October 20, 1997

As spiritual leaders in the community we Catholic Bishops of Texas are acutely aware of the violence in our state. Despite a growing reliance on longer sentences, more prisons, and more executions, our state’s crime rate has escalated.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have repeatedly condemned its use as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is inconsis- tent with the belief of millions of Texans that all life is sacred.

It is important that we address this issue at this time. Since 1976 Texas has executed more than 100 men, some of whom were mentally retarded or mentally ill. We currently have more than 400 men and women on death row.

We sympathize with the profound pain of the victims of brutal crimes; nevertheless, we believe that the compassionate example of Christ calls us to respect the God-given image found even in hardened criminals.

We must now take bolder steps to change the attitude of the American people regarding capital punishment as a means of dealing with a complex issue. It is unfortunate that a large majority of Americans, including Catholics, support capital punishment as a means of dealing with crime, even in light of strong evidence of its ineffectiveness, its racially-biased application, and its staggering costs, both materially and emotionally.

Capital punishment has not proved to be a deterrent to crime. States which have the death penalty do not have lower rates of violent crime than states without the death penalty. All other western democracies have abolished capital punishment and have lower rates of violent crime.

The imposition of the death penalty has resulted in racial bias. In fact, the race of the victim has been proven to be the determining factor in deciding whether to prosecute capital cases. Of those executed, nearly 90% were convicted of killing whites, although people of color are more than half of all homicide victims in the United States. More than 60% of the persons on death rows in California and Texas are either Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American.

In the State of Texas, it costs $2.3 million on an average to prosecute and execute each capital case as compared to $400,000 for life imprisonment.

Tragically, innocent people are sometimes put to death by the state. It has been proven in 350 capital convictions over the past 20 years that the convicted person had not committed the crime. Of these cases, 25 people were executed before their innocence was discovered.

Capital punishment does nothing for the families of victims of violent crime other than prolonging their suffering through many wasted years of criminal proceedings. Rather than fueling their cry for vengeance, the state could better serve them by helping them come to terms with their grief. We applaud the work of support
groups of victims’ families who have joined together to work toward reconciliation and rehabilitation of the people who caused tragic loss in their families.

While human logic alone seems to support the abolition of the death penalty, as moral leaders we call for alternatives because of its moral incongruity in today’s world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “If…non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will
limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.”

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.

In our modern society, we have means of keeping an offender from harming others. Although in previous times people of faith have employed capital punishment, today we have the ability to realize better the principles of mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love for alI people, as evoked in the Hebrew Scriptures by the Prophet Ezekiel: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!”

We believe that capital punishment contributes to a climate of violence in our state. This cycle of violence can be diminished by life imprisonment without parole, when necessary. The words of Ezekiel are a powerful reminder that repentance not revenge, conversion not death are better guides for public policy on the death penalty than the current policy of violence for violence, death for death.

As religious leaders, we are deeply concerned that the State of Texas is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life by employing capital punishment for heinous crimes. We implore all citizens to call on our elected officials to reject the violence of the death penalty and replace it with non-lethal means of punishment
which are sufficient to protect society from violent offenders of human life and public order.