Catholic bishops on Sunday spoke out against capital punishment and urged that the life of Timothy McVeigh be spared. Catholic politicians, including Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, differed, saying the man convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing deserves to die.
“Let’s look at this moment as a wonderful moment of opportunity,” said Spokane’s Bishop William Skylstad of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in arguing against the death sentence for McVeigh. “Compassion and mercy are a tremendously creative act,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
A Denver jury this week continues to hear arguments on whether McVeigh should be executed for the 1995 bombing attack on the Oklahoma City federal building that took 168 lives.
The Catholic Church has long had a policy of opposing capital punishment except in the most egregious cases. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” said church doctrine holds that “if bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means.”
Beyond that, Law said, there is the question of what capital punishment does to “a society where there is an ever greater spiraling of violence.”
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput put out a statement on his Internet site Friday condemning capital punishment. “Killing the guilty is still wrong. It does not honor the dead. It does not ennoble the living.”
Keating said he hoped that “I don’t get driven into the sea because I am a Catholic” for supporting the death sentence for McVeigh. He said on Fox that most lay Catholics would agree that the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing deserved to die.
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., also a Catholic, said on ABC that there has never been a more appropriate case for the death sentence. “There has to be punishment and punishment in this case can only be the death penalty.”
Skylstad acknowledged that a large majority of Americans, and most Catholics, are in favor of capital punishment. But he said that “we as bishops feel there is a need to continue to sensitize our people to the reverence for life.”