The president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace has condemned the execution of inmate Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on Sept. 21.
“My wish in the case of Troy Davis was that it would be a case that aimed at saving life and working on conversion, reintegration and change, rather than elimination. So I wish it had not happened,” Cardinal Peter Turkson told CNA in the hours following the execution.
The execution of 42-year-old Davis was delayed for hours while the U.S. Supreme Court considered an eleventh-hour appeal for clemency, a plea that was ultimately rejected.
Davis maintained his innocence in the 1989 fatal shooting of policeman Mark MacPhail until the end. “I am innocent. I did not have a gun,” he told the slain officer’s family.
“For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls,” he said before being executed by lethal injection.
“I’m not playing down the effect of crime on victims – the pain and the sadness and its ability to destroy society – but should we not aim at healing and also causing a change in somebody’s life?” asked Cardinal Turkson.
“When we do that (execute a person), it is society which is diminished. The human society less one person is still a reduction of the human society.”
Cardinal Turkson had already spoken out earlier in the week against the execution of Davis. His voice was joined by, among others, former President Jimmy Carter and the former FBI director William Sessions.
Cardinal Turkson said he believed that a system of justice that offers the chance for repentance and change would also be welcomed by victim’s relatives.
“I think the person who has been offended would find a greater satisfaction if the offender was able to come and say, ‘I am sorry for what I did.’ I think the restoration effect will be far greater than just seeing the disappearance of that person,” he said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the traditional teaching of the Church “does not exclude,” recourse to the death penalty, “when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.” It adds, however, that today such cases are “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
Cardinal Turkson said the type of justice system that would work best is one that “no matter how tedious and difficult it may be, rehabilitates and integrates people into society through conversion and a change of heart.”
He urged everyone to pray for the souls of all those who have died as a result of this incident.