December 6, 2019 – Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida submitted a triple byline Op-Ed to America Magazine condemning the federal government's decision to resume its use of capital punishment for the first time in 16 years.
The executions – set to begin on December 9, 2019 – were temporarily halted by a federal court judge. On December 6, 2019, the United States Supreme Court upheld this decision against an appeal from the Department of Justice to proceed with executions. The planned restart of federal executions is still extremely active and undecided.
All three bishops have – or currently are – led a diocese in a state where capital punishment was utilized. They have all spoken out individually and collectively against state and federally-based executions. In this piece, the bishops lift up the Church's long-held stance of human dignity over the death penalty.
Read an Excerpt from the Op-Ed Below
"Human dignity can be difficult to understand when we are confronted with the depths of our sins. But we believe, from Scripture and tradition, that each person is created by God in his image and likeness, and the dignity that flows from God’s creative act cannot be removed by the actions of any person, no matter how bad, no matter how hurtful. We reverence God’s gift of life in those at the beginning of life and those at its end, in the weak and in the strong, in the poor and in the rich, in the happy and in the sad, in the honored and in the forgotten. And we reverence God’s gift of life in the guilty and in the innocent.
The Catholic bishops of the United States have consistently called for an end to the death penalty for decades. When Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999, he urged an end of the death penalty, which he called “both cruel and unnecessary.” Pope Benedict XVI called for 'the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty,' and he praised lay Catholics working to end the death penalty around the world. Pope Francis has strongly emphasized that the death penalty is unacceptable and is an affront to the Gospel and to the respect for life and human dignity. When he addressed the joint meeting of the U.S. Congress during his historic apostolic visit to the United States in 2015, the pope called for the abolition of the death penalty because 'every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.'"