Oklahoma archbishop decries execution of Anthony Sanchez as ‘archaic’

Archbishop Paul S Coakley CNA US Catholic News 2 11 11 Archbishop Paul S. Coakley.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City on Thursday called the execution of convicted murderer Anthony Sanchez, which took place a week ago, “fundamentally at odds with the culture of life the state of Oklahoma proclaims to be building.”

Sanchez was convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of 21-year-old University of Oklahoma student Juli Busken, KOCO5 reported. He died Sept. 21 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, about a 130-mile drive from Oklahoma City. 

“Today the state of Oklahoma has once again delivered what it deems ‘justice’ with the execution of Anthony Sanchez. No matter how heinous a crime a person commits, they do not forfeit their human dignity bestowed upon them by God, the author of life,” Coakley, who often speaks out against the death penalty, said in a Sept. 28 statement. 

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, despite enacting several anti-abortion measures in the largely conservative state, lifted a state moratorium on the death penalty in 2020. He has presided over 10 executions since taking office four years ago, as many as took place during the six years between 2013 and 2019. 

“This archaic punishment is fundamentally at odds with the culture of life the state of Oklahoma proclaims to be building,” Coakley continued. 

“I implore all people of goodwill to join me in advocating for an end to the death penalty in Oklahoma and instead working to achieve actual justice that respects human dignity and prioritizes healing the wounds of grief and loss. Please join me in praying for the soul of Juli Busken, her family, Anthony Sanchez, his family, and the corrections staff involved in carrying out the execution.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). The change reflects a development in Catholic doctrine in recent years. 

St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” The bishops of the United States have spoken frequently in favor of life sentences for convicted murderers, even those who have committed heinous crimes.

Coakley’s statement upon Sanchez’s death was similar to the one he released in July after Oklahoma executed convicted murderer Jemaine Cannon, who stabbed a 20-year-old mother of two to death. Coakley sits on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

Oklahoma was the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt lethal injection as an execution method, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Since 1976, Oklahoma is the state with the highest number of executions per capita with a total of 112 executions, according to Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a national advocacy organization that demonstrates against the death penalty. 

Capital punishment in Oklahoma has come under scrutiny and criticism in recent years, especially after a botched execution in 2021 during which John Marion Grant began convulsing and vomiting after being administered midazolam, the first drug in a three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections. Grant’s execution was itself the first in the state since the botched execution of Charles Frederick Warner in 2015.

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