July 10, 2000
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Dear President Clinton:
On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the United States, I write to express appreciation to you for postponing the execution of Mr. Juan Raul Garza and to urge you to take the next step by commuting the sentence of death to one of life in prison. We hope that this action will lead to a further reconsideration of the use of the death penalty in our modern society. In our view, the next appropriate action would be to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the federal level.
The crimes for which Mr. Garza and others on death row have been convicted are horrible and deserve punishment. As pastors, we understand the human emotion of anger and the desire for revenge. However, as Christians, we believe that we are called to promote life, even the lives of those who have taken life. We believe that it is not necessary to execute those who commit heinous crimes in order to keep society safe. Life-long incarceration can accomplish this. Capital punishment only serves to continue the cycle of violence; we cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill.
Recent accounts of post-conviction evidence proving innocence and stories of ineffective defense counsel have led many to believe that our capital punishment systems are seriously flawed. This, in turn, has led to a vigorous debate about the administration of the death penalty. Policymakers and citizens are facing the unpleasant reality that the poor and marginalized of our society are more likely to be convicted and sentenced to death than the rich and powerful. Postponing Mr. Garza's execution at this critical moment encourages this important debate without the looming specter of additional executions.
Finally, Mr. President, we urge you once again to impose a moratorium not only because it will spare the lives of the condemned, but because of what it will symbolize to everyone in our nation and beyond--that all human life is of inestimable value. Our commitment to this belief shines brightest when we preserve the lives of even those who have done great harm.
Thank you for your recent action and for considering these arguments as you weigh the important death penalty issues before you.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston