Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
Most Reverend William S. Skylstad
Bishop of Spokane
Chairman, Committee for Domestic Policy
June 13, 1997
On the Death Sentence for Mr. Timothy McVeigh
On behalf of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, we wish to express our regret at the sentence of death for Mr. Timothy McVeigh.
The crime for which he has been found guilty is a horrible and brutal tragedy. We cannot fathom the loss and grief of the survivors of those who died and who live with the consequences of his terrible crime. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them.
We oppose the death penalty not simply because of what it may mean for one convicted murderer, but because of what it represents for our society. The death penalty perpetuates a pervasive cycle of violence and further diminishes respect for life. Killing a killer is no way to stop the killing in our land. Mr. McVeigh's death will not bring back those he murdered; it will not heal the wounds which this evil act inflicted on our land.
The Holy Father has spoken strongly against the death penalty saying that a person should not be put to death unless there is no other possible way to defend society. Such instances, he notes, are very rare, if not practically non-existent. For decades, the U.S. bishops have also called for the abolition of the death penalty. There are more appropriate means to assure justice and administer punishment that are more consistent with the dignity of the human person. One such means is life imprisonment.
Our faith calls us to seek justice, not vengeance. Jesus Christ taught us to seek justice with mercy, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. We add our voice to the public debate on this issue, therefore, in hopes that we will not harden our hearts in the face of unspeakable violence, but will eventually decide that the best response to violence and death is the biblical call to "choose life."