Faith leaders urge president, AG
to halt federal executions

A Federal Bureau of Prisons building is pictured in the Brooklyn borough of New York City July 6, 2020. (CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters) See FAITH-LEADERS-HALT-EXECUTIONS July 7, 2020.

WASHINGTON — Over 1,000 religious leaders have signed a joint statement urging President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to stop the executions scheduled to take place in July and August at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the group said in the statement released July 7. “As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions.” 

The four men scheduled to be executed are: Daniel Lee on July 13; Wesley Purkey on July 15; Dustin Honken on July 17; and Keith Nelson on Aug. 28. The men were convicted of killing children in separate crimes.

Among the Catholic leaders signing the statement were: Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky; Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky; retired Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, who is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois; Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City; and Bishop  Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa.

Barr announced last year the federal government was reinstating the federal death penalty. At the same time, he said the executions would use a single drug instead of a three-drug protocol carried out in most recent federal executions and by several states.

The planned use of the one-drug method led to a court challenge by some of the federal death-row inmates. The lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court, but the high court said June 29 it would not hear an appeal by the inmates challenging the method to be used in their upcoming executions, paving the way for the executions to proceed. Barr had announced the execution dates June 15.

“I am moved by the witness of the U.S. Catholic bishops, clergy, men and women religious, and people in the pews who are speaking out against the grievous restart of federal executions,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, which released the faith leaders’ statement.

“Their faithful advocacy sets a powerful example of what it means to be uncompromising in the defense of human dignity and the sanctity of life,” she said.

Added Bishop Pates: “The Church believes that just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation. Executions only perpetuate a deeply  awed and broken system that is counter to the Gospel call to honor the dignity of all human life.”

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