As discussions surrounding a “more humane” death penalty in the United States continue, the two Catholic bishops of Virginia have released a statement asking the faithful to take a stance against the use of capital punishment in today’s society. “By ending the use of the death penalty we would take one important step — among significant others we must take — to abandon the culture of death and embrace the culture of life,” Bishops Paul S. Loverde of Arlington and Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond said in a May 6 statement released by the Virginia Catholic Conference. Their statement comes after the Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case challenging Oklahoma’s use of drugs for lethal injection as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Several states have also been discussing means of execution for death row inmates. Last year, the Virginia General Assembly considered legislation that would have allowed pharmacies to create drugs used for lethal injections without disclosure to the public. Another measure proposed that if lethal drugs were not available, death row inmates would be executed by electrocution instead. To these issues, the bishops responded, “We should no longer debate which inmates we execute or how we execute them. Instead, we should debate this: If all human lives are sacred and if a civilized society such as ours can seek redress and protect itself by means other than taking a human life, why are we continuing to execute people?” They went on to reference Pope Francis’ March letter to Federico Mayor, president of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, in which the Pope strongly spoke out against capital punishment, saying that “there is no humane way of killing another person.” “Let us not choose whether to use lethal drugs, electric chairs, gas chambers, or firing squads. Let us take the more courageous step and choose life instead, even when it seems ‘unlovable,’” the bishops wrote in response to Pope Francis’ comments. The belief “that the poor and vulnerable have the first claim on our consciences,” the bishops said, is seen “in our opposition to abortion and euthanasia, and in our responsibility to welcome immigrants and refugees.” “But our faith also challenges us to declare sacred even the least lovable among us, those convicted of committing brutal crimes which have brought them the ultimate penalty, the penalty of death.” The Virginia bishops quoted a 2005 U.S. Bishops’ statement on the matter saying that, “No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.” Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo acknowledged that this teaching “challenges many people, including ourselves,” especially in light of the violent crimes for which those on death row have been sentenced. However, they emphasized, “The death penalty does not provide true healing for those who mourn, nor does it embody the Gospel of Life, which each of us is called to affirm even in the most difficult circumstances.”
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