NEW YORK – A top Vatican official has asked Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to use his executive powers to clear the state’s death row, as the governor himself has in the past expressed opposition to the death penalty citing his own Catholic faith.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy of Life, penned the letter to Edwards on Sept. 26, emphasizing that “every human life is sacred,” and that the move would be a “monumental step” towards the abolition of the death penalty in the future.

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

“We think that the clearing of Louisiana’s death row would be a monumental step towards the abolition of the death penalty,” Pagalia said.

In Louisiana, the governor has the power to grant clemency in capital cases after a recommendation from the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole. There are currently 57 individuals on death row in Louisiana. 56 of those individuals have applied for clemency, and there are currently 20 clemency hearings scheduled. There hasn’t been an execution in Louisiana since 2002.

In remarks to the Louisiana House and Senate earlier this year, Edwards stated his support for a bill to abolish the death penalty in part because it is “wholly inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values as it quite literally promotes a culture of death.”

“Lastly, and certainly still on the topic of being a pro-life state, for the first time I am calling on the legislature to end the death penalty in Louisiana,” Edwards said in April 10 remarks. “I am asking you to look at the death penalty in Louisiana in 2023 with fresh eyes and an open mind,” adding that it’s both “difficult to administer” and “extremely expensive.”

“It doesn’t deter crime; it isn’t necessary for public safety; and more importantly, it is wholly inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values as it quite literally promotes a culture of death,” he continued.

A spokesperson for Edwards, who has been governor of Louisiana since 2016, declined a Crux request for comment on Paglia’s letter citing previous comments he has made on the death penalty.

Krisianne Vallancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network organization that works to end the death penalty nationwide, joined Paglia’s call for Edward’s to grant clemency to those on death row, saying it “would send an unwavering message that Louisiana is committed to paving the way for a culture of life.”

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