End executions for Advent, Catholic bishops tell Trump

Sign over death row. Credit: Doomitis/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Leading U.S. bishops are imploring the Trump administration to stop scheduled federal executions during the season of Advent.

“This Advent, the Lord comes to love us even though we don’t deserve it. Let us repent and embrace his gift,” stated Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee, on Monday.

“We call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr, in recognition of God’s unmerited gift of self-giving love: stop these executions,” the two archbishops said.

The archbishops issued their statement after eight federal death row inmates have been executed so far in 2020, with Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—having ordered the execution of two more in December and three more in January.

Barr, in 2019, announced that federal executions would resume after a nearly two-decade moratorium. With a change of administrations occurring on Jan. 20, the Trump administration is on track for ten executions in 2020 and three more before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Ten executions in 2020 is “more than double the previous record of four in 1938,” the archbishops said in November.

“We’ve asked many times to stop the federal executions,” the archbishops stated, noting that the administration has expanded the use of execution protocols to include means such as the electric chair.

“What does the birth of our Lord say to this? The Lord comes not to destroy, but to save,” they stated, citing the Second Reading at Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent “that the Lord ‘is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pt. 3:9).”

“Can we follow the Lord’s example?” they asked. “We are all sinners. Some have done terrible things. Victims need help. Justice is needed for peace. But executions solve nothing.

In his October encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis wrote of the death penalty that “Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. There can be no stepping back from this position.” He called the death penalty “inadmissible.”

On Nov. 19, Orlando Cordia Hall was executed at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana; Hall was given a death sentence for the kidnap, rape, beating, and murder of a 16 year-old girl.

Barr has also announced that Lisa Montgomery, convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and kidnapping her baby, is scheduled to be executed in January. Brandon Bernard, convicted of acting with accomplices to murder two youth ministers, is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, Dec. 10. One of his accomplices in the 1999 murder, Christopher Vialva, was executed on Sept. 22.

Independent human rights experts at the United Nations have asked that Montgomery’s execution be halted, warning that her mental health problems were not fully considered and saying the U.S. was on the verge of an “arbitrary” execution.

Alfred Bourgeois—convicted of the abuse, torture, and murder of his young daughter—is scheduled for execution at Terre Haute on Dec. 11.

Cory Johnson, convicted of the murder of seven people, is scheduled for execution on Jan. 14, 2021. Dustin John Higgs, who kidnapped and murdered three women, is scheduled for execution on Jan. 15, 2021.

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  1. “In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies” (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic jurists on December 5, 1954).
    -Paragraph 28, Declaration of the truths relating to some of the most common errors
    in the life of the Church of our time (Cardinals Buke & Pujats, Bishops Schneider, Peta & Lenga)

    None of the highly esteemed Cardinals and Bishops were rebuked and censured for issuing this statement. Therefore Catholics are free to hold that capital punishment can legitimately be applied when necessary to safeguard society.

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