Baltimore’s Cardinal William Keeler turned heads yesterday when he visited convicted murderer, Wesley Eugene Baker, and called on Maryland’s governor to stop his execution scheduled for next week.
The Cardinal’s appeal comes just weeks after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document calling for an end to the use of the death penalty in the U.S., saying that it is not necessary as defense against criminals.
Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput recently called it not only unnecessary, but an excess.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Cardinal Keeler called his first-ever visit to death row and meeting with Baker "very prayerful and spiritual."
Keeler, who head of the U.S. Bishop‘s Committee for Pro-life activities, who helped to draft the recent document, added that "This is an opportunity when we can and should speak out on behalf of human life."
The Sun noted that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., signed Baker's death warrant this month, but said that he "fully respects Cardinal Keeler and his beliefs," and is "committed to giving this case a thorough and objective review based on its own individual merits."
Cardinal Keeler, along with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, and Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del., sent a joint letter to the governor asking him to commute Baker's sentence to life without parole.
They wrote, "We write as believers, who know that God's justice is seasoned by His mercy…Mercy is what we ask of you in the case of Mr. Baker."
They added that Church teaching "acknowledges the right of legitimate government to resort to the death penalty, but it challenges the appropriateness of doing so in a society now capable of defending the public order and ensuring the public's safety."
Baker, 47, is scheduled to be put to death on December 5th for the killing of Jane Tyson, a teacher’s aide who he robbed and shot in front of her grandchildren in 1991.
Cardinal Keeler’s is the first known visit by a U.S. bishop to death row.