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Virginia bishops approve state’s move to abolish the death penalty

February 5, 2021 CNA Daily News 3

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Virginia’s two Catholic bishops welcomed the state legislature’s votes to abolish the death penalty this week. 


“We welcome today’s vote by the Virginia House of Delegates to abolish the death penalty, as well as the vote by the Virginia Senate to do so earlier this week,” read a joint statement from Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Barry Knestout of Richmond on Friday; the statement was issued shortly after the House vote. 


The bill, sponsored by Del. Mike Mullin (D), passed the state House of Delegates by a vote of 57-41. Three Republicans joined all but one Democrat in voting to abolish the death penalty. 


The bishops said they offer “and affirm the utmost need for” prayerful support for the loved ones of victims of horrific crimes. They also upheld “with clarity and conviction, the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘[T]he death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.’”


“The same paragraph of the Catechism also notes that ‘[T]here is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,’” the bishops said. 


They noted “this increasing awareness at work in the many voices that joined together to advocate for this legislation, and ultimately in the votes by the Senate and House in favor of ending the death penalty in Virginia, which has executed more people than any other state.”


Virginia’s last execution was in 2017. There are two people currently on death row in the state, and under the legislation their death sentences would be converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Since 1976, 113 people have been executed in Virginia, more than any other state except Texas. 


Burbidge and Knestout quoted Pope Francis saying that the death penalty is “an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person.” 


They added that “we have other ways to provide punishments and protect society, without resorting to executions.” 


“We too have been consistently clear in our stand on the abolition legislation this year and on similar legislation in years past, and in our direct interventions before executions occurred in Virginia and at the federal level,” said the bishops. 


The bill will now go to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for signature. When the bill was introduced in the legislature on Jan. 13, Northam indicated that he would sign it into law.


The state Senate passed a bill repealing the death penalty on Wednesday, by a vote of 21-17. The bill passed by a party-line vote, as no Republicans voted for it and one abstained. 


The senate bill’s sponsor cited concerns that the death penalty is disproportionately used against racial minorities and persons with diminished mental capacity.




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Virginia poised to abolish death penalty

February 4, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Richmond, Va., Feb 4, 2021 / 08:11 pm (CNA).- The abolition of the death penalty has advanced in Virginia, with the State Senate’s passage of a bill backed by the Virginia Catholic Conference.
The death penalty repeal bill passed the Senat… […]

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Members of Congress push for end to the federal death penalty

January 26, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- Dozens of members of Congress are urging the Attorney General-designate to stop use of the federal death penalty.

In a letter to Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland on Tuesday, 45 members of the House—led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Adriano Espillat (D-N.Y.)—asked Garland to work with Congress on legislation to end the federal death penalty, once he is confirmed.


In addition, they asked Garland to take specific steps to halt or end use of the death penalty nationwide, including by revoking the Trump administration’s 2019 resumption of federal executions.

“The death penalty is a stain on the United States’ commitment to advancing justice and human rights,” the letter signed by 45 members stated. “We ask that upon confirmation you partner with Congress to enact legislation to end the federal death penalty and resentence those currently on federal death row,” the members stated.


In 2019, Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—announced a resumption of federal executions after a nearly two-decade moratorium.


Beginning in July, a total of 13 federal death row inmates were executed by the end of the Trump administration on Jan. 20. In December and January alone, five of the inmates were executed.


The U.S. bishops’ conference condemned the executions, and in a Jan. 11 statement asked Congress and the Biden administration to stop federal executions and abolish the federal death penalty.


In one of the cases, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark sent a letter to President Trump asking for clemency for Dustin Honken. Tobin noted that, while previously Archbishop of Indianapolis, he visited Honken at Terre Haute federal prison several times a year. Honken was executed in July.


The next chair of the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, called the death penalty part of the “throwaway culture” in a Jan. 8 online panel.


While campaigning for president, Biden promised to end the federal death penalty. As a senator, however, he sponsored a 1994 criminal justice bill that expanded the number of federal offenses eligible for the death penalty.


White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that President Biden was “opposed” to the federal death penalty, but offered no details on a possible stoppage of its use.


Among the members’ requests of Garland on Tuesday are that he “[w]ithdraw authorization for all pending death penalty trial cases” and stop seeking the death penalty in any federal cases.


In addition, the members are asking that “the federal Bureau of Prisons dismantle the federal death chamber at Terre Haute prison in Indiana.”


“As the Trump Administration has undertaken an appalling rush to execute a historic number of Americans this year, it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration to reverse course and work to make America a more just society,” the letter stated.


Rep. Espillat is a Dominican-American and Catholic. He introduced legislation, H.R. 97, on Jan. 4 to abolish the death penalty under federal law.


Pressley, meanwhile, introduced the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Jan. 11, to end federal use of the death penalty and provide for the re-sentencing of federal inmates currently on death row.


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Amid scheduled executions, bills introduced to end federal use of death penalty

January 12, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jan 12, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- As three federal executions were scheduled for this week, multiple bills have been introduced in Congress to end use of the federal death penalty.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced Jan. 11 the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021, which would end federal use of the death penalty, bar the imposition of the death penalty for violation of federal law, and mandate that federal inmates on death row be re-sentenced.
“Ending the federal death penalty— which is as cruel as it is ineffective in deterring crime—is a racial justice issue and must come to an end,” said Pressley.
“The death penalty is deeply flawed and disproportionately imposed on Black and Brown and low-income people in America,” Durbin, a Catholic, said.
More than 70 members of Congress sponsored or co-sponsored the legislation. The effort comes after Rep. Adriano Espillat (D-N.Y.), a Dominican-American and Catholic, introduced H.R. 97 Jan. 4, “To abolish the death penalty under Federal law.”
The Trump administration has resumed federal use of the death penalty after nearly a two-decade moratorium on its utilization. Former Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—had announced the resumption of the federal use of the death penalty in 2019.
In 2020, 10 federal inmates were executed by the U.S., and three more on death row were scheduled to be executed this week before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
However, a district court judge granted Lisa Montgomery—one of the three federal death row inmates—a stay of execution Jan. 11, “to allow the Court to conduct a hearing” regarding “Ms. Montgomery’s competence to be executed.”
According to Montgomery’s attorneys and expert testimonies, she is suffering from mental illnesses and brain impairments.
The D.C. Circuit Court also granted Montgomery a stay of execution Jan. 11. The Trump administration has appealed the case to the Supreme Court; Montgomery had originally been scheduled to be executed Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. EST.
In December, Pressley led a letter by more than 40 House members to Biden asking him to end use of the death penalty once he takes office.
U.S. bishops have been outspoken about ending the death penalty, and have repeatedly implored the Trump administration to stop the federal executions. Leading bishops also asked Biden to declare a moratorium on the federal use of executions and commute federal death sentences to life imprisonment.
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, the next chair of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee, said the death penalty was part of the “throwaway culture” in remarks at an online forum Jan. 8.