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US bishops on death penalty: What does the birth of Our Lord say to this?

© Public Domain

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 12/11/20

We are all sinners. Some have done terrible things. Victims need help. Justice is needed for peace. But executions solve nothing.

Bishops in the US have reiterated their calls for an end to the death penalty, as the government speeds up the pace of federal executions in the last days of the Trump presidency.

Five executions have been scheduled in the upcoming weeks before President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. If the five go off as planned, 13 executions will have been carried out since July. Ten have been done so far in 2020, after 17 years without executions carried out by the federal government.

Another statement released on Monday by US Bishops’ Conference Committee chairman on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, called for an end to the executions, highlighting the resumption of federal executions was especially at odds with this season of anticipated redemption – Advent.

We’ve asked many times to stop the federal executions. In fact, last Advent, three bishops wrote that the resumption of federal executions was at odds with this season of anticipated redemption. But the executions resumed. Eight since July. Two more this week. Three in January. A new regulation will permit federal execution by means other than lethal injection, such as the electric chair.

What does the birth of our Lord say to this? The Lord comes not to destroy, but to save. For the Second Sunday of Advent, we hear St. Peter counsel that the Lord ‘is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pt. 3:9). Can we follow the Lord’s example?

We are all sinners. Some have done terrible things. Victims need help. Justice is needed for peace. But executions solve nothing.      

This Advent, the Lord comes to love us even though we don’t deserve it. Let us repent and embrace his gift. We call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr, in recognition of God’s unmerited gift of self-giving love: Stop these executions.

Read more:
Do you think of prisons like this? Check out the pope’s surprisingly hopeful outlook

The latest death

Brandon Bernard, the ninth federal death-row inmate to be executed in 2020, was put to death by lethal injection on Thursday evening at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the Supreme Court denied a stay of his execution.

He was convicted for his role in the June 1999 kidnap and murder of Todd and Stacie Bagley, a couple who were Christian youth ministers from Iowa. Despite not being identified as the gunman who fatally shot the couple, Bernard was accused of buying the lighter fluid and setting the couple’s car on fire with them in it. Bernard was 18 years old at the time.

Bernard’s attorneys say that some of the jurors have come forward to attest that they are no longer in support of the death penalty in the case. The attorneys also claim that some evidence that could have changed the outcome of Bernard’s sentencing was hidden.

Bernard’s co-defendant, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September.

Bernard’s execution is the first to be carried out during the period between a presidential election and an inauguration in over a century.

Read more:
Most Americans now oppose death penalty for murder

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