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Bishops voice support as Virginia moves to ban death penalty


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John Burger - published on 02/12/21

Gov. Northam expected to sign bill, making commonwealth the first southern state to end the practice.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign a bill ending capital punishment in the state. Both houses of the Virginia state legislature voted to end the use of the death penalty. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the Virginia State Senate voted on Feb. 3 in favor of abolishing capital punishment. Two days later, the Virginia House of Delegates voted to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole.

After the votes, the Roman Catholic bishops in the Commonwealth issued a statement saying they have been “consistently clear in our stand on the abolition legislation this year and on similar legislation in years past, and in our direct interventions before executions occurred in Virginia and at the federal level.”

“We offer — and affirm the utmost need for — prayerful support for the families of victims of horrific crimes,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond. “We also affirm, with clarity and conviction, the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘[T]he death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.’ 

“As Pope Francis, his predecessors and the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently noted, we have other ways to provide punishment and protect society, without resorting to executions,” the statement continued. “We too have been consistently clear in our stand on the abolition legislation this year and on similar legislation in years past, and in our direct interventions before executions occurred in Virginia and at the federal level.”

Northam’s signature, which is expected after the two bills are reconciled and sent to his desk, would make Virginia the first state in the South to end the death penalty. According to activists opposing the practice, Virginia has been second to Texas in the number of people executed. 

On February 3, after the Virginia State Senate voted to end the death penalty, Northam called it a “tremendous step toward ending the death penalty in our Commonwealth.”

“The practice is fundamentally inequitable,” Northam said in a statement. “It is inhumane. It is ineffective. And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.

“It’s time for Virginia to join 22 other states and abolish the death penalty,” the governor said. “I look forward to signing this bill into law.”


Read more:
Catholic bishops, activists denounce increase in federal executions


Read more:
Although his father was murdered, this Catholic bishop opposes the death penalty

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