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California Response to Governor's Moratorium

March 20, 2019

Last week, California's newly elected Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed an executive order halting all executions in the state of California. The executive order also calls for withdrawing California's lethal injection protocols and immediately closing the execution chanber at San Quentin State Prison. 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone issued a statement on behalf of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, reason being the death chamber resides within his Archdiocese. "We appreciate this recognition that the state has the adequate means to defend human dignity and public safety without recourse to capital punishment." Click here to read his statement.

Pope Francis, back in 2018, approved a new draft if the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which No. 2267, the church's stance on death penalty was reworded. "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption."  Click here to read the revision. 

Several California Bishops came out with their individual statements aplauding the governor on this new policy change. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles stated, "The death penalty violates the condemned person’s dignity and deprives that person of the chance to change his or her heart and be rehabilitated through the mercy of God. With advances in law enforcement and criminal justice, we do not need to execute criminals to keep our society safe or prevent violent offenders from committing further violence. So, ending the death penalty is a step forward. But it is only a first step." Click here to read in it entirety. 

Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino also wrote about the moratorium. "While we applaud this decision, we know that this is difficult for some to accept, especially those who have lost a loved one to murder. Let us offer our prayer and support for these families and individuals who are now struggling with the Governor’s decision. We must continue to comfort and accompany families of who have lost a loved one to murder while advocating for programs and support systems that provide opportunities for genuine healing and meaningful peace." Click here to read his statement. 

Echos of an Empty Death Chamber, a piece written by Fr. Stephen Barber, a Jesuit priest who served in the chaplain's office of San Quentin state prison form 1996 - 2011. He was also serving at San Quentin during the last three executions in California. "In virtually every condemned man, I realized that the ongoing work of God remained, as it does for us all, unfinished. Yet the work was perceptible and real." To read his statement, click here

The current Catholic Chaplain at San Quentin, Fr. George Williams, s.j., also wrote an article in the magazine America. Fr. Williams has been at San Quentin for 8 years now and he wrote about what happened the morning the moratorium was signed. " After years of uncertainty and resignation, they were grappling with a very unfamiliar feeling in the death house—hope. These are men who life has not treated very well to begin with. My impression was that they didn’t want to “jinx” the good news by getting too enthused about it." Click here to read his writing. 

Several articles were published the same day or after regarding the moratorium. Many families who were directly impacted by this executive order made loud and clear their feelings.

Los Angeles Times wrote, "As word of Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty spread, victims’ families reacted with varied emotions. Most have lived through grief, legal trials and long waits after the murder of loved ones, and their responses were a reminder of how personal and polarizing the issue has remained through the years."

Sacramento Bee published an op-ed from a member of Journey of Hope and Murder Victim's Families for Reconciliation group. "After years of prayer and spiritual contemplation, I took a huge leap. I wrote a letter to Mickey. Nothing else had helped. Twelve years had passed since Catherine’s death and I knew I had to do something different. The moment I opened the mailbox and dropped in my letter to San Quentin’s death row, I began a journey that has finally helped me heal." 

If you or someone you know, was affected by this executive order; please visit our Restorative Justice Directors page to get in contact with them to connect you with available resources.