Pope Francis Calls for Clemency in Christmas Letter to President Biden

Thousands of American Catholics Urge President to Extend Mercy to Federal Death Row Prisoners

(Washington, DC) The Vatican announced last week that Pope Francis has personally invited heads of state to grant clemency to prisoners this Christmas season. “President Biden has a keen opportunity to commute the sentences of those on the federal death row,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN). 

Pope Francis has, throughout his papacy, maintained a posture of compassion towards prisoners — especially those on death row. In September 2022, the Holy Father dedicated his monthly prayer intention to the global abolition of the death penalty. In this worldwide prayer, Pope Francis urged that “in every legal sentence, there must be a window of hope.”

In this most recent petition from Pope Francis on behalf of those in prison, he asks state leaders to make a “gesture of clemency…towards our brothers and sisters who are deprived of their liberty and who are held eligible to benefit from such a provision.”

President Biden is the first U.S. president to publicly oppose the death penalty, and he campaigned on an anti-death penalty platform. 

“It is past time that President Biden fulfill his campaign promise and take the next concrete step by commuting the death sentences of the 42 individuals currently on federal death row,” said Vaillancourt Murphy.

Since 2021, more than ten thousand Catholics have urged President Biden to honor the sanctity of life and commute the federal death row, an act the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed. 

Biden’s administration took an important step by declaring a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021 — a first for a presidential administration. This move was made even more significant by the fact that the previous administration restarted federal executions after a 17-year hiatus and proceeded to execute 13 people. 

But a moratorium is not enough.

Almost all of the people on federal death row were raised in profoundly adverse circumstances. Many spent their childhoods in extreme poverty, experienced abuse and severe neglect, witnessed pervasive violence in their homes and communities, or suffer from untreated, long-standing serious mental illness.

“It is crucial that President Biden take the next step in granting clemency to those who remain on the federal death row,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “Given how swiftly the last administration restarted federal executions, it is critical that these sentences be commuted — otherwise, lives remain at risk.”

President Biden would not be the first in the United States to make such a move. In fact, he has very recent examples to lean on.

Just last week, Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, commuted the death sentences of all 17 people on the state’s death row. Tomorrow, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak will pursue a vote to do the same. 

“With hope, our President will be inspired by the courageous leadership of his fellow American politicians and the Holy Father, to choose mercy this Christmas season,” said Vaillancourt Murphy.

President Biden’s fellow Catholics and people of goodwill are calling for commutations. It’s time he listens.

Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.
CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network.