“We’re always here, present for them,” he said. “If any of them would like to visit with us, we are more than available to them. And we do reach out regularly.”
“We offer them our compassion,” Cantú said.
The San Jose bishop noted the work of his diocese’s restorative justice ministry for victims of violent crime and their families. Ministry participants offer Mass for crime victims and gather to pray at the site of crimes, whether the crime is a murder or a traffic death.
After Newsom announced the death penalty moratorium, Archbishop Cordileone issued a statement on behalf of the California Catholic Conference encouraging the governor 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,” he said.
California’s last execution was on Jan. 17, 2006. The state’s death row, with 671 inmates, is the largest in the country. Its numbers comprise nearly one-quarter of the total number of condemned prisoners in the United States.
After California, Florida has the second-most number of inmates on death row, 300, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported Feb. 27. Texas has fewer than 190 on death row. The state executed three people this year and has five more executions scheduled, including two next week, according to the Texas Tribune.
Newsom has said the death penalty is costly, ineffective, and racially biased in its application. Before Newsom’s moratorium, California had not conducted an execution in over a decade due to a lack of availability of the drugs needed for lethal injection.
“The governor sees a problem with the death penalty,” Cantú told CNA. “I think that’s significant for a former Catholic who kind of thumbs his nose at the Church at times, in public ways. There seems to be a Catholic element here, where the governor is seeming to acknowledge that there is reason to pause the death penalty.”
Cantú summarized Catholic teaching on the death penalty in recent decades. With St. John Paul II there was an “addendum” to Church teaching on the death penalty that “virtually made it impossible to justify the death sentence.”
“Pope Francis just closed the door on it,” Cantú said. “In modern-day society we can protect ourselves from dangerous criminals, so the death penalty becomes unnecessary.”
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“I think that society is opening its eyes to this realization. I think there’s hope in that,” the bishop said.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Another 14 states, including California, have not executed a prisoner in at least 10 years.
A November 2022 Gallup survey, however, reported that 55% of U.S. adults support the death penalty for murders.