Bishop offers condolences following firing squad execution in Utah

.- Minutes after the clock struck midnight on Friday morning, a five man firing squad ended the life of Ronnie Lee Garner, a Utah man found guilty of murdering two men. The execution was lamented by Salt Lake City’s Bishop John Wester, who prayed for God’s love and mercy to heal all those affected by the situation.

In a Friday afternoon statement, Bishop Wester prayed that society can “move beyond the death penalty and thus affirm the dignity and sanctity of all human life.” Society, he said, “can fulfill its obligation to protect its citizens, punish wrongdoers and provide an opportunity for rehabilitation without resorting to the violence that plagues our world and continuing the cycle of bloodshed that diminishes all of us.”

The execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner caused shockwaves around the nation. Gardner, who was sentenced to death in 1985 after killing a man and then causing another murder in a courtroom escape attempt, was executed by firing squad at his own request. Though the death penalty is legal in Utah, the firing squad was prohibited in 2004. However, Gardner was sentenced before the change in policy, he was still allowed to select that manner of execution.

The bishop continued by offering condolences to the families of the victims. “We also express our sympathy to the family of Ronnie Lee Gardner as they mourn his loss and his tragic life. We pray for God’s love and mercy to heal them all and to help them find peace.”

Catholic teaching holds that a society has the obligation to protect its citizens and punish wrongdoers. “But while states have the right and the responsibility for protecting their residents, for Utah to take a life in our name diminishes all of us, because our society can clearly fulfill those obligations without resorting to the death penalty,” Bishop Wester wrote in his June 18 column in the Intermountain Catholic.

He also noted that, “from a purely economic viewpoint, it’s less expensive to incarcerate a murderer for life than to execute him.” He added that, in the process, the state risks taking the life of an innocent human being, as the statistics regarding the exonerations of death row inmates show.

He also quoted the U.S. Bishops’ 1999 publication, “A Good Friday Appeal to end the Death Penalty, which states “we cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.”

“Once you take a life, you can’t give it back – only God can give life!” he wrote.

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