U.S. Bishops Reiterate Stand Against Death Penalty

McVeigh Received Anointing of the Sick Before Execution

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- U.S. Catholic bishops pledged to continue to fight the death penalty as they publicly manifested their disapproval of Timothy McVeigh´s execution Monday.



"In an age where respect for life is threatened in so many ways, we believe it is important to emphasize that human life is a gift from God, and no one or any government should presume to kill God´s gift," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. episcopal conference, in a press statement. "Rather, all of us have the responsibility to protect human life from conception until natural death."

McVeigh, condemned for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, asked to see a priest shortly before his execution in Indiana, and received the anointing of the sick by a prison chaplain.

"McVeigh did see last rites which were provided by a BOP chaplain," said Jeff Grondolsky, a spokesman with the Bureau of Prisons.

Asked whether McVeigh also went to confession, his attorney Robert Nigh said, "I think it speaks for itself," according to CNN.

McVeigh was offered a priest by Terre Haute Federal Prison Warden Harley Lappin. McVeigh said he would consider the offer. After a 15-minute meeting with Nigh, McVeigh agreed to see the priest.

McVeigh, 33, was baptized in the Catholic Church as a boy, but had stopped practicing and recently described himself as agnostic.

The anointing of the sick was performed before curtains were opened to allow witnesses to observe the execution by lethal injection.

Bishop Fiorenza, in his statement, said: "Our criminal justice system has alternative ways to punish heinous crimes and protect society from their perpetrators. We will continue to support the abolition of capital punishment while urging appropriate punishment for capital crimes."

The U.S. bishops appeal to Catholics and all people of good will, especially lawmakers, to do everything possible "to reconsider the use of capital punishment."

"We offer our deepest sympathy and prayers for all those touched by this horrible crime, especially those who lost family members and friends," the statement said. "We pray that the God of all mercies will grant them every consoling grace during their grief and suffering. On this difficult day, we pledge our best efforts to reverse this culture of violence and replace it with a profound respect for the inherent value God confers on every human life."

Last Friday, the bishops´ conference joined other religious groups in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, declaring that the execution of people with mental retardation violates "the standards of decency of American society and the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment."

The religious groups -- reflecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist traditions -- acknowledged they hold differing views on whether the state ever has the right to impose capital punishment.

"Although we disagree among ourselves on the morality of capital punishment generally, we join our voices to urge the court to see the indecency of executing persons with mental retardation," they said.

The brief was filed in the case of Ernest Paul McCarver v. North Carolina, a death penalty case in which the Supreme Court has agreed to revisit the issue of whether the U.S. Constitution permits the execution of mentally retarded inmates. A decision is expected sometime next year.