In 1948, Fred Naumann was the assistant manager of a St. Louis liquor store. One night, a week before Christmas, Naumann told an employee to help unload a delivery truck. When the employee refused, Naumann fired him. They argued, and then the man turned around with a pocketknife, and slashed Naumann’s throat. He died before he reached the hospital.
Fred Naumann was 31 when he was murdered. He had been a minor league baseball player, a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He served in the Pacific during World War II. When he died, he had a young son, and his wife was expecting a baby. Born six months later, that baby was named Joseph Fred Naumann.
Fred Naumann’s son, Joseph, is now the Archbishop of Kansas City. And he is calling for an end to the death penalty.
“The suffering and the circumstances of each family who has lost a loved one by a violent crime are unique. I do not presume to be able to speak for all victims of murder,” Archbishop Naumann said in a video published online this week by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
“Yet, I did witness how my mother struggled to provide for our family without the benefit of my father, and the pain that she suffered as a result of losing the love of her life. I also know what it is like for children to grow up without a father.”
“In advocating for the abolition of the death penalty and pleading for the federal government not to continue with the resumption of capital punishment, it is not my intention to minimize the pain and loss of individuals and families who have suffered the death of a loved one as a result of a violent crime,” the archbishop said.
“My own father was murdered. At the time, my brother was not yet two, and my mother was pregnant with me.”
The archbishop’s video came as U.S. bishops criticize the federal government’s resumption of executions, after a 17 year moratorium. Until this summer, there had been no federal executions since 2003.
In July 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons would resume federal executions for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The federal government executed five people in July and August, and is scheduled to two people in September.
Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference pro-life committee, said in an Aug. 27 statement that “the Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear, and we have made many requests that the federal government should not resume these executions. Yet, not only has the government done so, they have scheduled even more executions.”
In his video, Naumann said that “Murder is an unspeakable evil. Those who perpetrate such a crime have inflicted a grave injustice, not only upon the person who was murdered but also upon all their loved ones.”
“The criminal justice system has a responsibility to protect the innocent from victimization and to deter the commission of violent crimes. However. in the United States in 2020, we have the ability to protect society from violent criminals without resorting to the death penalty.”
Naumann lamented the possibility of executing an innocent person, the revictimization of families amid lengthy appeals processes, the cost of maintaining those appeals processes, and the “economic injustice in the application of the death penalty.”
“Those with the financial means to employ the most skilled attorneys in their defense are much less likely to be executed than the poor,” he said.
The archbishop offered prayers for those who are on death row, for the victims of murder and their families, and “for our nation that we may protect the innocent, assist better the families of victims, work for justice, and not respond to the murder of the innocent by continuing a cycle of violence with state sanctioned killing.”