The United States bishops joined numerous human rights organizations and celebrities last week in asking California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to commute Stanley Tookie Williams’ death sentence.
However, Schwarzenegger could not be persuaded and Williams was executed early Tuesday morning, 25 years after he was convicted of murdering four people.
The head of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, in solidarity with the Catholic Bishops of California, asked the governor to grant Williams clemency in a Dec. 9 letter.
“I am writing to urge that you exercise your power of clemency to spare the life of Mr. Stanley “Tookie” Williams,” wrote Bishop DiMarzio. “It is not my intent in any way to diminish the responsibility of those who have committed terrible crimes; however, this execution can only compound the violence that already exists in our society.”
He referred to both John Paul II’s Gospel of Life and the U.S. bishops’ recent pastoral statement on the death penalty, titled “The Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.”
The pastoral statement, which accompanied Bishop DiMarzio’s letter, affirms the teaching of the Catechism with regard to the death penalty and states that American society has the means to defend itself “without resorting to the use of the death penalty and should therefore restrict itself to other non-lethal means.”
“Such non-violent measures can give the offender time to repent for his or her crime and allow the possibility of receiving God's grace,” Bishop DiMarzio wrote.
The U.S. bishops, he said, “strongly believe that the use of the death penalty diminishes all of us when a man or woman is killed on our behalf.” The bishops base their teaching on a “fundamental respect for life,” he added
“We do not believe that you can teach that killing is wrong by killing. We do not believe that you can defend life by taking life,” he wrote.