by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from four federal death row inmates who were convicted of killing children. The court refused to block the execution of the four inmates, who were scheduled to be put to death in July and August, the first uses of the federal death penalty since 2003.

“We know from scripture that God created each of us in his image,” the bishops note in their statement Thursday. “This gives each person an irrevocable dignity, despite their sinfulness.”

“Remembering the Lord’s call for mercy, we renew our plea: stop these executions!” they conclude.

In early July, the bishops — joined by other faith leaders — issued a similar appeal, noting that “Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called for an end to the death penalty around the world.”

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement read.

“As our country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” it said.

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