(Statement on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Imposition of a Moratorium on the Death Penalty in California)
For many years now, my brother Catholic bishops and I have been calling for an end to the death penalty, not only in California but throughout the United States. So this is a good day for California and a good day for our country.
There are important public policy reasons for ending the death penalty.
It does not deter violent crime and it does not bring true justice or healing to victims of violent crime. And sadly, judicial execution has always been a punishment imposed far more often on African Americans, Hispanics and the poor in our society.
But the most important reasons for ending the death penalty are moral.
Every human life is precious and sacred in the eyes of God and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those who commit grave evil and are convicted of the most cruel and violent crimes.
The death penalty violates the condemned person’s dignity and deprives that person of the chance to change his or her heart and be rehabilitated through the mercy of God.
With advances in law enforcement and criminal justice, we do not need to execute criminals to keep our society safe or prevent violent offenders from committing further violence.
So, ending the death penalty is a step forward. But it is only a first step.
We need to continue to address the inequities in our criminal justice system, to improve conditions in our prisons, and to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes. We need to keep looking for new ways to rehabilitate offenders so they can be restored to society and lead productive and dignified lives. Much more needs to be done in California to address social conditions that give rise to crime and violence in our communities.
Today, it is also important to remember the victims of violent crime and their loved ones. We entrust them to the Father of mercies and commit ourselves to helping them to find healing and peace. We should also give thanks for the sacrifice and commitment of police and law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe.
As Christians, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of life.
Let us continue to work for the redemption of every person, including those who have committed grave crimes. Let us continue to seek a society where every human life is welcomed and considered sacred, and where people have what they need to lead a life that is worthy of the human person, who is loved by God.