California bishops: halt executions now
September 29th, 2010
By George Raine
The Catholic bishops of California, just two days prior to a scheduled execution at San Quentin State Prison, this week called for a moratorium on use of the death penalty in the state in order to evaluate whether its use “serves the common good and safeguards the dignity of human life.”
The bishops said they are convinced it does not, and in a statement they implored all Californians “to ask themselves what good comes of state-sanctioned killing.”
The bishops spoke as the California Catholic Conference, representing the state’s 12 dioceses and 11 million Catholic faithful, reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty and asked for clemency for any individual on death row.
The statement by Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and CCC president, was issued as lawyers for the state and condemned killer Albert Greenwood Brown sought eleventh-hour court orders that would either allow or postpone Brown’s scheduled execution Thursday at 9 p.m.
“We recognize the profound pain of those who lost a loved one to violence and offer them our prayers and our consolation,” Bishop Wilkerson said. “However, nothing can undo what was done – even taking the life of the convicted killer. The infliction of the death penalty does not make for a more just society.”
Brown’s execution was to be the first in nearly five years in California. He was convicted and sentenced in 1982 for the 1980 rape and murder of Susan Jordan, 15, attacked while walking to school in Riverside. After the murder, Brown called the girl’s parents and told them they would never see her alive again. He directed them to the orange grove where her body was found. Just four months before he killed Susan Jordan, Brown had been paroled from state prison after being convicted of a 1977 rape of a 14-year-old girl.
Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco this month asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deny clemency for Brown. “This man showed no clemency to the young girl that he tormented before strangling her to death and dumping her body in an orange grove,” Pacheco wrote. “He is least among us who deserves clemency.”
Susan Jordan’s family members feel likewise. Her mother, Angelina Jordan, 70, wrote Schwarzenegger also petitioning him not to grant clemency. “Albert Brown has cleverly, blatantly, manipulated the courts by filing appeals these past 30 years. He is a cold-blooded murderer, full of hate, cruelty and malice. He has been a plague on society and all that is decent,” she wrote.
She added, “Where is our clemency? How much longer must we endure this injustice?”
The Catholic Church believes, however, that capital punishment not only diminishes respect for human life but is unnecessary while there is the alternative penalty of life imprisonment without parole. Moreover, said Bishop Wilkerson, “the application of the death penalty is deeply flawed – with those who are poor or from racial minorities most often its subjects.”
He added, “As Catholic bishops, we teach and preach the Gospel vision of a ‘culture of life.’ We believe that each human person is created in God’s image. We are compelled to teach a consistent ethic of life and to speak publicly that the use of the death penalty does not protect human life, does not promote human dignity, and does not reduce violence in our society.”
Bishop Wilkerson said the California Catholic Conference reaffirms U.S. bishops’ 2005 statement “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death,” which launched the U.S. Bishops Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
Meantime, Virginia executed a 41-year-old woman, Teresa Lewis, last week, while the Virginia Catholic Conference protested. The first woman executed in the commonwealth since 1912, she was convicted of planning the 2002 murders of her husband and 25-year-old stepson. The two men who killed the victims were given life sentences. Lewis’ lawyers argued that her IQ of 72 made her effectively disabled.
In Kentucky, the execution of a death row inmate, Gerald Wilson, is on hold indefinitely after a Kentucky judge stopped it when questions were raised about Wilson’s mental ability and the state’s execution protocol. Pope Benedict XVI opposes the execution as do the Catholic bishops of Kentucky and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At the Archdiocese of San Francisco, George Wesolek, director of the Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, noted that fear reigns in our communities because they are permeated with violence. “I think many people think that the execution of criminals will stop some of that violence,” he said. “We know that instead of stopping violence, state-sponsored killing of criminals only serves to increase the atmosphere of revenge and retribution.”
He added, “Our Catholic social teaching calls for protecting the innocents in our community, but doing so by keeping the offender locked up and the community safe. Our principle of the dignity of every human life extends to even the most heinous of criminals. All of us, sinners that we are, are offered the hope of repentance, change and forgiveness.”
Catherine Huston, coordinator of the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, based in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, was among the organizers of a vigil planned this week in opposition to Brown’s execution.
She recalled the story of the woman about to be stoned to death for committing adultery – and how Jesus challenged the crowd saying he who was without sin should cast the first stone. No one could. He turned to the woman and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus realized, said Huston, “That when we are face to face with the very worst in ourselves, we can choose to become something different, something better. And, he provided the chance.”
She added, “So, for us today, as a society we have to ask ourselves, ‘Have we set up systems to treat people as disposable, unredeemable, or do we value life?”
Huston added, “We can choose vengeance or we can choose respect for human dignity. We can plant seeds of hope, believing as Jesus so beautifully exemplified, that no one is beyond redemption and that it is not up to us to calculate and plan for death, but rather to stand on the side of life.”
From October 1, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.