Bishops Urge Support for Death Penalty Moratorium


--By Jackie Campbell--

Pennsylvania’s three United Methodist bishops have commended Gov. Tom Wolf for imposing a moratorium on the death penalty and called on church members to endorse the action by contacting the governor’s office as well as their state senators and legislators.

Gov. Tom Wolf

Calling Pennsylvania’s system of capital punishment “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible,” Gov. Wolf said in a memorandum Feb. 13 that the moratorium will remain in effect until he receives, reviews, and has an opportunity to address recommendations in a report from a bipartisan legislative commission that has been studying the issue for four years.

In a joint statement, the Bishops said their support was “drawn from both our understanding of the teachings of Christ and from the research and experience of the criminal justice system.  As the United Methodist Church stands unequivocally in opposition to the death penalty, we applaud the Governor’s leadership on this troubling issue.”

Bishops Thomas J. Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and Jeremiah Park of the Susquehanna Conference added: “Taking an active stance in society is nothing new for followers of John Wesley. As individuals and on a congregational-level, we encourage United Methodists to support Governor Wolf’s death penalty moratorium.”

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

Social Principles of the UMC
¶164G, Book of Discipline

To find contact information for your elected state officials follow the links to Senate, House and Governor  here.

Gov. Wolf said the moratorium came after significant consideration and reflection. “This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly reinstated the death penalty nearly 40 years ago. The governor pointed out that since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania.

Within the same time period, Pennsylvania governors have signed 434 death warrants. Of those, the Commonwealth has executed three people who voluntarily abandoned their right to further due process, the governor said. All the other warrants have subsequently been stayed by a court.

Two inmates have remained on death row for more than three decades, he added.  Another inmate has been scheduled for execution six times, each of which has been cancelled due to a state or federal appeal.

“This unending cycle of death warrants and appeals diverts resources from the judicial system and forces the families and loved ones of victims to relive their tragedies each time a new round of warrants and appeals commences,” Wolf said. “The only certainty in the current system is that the process will be drawn out, expensive, and painful for all involved.”
Gov. Wolf took the first step in placing a moratorium on the death penalty by granting a temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed March 4.

The governor said he will grant a reprieve — not a commutation — in each future instance in which an execution for a death-row inmate is scheduled, establishing an effective moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. For death row inmates, the conditions and confinement will not change.
Read the full memorandum from Gov. Wolf