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Texas Catholics chip away against the death penalty

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Last week Oblate Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, asked Gov. George W. Bush to spare the life of Glen McGinnis, who had been sentenced to death at age 17. The bishop, who also heads the Texas Conference of Churches, pointed to several international treaties signed by the United States that prohibit using the death penalty against juveniles. Despite his pleading and that of the pope and the apostolic nuncio in Washington, McGinnis was executed Jan. 25.

Pfeifer is hopeful that the “moment of grace” available in the Jubilee Year might move hearts and minds toward compassion and understanding. The Texas bishops are also realistic, he said in a telephone interview with NCR. “When we meet we feel we’re up against a great rock. We can’t move it, but we can chip away at it and try to move it piece by piece.”

The Catholic community in Texas, in official and unofficial ways, is a major force in trying to change laws about the death penalty.

The Catholic Bishops Conference is working on the moratorium issue by establishing educational programs about the death penalty in the state’s 14 dioceses.

In Dallas, Joyce Hall and other members of Pax Christi Dallas, have helped to write a study guide on the death penalty for the Greater Dallas Community of Churches.

In Austin Holy Cross Br. Richard Daly believes momentum is building toward dismantling the death penalty. He points to a bill to ban executions for the mentally retarded, which passed the Texas Senate last spring but did not make it out of committee in the House. Robison’s execution, as well as that of Death Row evangelist Karla Faye Tucker, gave a human face to those on Death Row, said Daly, spokesman for the Texas Catholic Conference.

Pope John Paul’s intervention in several Texas cases, as well as a rewriting of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect the pope’s categorical no to the death penalty as expounded in his encyclical Evangelium Vita, should help Catholics and others of good will to reevaluate state executions, Daly said.

National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2000