Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf made a bold decision to grant a temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4. The governor vowed to grant other reprieves, in effect declaring a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania.
Williams would have been the first “involuntary” execution in Pennsylvania since 1978. Three others who waived their appeals have died by lethal injection since then, the last in 1999. Currently, about 200 people sit on Pennsylvania’s death row.
These inmates are convicted of serious and violent criminal acts. They deserve severe punishment for their crimes; but we must ask ourselves, is it necessary for us to put them to death?
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has long opposed the death penalty. The Catholic Church is committed to upholding the dignity and sanctity of every human life — even the life of a person convicted of a most heinous crime. Our Christian faith calls all people to grow in respect for human life and to oppose the death penalty in our modern society.
In “Living the Gospel of Life,” the Catholic Bishops of the United States affirmed, “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”
Catholic opposition to the use of the death penalty should not be construed as a lack of compassion for those who have been affected by violent crime. People convicted of capital offenses must be punished effectively and appropriately for their crimes. Family and friends of victims, and society as a whole, demand this; but can true emotional, spiritual and even physical healing be found in vengeance?