Texas archbishop: ‘Conversion of heart’ needed on death penalty

Texas archbishop: ‘Conversion of heart’ needed on death penalty

The sun sets behind one of the guard towers at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind., June 10, 2001. The death chamber at the correctional facility is where the federal death penalty is carried out. (Credit: Andy Clark/Reuters, via CNS.)

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio is the latest bishop calling for the Trump Administration to stop carrying out federal executions before the presidential term ends.

NEW YORK — Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio is the latest bishop calling for the Trump Administration to stop carrying out federal executions before the presidential term ends.

“It’s tragic because the death penalty is not the answer to the horrible things that these people have committed. It shows how we are not evolving as people who in facing difficulties we help each other to build up as members of society,” García-Siller told Crux.

The ninth and tenth federal executions of the year were last week. Both were controversial, with eleventh hour calls to halt the executions. There are three more scheduled before President Donald Trump leaves office in January.

Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old from Texas, was executed by lethal injection Thursday for his role in the murder of two youth ministers in 1999. According to the Department of Justice, Bernard and his accomplices locked the couple in the trunk of a car. Eventually, an accomplice shot both victims. Bernard then lit the car – doused in lighter fluid – on fire.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio speaks Nov. 13, 2018, at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (Credit: Bob Roller/CNS.)

Nationwide many spoke out against the execution, citing Bernard’s age when he committed the crime and when he was executed.

The other execution was Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old from Louisiana, who was executed by lethal injection Friday. He was sentenced to death in 2004 after murdering his young daughter two years earlier. According to the DOJ, Bourgeois repeatedly slammed the back of her head in his truck’s window and dashboard after she tipped over her training potty. The report also cites previous abuse and torture towards his daughter.

His lawyers claimed his intellectual disability should’ve halted the execution.

In a recent conversation, García-Siller spoke to Crux about these executions and the culture that exists around capital punishment in the United States.

Crux: After two last week, there have now been 10 federal executions since July – what do you make of that number and the fact that there are three more scheduled before Trump leaves office on January 20?

Garcia-Siller: It’s just very sad that we perpetrate what the wrong people did in doing another wrong thing. It’s just seeing how much these decisions are led by anger and revenge like that’s the only way we can heal ourselves by taking people’s lives. There should be other ways, humanly speaking, to deal with those things.

A lot was made of the federal execution of Brandon Bernard last week – what do you make of that execution and the controversy surrounding it?

He was young when he committed that mistake and still young dying so that is one piece of difficulty. And in the context of repair or transformed person, he was alive years that he can show a change and can be someone that can be productive in our society. What that is saying in respect to human life is there is not really a value.

There were also legal arguments against the execution of Alfred Bourgeois on Friday.

If he was considered disabled the responsibility that he had, understanding and conscience of the previous actions, well they had to be tempered with his ability to comprehend and understand the situation. There are many people who are disabled who wouldn’t have the maturity as individuals to be charged with a crime. If this person was really intellectually disabled why not have that person in a place where they can be helped instead? Justice is needed for peace but executions solve nothing.

It comes to my mind also, what is it trying to teach us? I don’t see it. What message is it trying to carry for the working of our society? You have lawyers express that this person was intellectually disabled. What is the purpose when you go to the respect to the life considering that this person was intellectually disabled?

In the cases of Bernard and Bourgeois, the victims’ families thanked the Trump administration for bringing them healing and closure – what do you say in response?

I believe when people have experienced, in this case family members, the crimes committed to members of their family it must be very difficult. But even in those difficult situations I think we as a faith community can accompany those relatives and family members of the victims to deal with the anger and the sorrow with the loss. I think here because we have a system that has allowed us that alternative so people, understandably so, want that because they went through a lot when they lost members of their family.

I don’t see it. It’s not a call for celebration and closure. A situation like this implies more inner work and people to help them carry on in new ways. Just to see that somebody must be executed I don’t know how that can bring someone to peace and healing.

What needs to happen to see change in capital punishment policy? How much involves politicians and how much involved ordinary lay people and the culture?

Politicians represent us and so the conversation has to start with us so that we can elect politicians who will respect life. The expertise of lay people is very important, and the conversion of hearts will be important. We need psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, people involved in education. We need a lot of talents in order to cope with respecting life and to have the hope that the human person can evolve, and society can change.

Part of this will be the values in families. The restoration of the family unit because we come from families. Even people who committed those crimes came from families. It needs to be grassroots from the bottom up so the culture can change things could be contemplated in a new way, in a different way.

What would the first step forward look like?

Prayer. In prayer, I can discover how God through people has been merciful to me. And if I have experienced mercy most likely I will be open to be merciful, to become merciful.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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