Indiana bishops call for end to federal executions

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 10, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Indiana’s Catholic bishops are calling for an end to the death penalty, as two federal death row inmates are scheduled to be executed Thursday and Friday.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference recognizes the pain and evil caused by those on death row. We pray that the families and victims of these crimes have comfort and healing,” the state’s Catholic conference said in a statement to CNA on the scheduled execution of Brandon Bernard on Dec. 10.

“However, teaching that murder is wrong by allowing the government to commit murder is not only wrong, but irrational,” the conference said. “The most recent encyclical from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, reaffirms the Church’s commitment to calling for the abolition of the death penalty around the world.”

The state Catholic conference speaks for Indiana’s five Catholic dioceses on state and national policy matters.

Bernard is scheduled to be executed Thursday evening at Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana; he was convicted in 2000 of taking part in the 1999 murder of Todd and Stacie Bagley, two youth ministers, at Fort Hood military base. Bernard’s codefendant, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September.

After gang members put the couple in the trunk of a car, shooting them and killing Todd, Bernard set the car on fire—an act considered at his trial to have killed Stacie Bagley by asphyxiation. His post-conviction lawyers later presented evidence that Stacie was already medically dead by the time Bernard set the car on fire. Bernard was 18 years old at the time of the crime.

He will be the ninth federal death row inmate executed this year, after a nearly two-decade moratorium on the federal use of the death penalty. He has appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

Another federal execution is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 11. Alfred Bourgeois is scheduled to be executed for the abuse, torture, and murder of his young daughter. Lawyers have argued that Bourgeois is intellectually disabled and should be exempt from the death penalty.

Three more federal executions are scheduled for January, before President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated.

Leading U.S. bishops have called for a stop to the executions, pointing to the season of Advent.

Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, whose territorial jurisdiction includes Terre Haute prison, condemned the resumption of federal executions over the summer, saying that “the supreme law of the Church, the salvation of souls, demands that I speak out on this very grave matter at hand.”

Other Catholics and pro-life leaders have asked for a stop to Bernard’s execution.

Lila Rose, president of the group Live Action, tweeted “#SaveBrandonBernard Brandon is scheduled to be executed tomorrow, but it’s not too late to save his life. @realDonaldTrump, please spare Brandon’s life.”

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, stated on Thursday, “Should these executions go through, the federal government will have managed to take the lives of 10 men in the span of six months — what would previously have been thought an unfathomable undertaking.”

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