May 2, 2014

Archbishop says botched execution highlights brutality of death penalty




NATIONAL

By Catholic News Service
(CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

OKLAHOMA CITY (CNS) -- Archbishop Paul S. Coakley (left) of Oklahoma City said the botched execution April 29 of an Oklahoma inmate "highlights the brutality of the death penalty" and should bring the nation to "consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether."

The planned execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett in McAlester, Okla., using a new three-drug lethal injection protocol, failed, leaving Lockett showing signs of pain and causing prison officials to halt the procedure. Lockett later died of a heart attack.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for Charles Warner, an inmate scheduled to be executed two hours after Lockett. She also ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why" during the execution.

Archbishop Coakley, in an April 30 statement, said: "How we treat criminals says a lot about us as a society."

"We certainly need to administer justice with due consideration for the victims of crime, but we must find a way of doing so that does not contribute to the culture of death, which threatens to completely erode our sense of the innate dignity of the human person and of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death," he added.

The archbishop said a clearer understanding of the dignity of human life should lead people to recognize that there should be "very strict limits to the legitimate use of the death penalty." He said it should never be used "to exact vengeance, nor should it be allowed simply as a deterrent. In general, there are other ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures."

(CNS photo/Okalhoma Department of Corrections handout via Reuters)

He also called for prayers for those affected by the execution, including Lockett (right), his family, prison employees and others who witnessed the event. "My compassion and prayers go out especially to the family of Stephanie Neiman, whom Lockett was convicted of killing," he added.

On Good Friday, the Missouri Catholic bishops issued a joint statement calling for an end of the use of the death penalty in the state.

"We call for a new response to violence that upholds the sacredness of all human life," they said in the statement issued by the Missouri Catholic Conference in Jefferson City.

The bishops called on Catholics to urge public officials to abolish capital punishment and to find other means to hold offenders accountable. They also encouraged Catholics to participate in local vigils and prayer services to end the death penalty.

They said the five recent executions in the state highlight "a dramatic escalation of executions taking place." The bishops said they wish to "reiterate and affirm our support for, and solidarity with, the families and loved ones of murder victims."

They also noted that the canonization of St. John Paul provides "an opportunity for reflection on the death penalty and the need to take action to oppose it," since the pope had been an outspoken opponent of capital punishment. In his visit to St. Louis in 1999, he called for "a consensus to end the death penalty" calling it "both cruel and unnecessary."

The statement was signed by St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Bishops Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City and James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.