CNA Staff, Jun 17, 2020 / 09:04 am
The Supreme Court stayed the execution of a man in Texas after the state’s Department of Corrections refused to allow a Catholic priest to be with him in the final moments of his life.
“The District Court should promptly determine, based on whatever evidence the parties provide, whether serious security problems would result if a prisoner facing execution is permitted to choose the spiritual adviser the prisoner wishes to have in his immediate presence during the execution,” said the Supreme Court in its statement issuing the stay of execution on June 16.
Ruben Gutierrez, a Catholic, had requested that the Catholic chaplain at the prison join him in the execution chamber at his death. This request was denied, due to a Texas policy instituted last year that prohibits chaplains in the execution chamber.
Gutierrez was scheduled to die on Tuesday evening, and his execution was stayed approximately one hour before it was set to begin. On June 9, the Federal District Court in Brownsville, Texas, had initially stayed the execution due to the chaplain issue.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops was one of the many organizations who filed amicus briefs in support of staying or outright canceling Gutierrez’s execution. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is opposed to the use of capital punishment, and states that those who are dying should be given spiritual care.
“Denying a prisoner’s request for a chaplain at the hour of his death represents an egregious rejection of the possibility of forgiveness and redemption while the state commits the violence of an execution,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, in a statement published on the organization’s website.
“This assaults the dignity of the human person through the blatant removal of a corporal work of mercy that may give compassionate aid and comfort to an offender who, as a final act, is seeking God's forgiveness,” said Allmon.
“To deny a prisoner facing imminent execution access to spiritual and religious guidance and accompaniment is cruel and inhuman. It is an affront to the moral and religious dimensions of human dignity, which are clearly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,” said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. Flores serves as the advisor to Catholic Mobilizing Network, an anti-death penalty organization.