Oregon’s Catholic pastors are about to be reminded that Archbishop Alexander Sample issued a strong statement Nov. 23 in opposition to capital punishment.
Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a group seeking to overturn Oregon’s law allowing executions, will send the reminder in hope that the message will get out to more of the state’s 431,000 Catholics.
“I want to write to each pastor encouraging them to look at the statement and asking them to engage in some efforts to energize and mobilize Catholics to take action,” says Ron Steiner, a member of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem who leads the anti-death penalty group.
“We have matured in our respect for life and human dignity,” wrote the archbishop, who frequently visits prison inmates, including those on death row.
“There can be no place for the death penalty in a developed society such as ours because it is not necessary for us to use capital punishment to protect ourselves from harm,” the archbishop wrote, echoing statements from St. John Paul II. The archbishop cited the 156 overturned death sentences in the United States and the high cost that takes funds from “services that are life-sustaining, not life-ending.”
Gov. Kate Brown last fall extended a moratorium on the death penalty that had been put into place by her predecessor, Gov. John Kitzhaber. Interviewed by Oregon Public Broadcasting last month, Kitzhaber said that he had nightmares after approving executions during earlier terms in office in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, a new report by Harvard Law School says that at least two-thirds of death row prisoners in Oregon have mental or emotional impairments that might exempt them from execution under federal law. The list of conditions in the Harvard report includes mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage and severe childhood trauma. Others were under 21 when they committed their crimes.
“The report calls into question whether Oregon has met the constitutional standard of limiting the death penalty to the most serious crimes and the most culpable perpetrators,” says Alice Lundell, spokeswoman for the Oregon Justice Resource Center.
For opponents of executions, the study furthers the argument that Oregon’s death penalty is failed public policy. “Oregon and other death penalty states continue to ignore the fact that many people with mental disabilities, embroiled in the criminal justice system, end up on death row,” says Steiner. “While defenders of capital punishment say it is used for the ‘worst of the worst,’ this study suggests strongly that the death penalty is disproportionately handed out to the most severely disabled due to mental impairments. There are alternatives that keep the public safe. There is no need for us to use another violent act to show that we are tough of crime.”
Read the whole Harvard report here.