Indiana Catholic leaders: End federal executions

Michael Yadron

MERRILLVILLE – In response to an announcement that the government would resume execution of federal inmates, Catholic officials across the state are calling for continuation of a moratorium on the use of capital punishment by federal authorities.

"The federal government’s decision in July to end a 16-year moratorium on executing federal inmates is regrettable, unnecessary and morally unjustified," according to a statement signed by leaders of the Dioceses of Gary, Fort-Wayne-South Bend, Indianapolis, Lafayette-in-Indiana and Evansville.

"As we observe Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church, we, the Bishops of Indiana, in as much as federal executions are conducted in our state, ask President Trump to rescind the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to resume capital punishment later this year. We respectfully implore that the sentences of all federal death row inmates be commuted to life imprisonment," the officials, including the Rev. Michael Yadron, Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Gary, said.

The Diocesan leaders say they "do not dismiss the evil and harm caused by people who commit horrible crimes, especially murder." and "share in the sorrow and loss of families and victims of such crimes. We call upon our faith community and all persons of good will to stand with the victims and to provide spiritual, pastoral and personal support."

But, they say, "All life is a gift from God and each life has dignity. As recently confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 'The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.' Capital punishment undermines the dignity of human life. Taking human life is justifiable only in self-defense, when there is no other way to protect oneself, another innocent person or society from extreme violence or death."

There have been only three federal executions since 1963:

• Timothy McVeigh in June 2001 for the murder of eight federal law enforcement officers in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City

• Juan Raul Garza in June 2001 for murdering one person and ordering the murders of eight others as part of drug-smuggling ring Texas

• Louis Jones, Jr. in March 2003 for the rape and murder of Pvt. Tracie McBride

There arecurrently  62 offenders on federal death row, and on July 25, Attorney General William Barr announced the federal government would resume the use of capital punishment. Five death row inmates are currently scheduled to be executed in December and January.

As far as those inmates, the church leaders wrote, "the aggressor has been stopped and society is protected. Hence, it is no longer permissible to take the life. In addition to the moral problems with capital punishment, it continues the cycle of violence; it neither helps the victims who survive, nor does it mitigate the loss of a loved one. And it precludes the possibility of reconciliation and rehabilitation."

The church leaders cited Pope Francis, who said, “A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

The many problems with capital punishment were also cited.

"The application of capital punishment also calls for its discontinuance. The problems are well documented," they wrote. These include:

• unequal application to minorities, the poor and mentally ill

• the cost, which is more expensive than lifetime incarceration

• the more than 160 persons since 1977 on death row who have been exonerated of their guilt

• the instances of innocent people being wrongly executed.

An execution also "impacts those who are associated with it, particularly correctional officers and those who are obligated to participate in taking a human life," the church leaders wrote. "The psychological and spiritual harm that these persons experience is real.

"We join our brother bishops of the United States in calling for an end to the death penalty. Twenty-five states no longer use it as a form of punishment. We ask the federal government to continue its moratorium until it can be rescinded formally as a matter of law."

— From staff and wire reports

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