Archbishop of Washington
Chair, Domestic Policy Committee
April 18, 2002
The recent announcement that at least 100 people have now been exonerated and released from death row in the United States, since 1973, is a sobering milestone. Along with this announcement, the new report from the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment outlining more than 80 necessary measures to make death penalty cases more fair and less likely to lead to the execution of innocent people is yet another sign that our nation should turn away from the death penalty.
Pope John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the U.S. Catholic Bishops have made it clear that our society has other ways to protect itself from those who commit terrible crimes and ought to forgo the use of the death penalty. Time and time again, Pope John Paul has urged clemency and the end of capital punishment.
At this moment the U.S. Bishops renew the call for measures to restrain, restrict and end the use of the death penalty in the United States. We support many of the recommendations articulated by the Commission, as well as legislation such as the Innocence Protection Act that promote greater fairness and stronger safeguards in capital cases. We have other means to protect society and we have an obligation to protect the innocent. There is no way to reverse an execution after new evidence comes to light.
The report that at least 100 people have now been found to be innocent of the crimes that put them on death row are 100 reasons to turn away from capital punishment. The 101st reason is not what was done to them, but what is being done to the rest of us. The increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing. It's time to "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)