10 October 2023, The Tablet

Church appeals against executions in US

“State-sanctioned killing will only further fuel the growing societal disrespect for the dignity of life.”

Church appeals against executions in US

A prison in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis ignored appeals for clemency for Michael Zack III who was executed on 3 October.
Lonny Paul / flickr | Creative Commons

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life has urged the governor of Louisiana to “clear” death row in the state’s prisons.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia wrote to John Bel Edwards saying: “Since every human life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity. Much like you, the Catholic Church believes that our society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of individuals who have been convicted of crimes.”

Paglia added: “We think that the clearing of Louisiana’s death row would be a monumental step towards the abolition of the death penalty.”

Governor Edwards, who is a Catholic, has called the death penalty “wholly inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values”. While capital punishment remains legal in Louisiana, there has not been an execution since 2002.

In Florida last week, a 54-year-old man was executed by lethal injection in prison despite Catholic bishops appealing to Governor Ron DeSantis – who was raised a Catholic – for clemency.

Michael Zack III was sentenced to death for killing Laura Rosillo in 1996 and to life imprisonment for the murder, days later, of Ravonne Smith. 

Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, described Zack’s crimes as “heinous and horrific” in a letter to DeSantis, but added: “In taking the life of Mr Zack, the state will do nothing to restore the victims’ lives. Rather, state-sanctioned killing will only further fuel the growing societal disrespect for the dignity of life.”

Sheedy explained that Zack had endured grave physical and sexual abuse from his stepfather in his youth.  In a final statement, Zack said when he committed the crimes he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol, saying that he had “woken up every single day since…filled with remorse and a wish to make my time here on earth mean something more than the worst thing I ever did.”

The Catholic Mobilising Network held a vigil outside Florida State Prison where Zack was killed by lethal injection on 3 October. A day earlier, the US Supreme Court had denied an appeal to grant him a stay of execution.

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