California: Catholic leaders welcome execution moratorium

San Quentin state prison injection room

San Quentin state prison injection room

Source: California Bishops/Ministry Against the Death Penalty, Gavin Newsome

Yesterday morning, Gavin Newsome, the Catholic Governor of California, announced a moratorium on the death penalty. Up that date, 737 inmates in the state were on Death Row. The ruling means they will not be executed during the governor's tenure.

"I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings, knowing that among them will be innocent human beings," Newsom told a press conference. "I believe the death penalty is wrong and I am exercising my right pursuant to the will of the voters and the constitution."

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J Cordileone welcome the decision. In a statement on behalf of California's bishops, he said: "We appreciate this recognition that the state has the adequate means to defend human dignity and public safety without recourse to capital punishment"… "We ask the governor to urge the Legislature to find a permanent legislative solution that will end the practice of capital punishment in our state for good," he said.

San Quentin State Prison is located in the Archbishop's diocese. The facility is California's oldest penitentiary and houses the state's only death row for men.

Archbishop Cordileone said he and his fellow Catholic bishops are encouraging him "to use well the time of the moratorium to promote civil dialogue on alternatives to the death penalty, including giving more needed attention and care to the victims of violence and their families. Capital punishment is not a cure for the suffering and turmoil inflicted by violent crime; the restorative healing of victims and their families to the extent possible is an essential part of justice."

In a separate statement, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H Gomez said: " this is a good day for California and a good day for our country…. For many years now, my brother Catholic bishops and I have been calling for an end to the death penalty, not only in California but throughout the United States," he said.

"There are important public policy reasons for ending the death penalty." Capital punishment "does not deter violent crime and it does not bring true justice or healing to victims of violent crime," Archbishop Gomez said. "And sadly, judicial execution has always been a punishment imposed far more often on African Americans, Hispanics and the poor in our society. But the most important reasons for ending the death penalty are moral."

He said that "every human life is precious and sacred in the eyes of God and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those who commit grave evil and are convicted of the most cruel and violent crimes."

The death penalty "violates the condemned person's dignity and deprives that person of the chance to change his or her heart and be rehabilitated through the mercy of God," he said.

But ending the death penalty is only a first step, Archbishop Gomez said. He called addressing inequities in the criminal justice system, improving prison conditions in prisons, providing alternatives to incarceration "for nonviolent crimes" and looking for new ways to rehabilitate offenders.

"Today, it is also important to remember the victims of violent crime and their loved ones," Archbishop Gomez said. "We entrust them to the Father of mercies and commit ourselves to helping them to find healing and peace.

"We should also give thanks for the sacrifice and commitment of police and law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe."

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national US Catholic organisation working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, said the decision was a "bold step toward abolishing a broken system that fails to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. As Catholics, we believe that human dignity is to be protected no matter the harm someone

Sister Helen Prejean SJM, a long time opponent of capital punishment, whose story was told in the film Dead Man Walking tweeted: "Thank you for your leadership, Gov. Newsom!"

In a statement she said: "We should recognised that California's death machine has never cranked away at full throttle. Since it reinstated the death penalty 45 years ago, and as human beings stacked up in the ir hundreds in death row cells at San Quentin, the state has carried out only 13 executions. Those 13 executions came at a mind-boggling cost to California taxpayers of $5 billion."

These are the stats of a deeply flawed system. Imagine how these resources might have been better spent for struggling people in California , and think how those freed-up resources can now be spent: services for crime victims, medical care, affordable housing and do much more."

Describing the moratorium as a "severe blow" to the death penalty in California, Sr Helen said the wave of public support for abolition was swelling. "The moratorium is the beginning to the end of state-sanctioned killing in California."

President Trump tweeted that he was "not thrilled" that the execution of 737 "stone cold killers" had been halted, and neither were the families and friends of the "always forgotten victims."

Tags: Death Penalty, Execution, Sister Helen Prejean, Archbishop Jose H Gomez, Archbishop Salvatore J Cordileone, California, Gavin Newsom

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