February 9, 2000
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Clinton:
As you know, the Catholic bishops in the United States have long called for an end to the death penalty. Today, I write to add my voice to others who have called for a suspension of federal executions. In the wake of Governor George Ryan's courageous step to stop executions in the State of Illinois, I pray that you will use your office to put a stop to this brutal and unnecessary punishment.
In addition to our efforts opposing the death penalty, recent actions and statements by Pope John Paul II highlight the Church's aversion to capital punishment. In January, 1999, Governor Carnahan of Missouri spared the life of a condemned man at the Pope's request. And recent statements by the Holy Father demonstrate his continuing conviction that there are better ways to protect society that are more in keeping with the dignity of all people, even those who have taken the life of another. The Pope has said that because of our ability to keep society safe from aggressors, the need to execute individuals has become "rare if not practically non-existent."
There are many practical reasons to stand against the death penalty including its arbitrary application, its cost, inadequate counsel, the possibility of executing wrongly convicted people, and racial disparities. We use such arguments in our efforts to convince Catholics and others to stop supporting this practice. But we also condemn the death penalty because of what it does to us as a society. We believe that the death penalty along with legalized abortion and assisted suicide, contribute to a culture of death by saying that some lives are expendable. Such a message is in stark contrast to Jesus' message of love and life. As we have said in our Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty (April 2, 1999):
Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.
We urge you to propose a suspension of all federal executions in light of these arguments.
Thank you for your consideration.
Most Reverend Joseph Fiorenza
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop of Galveston-Houston
cc: Attorney General Janet Reno