Nuncio asks Arkansas governor to commute death sentences for eight men

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, has asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to commute the death sentences of eight men scheduled for execution in the weeks ahead.

The nuncio released the letter Oct. 7 in light of the execution dates set by the governor. Pope Francis and Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor have recently spoken about the Catholic Church's teaching against capital punishment.

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During his remarks to a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24, the pope reiterated his call for the death penalty to be abolished.

It has been nearly 10 years since Arkansas held an execution.

Hutchinson, who took office in January, set the dates for double executions from October through January. The first executions were scheduled Oct. 21. A lawsuit has been filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court by the inmates to require the state to identify the drug manufacturers used in the executions. A new law allows the state to shield the supplier's name. 

According to AP, an Arkansas circuit court judge in a midday ruling Oct. 9 halted the executions of the eight men on death row because of their lawsuit.

Archbishop Vigano said in his letter that as the pope's personal representative to the U.S., he was writing about Arkansas' scheduled executions of eight men: Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Terrick Terrell Nooner, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Marcel Wayne Williams, Jack Harold Jones Jr., Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams.

"As part of the church's ancient teaching on the dignity of the human person," he wrote, "the Holy Father has advocated for 'the establishment of the universal moratorium on executions throughout the world, in order to abolish capital punishment.'" He cited a March 20, 2015, letter the pope presented to Federico Mayor, president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, during an audience that morning with commission members at the Vatican.

"While never wishing to minimize the pain suffered by victims and their families," Archbishop Vigano said, Pope Francis "nonetheless, recognizes (that) 'today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned's crimes may have been."

"It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person which contradicts God's plan for man and for society and the merciful justice, and it fails to conform to any just purpose of punishment," he continued, quoting the pope. "It does not render justice to the victim, but rather foments revenge."

Archbishop Vigano told Hutchinson, "I earnestly request that you commute the sentences of those men who have been scheduled to be executed in the state of Arkansas."

He said he wrote the letter "in solidarity" with the U.S. bishops and a Sept. 4 statement by Bishop Taylor in which he urged the governor and the Arkansas Legislature to repeal the death penalty. The bishop also asked Hutchinson to commute the death sentences for all on death row and, in the interim, schedule no executions.

Bishop Taylor's letter followed Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request that Hutchinson set executions for the eight men.

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