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 December 12, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 21Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Now is the time to end the death penalty

Dear Sisters and Brothers:
This month as we prepare the way of the Lord in Advent, the State of California is preparing for the execution of Stanley Williams at San Quentin. Two other men await execution, in January, and February.

Mr. Williams stands convicted of the murders of Albert Owen, Thsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and Yee Chen Ling. We grieve with their families and all victims of murder who have suffered terrible losses. Our local communities are suffering an epidemic of violence, and we are committed to seeking healing and justice through prayer, pastoral care, advocacy, and—above all—conversion.

Many around our nation, including the Catholic bishops of California, have asked for an end to the death penalty. While the state has a duty to protect the community from further violence, and punish the offender, we believe the death penalty contributes to a culture of death, and further violates human life and dignity.

As the bishops of the United States recently said: “State sanctioned killing in our names diminishes all of us…We have other ways to punish criminals and protect society.” In California, the sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole provides a just alternative to the death penalty.

Pope John Paul II pleaded for clemency in many death penalty cases in our country. In St. Louis in 1999, he made a direct appeal for an end to the death penalty:

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil… I renew the appeal I made… for a consensus to end the death penalty which is cruel and unnecessary.”

At the November meeting of the U.S. bishops, the bishops’ conference published a new document, “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” In it we renewed “our common conviction that it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life.”

This is an important moment for Catholics across our country to teach clearly, encourage reflection, and act together to end the use of the death penalty.

Today (Dec. 12), the Advent feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, mother of mercy and reconciliation, we pray for the over 635 people on death row in California; we commend all victims of violence to the love and compassion of God; and we ask God to deepen within us a respect for life which will bear fruit in forgiveness, justice, and an end to all violence.

May your hearts be filled with hope as we journey through the dark night of Advent to the pure and spotless Light of our Savior’s Incarnation.

(For the complete statement, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, and to learn about the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, see: www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/deathpenalty/www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/deathpenalty/ )

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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