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California bishops praise death penalty moratorium

Archbishop José Gomez (Getty)

'This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,' says Archbishop Gomez

The imposition of a state moratorium on the use of the death penalty by Gov. Gavin Newsom was hailed as a positive step by California’s bishops Wednesday. But the state’s Catholic leaders cautioned the state’s criminal justice system was still in need of reform.

Newsom announced March 12 that he would issue an executive order to remove the state’s lethal injection protocol and close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. The moratorium will not result in anyone being released from prison on pardoned.

“This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement. Gomez said that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide “true justice” to those who were victims of crime.

Gomez, along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long called for an end to capital punishment throughout the United States.

In his statement, Gomez said that he believed the moral arguments for ending the death penalty were clear.

“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,” said Gomez.

In the executive order, issued Wednesday, Newsom said that the death penalty was costly, ineffective, and racially biased in its application.

Gomez agreed with these claims, and said that he hopes action will be taken to “address the inequities in our criminal justice system, to improve conditions in our prisons, and to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes,” as well as to properly rehabilitate prisoners.

“Much more needs to be done in California to address social conditions that give rise to crime and violence in our communities,” said Gomez.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco issued a statement March 13 on behalf California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 26 bishops. Cordileone welcomed an end to the death penalty in the state, and expressed hope that the moratorium could be soon codified into law.

San Quentin State Prison is located in Cordielone’s archdiocese.

The California bishops’ statement encouraged Newsom to “use well the time of the moratorium to promote civil dialogue on alternatives to the death penalty, including giving more needed attention and care to the victims of violence and their families.”

“Capital punishment is not a cure for the suffering and turmoil inflicted by violent crime; the restorative healing of victims and their families to the extent possible is an essential part of justice.”

California’s last execution was on January 17, 2006. Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was put to death by lethal injection for arranging the 1980 murders of Bryon Schletewitz, 27, Douglas Scott White, 18, and Josephine Linda Rocha, 17, while Allen was already serving a life sentence for murder.

There are 737 people on death row in California, the largest in the country and comprising nearly one quarter of the total number of condemned prisoners in the United States. California has not conducted an execution in over a decade due to a lack of availability of the drugs needed for lethal injection.