Statement of Cardinal Roger Mahony Archbishop of Los Angeles
Chairman: Committee on Domestic Policy United States Catholic Conference
Cardinal William Keeler Archbishop of Baltimore
Chairman: Committee on Pro-Life Activities National Conference of Catholic Bishops
May 2, 2001
The approaching execution of Timothy McVeigh surfaces memories of a horrible crime. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and the resulting tragic loss of 168 lives, including 19 little children, haunts each of us. Nothing can diminish the horror. No one can diminish the responsibility of those who committed this crime.
Yet, this execution can only compound the violence. It will not bring genuine healing or closure. It will not bring back to life those who died. It will be just one more killing. McVeigh, on the other hand, apparently will get what he wants—more attention and notoriety.
This first federal execution in 38 years is not just about Timothy McVeigh. It is not even primarily about him. Rather, it is about every man, woman and child in the United States. For when the federal government executes Timothy McVeigh, it will do so in our name.
As pastors, we strongly believe that the use of the death penalty diminishes us as human beings. We recall the words of the poet who explained that "No man is an island, entire of itself" and that therefore "any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." How much more so are we diminished when a man is killed on our behalf.
Some believe that Timothy McVeigh’s execution will serve justice. But how can more violence and killing -- state-sanctioned or otherwise -- serve justice? With Timothy McVeigh’s execution we add to our culture of death. The Holy Father has urged all people of good will to replace this culture with a culture of life. But a culture of life rests on the foundational principle that are all created in God’s image. We are called to uphold the life and dignity of every human being at all times including the lives of those justly convicted of horrible crimes.
Furthermore, as Pope John Paul II reminds us, because modern societies can defend human life against convicted killers without resorting to capital punishment, it should restrict itself to those means. Such non-violent measures can give the offender time to repent of his or her crime and allow the possibility of receiving God’s grace.
We will continue to pray for all those hurt by this terrible crime, especially the families of those who died, and for the family of Timothy McVeigh.