by Gail Quinn
May 25, 2001
Timothy McVeigh had been scheduled to die at the State's hand on May 16. However, the execution was postponed, pending decisions about the import of information that had been withheld from the defense. While the outcome is known, many seem to expect that the execution will take place. No matter what, it seems, we will have our vengenance.
Yet nagging questions will not go away. Should we kill him? If Timothy McVeigh is killed, will "justice have been served"? What impact will McVeigh's execution have on others? In fact, what impact does any execution have on others?
What will it do to the Warden at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute who must signal others to begin the process that will kill a man? What will it do to the parents who love him because he is theirs, even as they recoil from the horror of their son's deed? What will it do to those who actually execute him? To those who remove the dead body? To the lawyer who is to be given his ashes? To all of us, in whose name executions are accomplished?
What will it do to the witnesses who sitting behind glass to watch McVeigh put to death? Or to those who gather to watch the spectacle on closed circuit TV? Will it restore to life those killed by McVeigh, those missed so much that it aches? Will this execution bring "closure"?
When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building six years ago, 23-year-old Julie Welch was among those killed, her neck broken. Her father, Bud Welch, was devastated. He tells how he smoked too much, drank too much, couldn't sleep. He went every day to the place where Julie died. He was angry, and he wanted McVeigh to die. But he came to see that to execute McVeigh and his accomplice "was an act of vengeance and rage. ... And that was why Julie and 167 other people were dead, because of vengeance and rage." He came to the conclusion that "It has to stop somewhere."
A few weeks after the bombing, Welch saw McVeigh's father on TV. "I saw this big man, about my age" he says. "He was literally stooped over in grief. I felt like I knew everything he was feeling." Bud Welch began letting go of his own anger.
Some people insist that the death penalty is not about vengeance, but about serving justice. They say that sometimes a person does something so heinous that he deserves to die. But what, I wonder, have we done to deserve to kill?
Each time we put a convicted killer to death--when life without parole would protect citizens just as well--we slip a little further down that slide into a culture that embraces killing as a way to solve its problems. Pope John Paul II calls this a "culture of death."
In Hebrews 10:30 we are entreated: "Do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'... Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good."
Abhor violence and killing. Punish for a life-time those those who commit heinous crimes. But inflict the death penalty? No more. As Bud Welch reminds us: "It has to stop somewhere." Let it finally stop with us.
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops