April 18, 2002
The recent announcement that at least 100 people have now been
exonerated and released from death row in the United States, since 1973,
is a sobering milestone. Along with this announcement, the new report
from the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment outlining
more than 80 necessary measures to make death penalty cases more fair
and less likely to lead to the execution of innocent people is yet
another sign that our nation should turn away from the death penalty.
Pope John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the U.S.
Catholic Bishops have made it clear that our society has other ways to
protect itself from those who commit terrible crimes and ought to forgo
the use of the death penalty. Time and time again, Pope John Paul has
urged clemency and the end of capital punishment.
At this moment the U.S. Bishops renew the call for measures to
restrain, restrict and end the use of the death penalty in the United
States. We support many of the recommendations articulated by the
Commission, as well as legislation such as the Innocence Protection Act
that promote greater fairness and stronger safeguards in capital cases.
We have other means to protect society and we have an obligation to
protect the innocent. There is no way to reverse an execution after new
evidence comes to light.
The report that at least 100 people have now been found to be innocent
of the crimes that put them on death row are 100 reasons to turn away
from capital punishment. The 101st reason is not what was done to them,
but what is being done to the rest of us. The increasing reliance on
the death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human
life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is
wrong by killing. It's time to "Choose life, then, that you and your
descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chair, Domestic Policy Committee