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A bishop’s plea

The following statement asking for clemency for Mark Fowler was delivered by Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board at its scheduled hearing on Jan. 3.

Most honorable members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board:

My name is Eusebius J. Beltran. I am the Catholic archbishop of Oklahoma City. In that capacity, I am responsible for all the Catholic people living in central and western Oklahoma and the panhandle. Moreover, through our various educational, civic and social services, which are available for all people, we directly serve and assist the entire population of Oklahoma.

I have been a resident of Oklahoma for the past 23 years. The first 15 years, I was the bishop of Tulsa, and these past eight years, the archbishop of Oklahoma City. You can see then that I have a long-standing commitment to the well-being of our beloved state of Oklahoma. It is because of my respect for the dignity of every human person and my love for Oklahoma that I have asked to address you. Thank you for your kindness in giving me this opportunity today.

The Webster’s New International Dictionary defines clemency as “the disposition to treat with less rigor than one’s authority or power permits.” Aware of this meaning, I humbly ask you to hear and grant my request for clemency for Mark Andrew Fowler, who is scheduled for execution on Jan. 23.

My relationship with Mark and his family goes back to 1978. At that time I first met Fr. Gregory Gier, an uncle of Mark. Through Fr. Gier I eventually met Mark’s grandparents, his parents and Mark himself. I visited Mark’s home in Oklahoma City during the time his mother, Caroline, was suffering from cancer. Later I participated in her funeral service. When Mark was arrested and convicted for the robbery and murders, Fr. Gier informed me of these tragic events. Over the past 15 years, he has continued to keep me posted on the facts of this case.

Today, I come here personally to assure the relatives of the victims in this case that my prayers are with them. I, too, grieve for their loss. I pray for their healing. I also come here to plead for clemency for Mark Fowler. I do not excuse him for his complicity in this horrendous act. I do not ask that he ever be set free. I ask for clemency -- that you, the members of the Pardon and Parole Board -- would use less rigor than your authority or power permits. You have in your hands today the power of life or death. I beg you to choose life! Life is a gift from God. Every human being is created by God in His own Image and Likeness. When a person commits sin by performing brutal actions or unjust aggression, that person tarnishes the Image of God. In His goodness, God calls that person to repentance. Repentance leads to conversion. Conversion is a lifelong process that effects reconciliation.

To execute Mark Fowler is to cut short the penance and conversion he needs to make. To execute Mark Fowler does not bring back the lives of those he is accused of killing. To execute Mark Fowler does not effect a single positive objective fact. To execute Mark Fowler does not rectify the wrong that he did. Executing Mark Fowler only perpetuates the violence and evil he perpetrated.

The fact that we are the only country in the Western Hemisphere to continue to impose the death penalty should raise certain fundamental questions. Is this the best that we can do? Or does an execution simply return evil for evil? When we do return evil for evil, we degrade ourselves.

I beg you, members of the Pardon and Parole Board, to grant clemency to Mark Fowler. Clemency means to act with less rigor. This is not an easy matter for you, for me, for the victims’ families or our governor. Clemency, especially in the face of such brutal acts, may seem impossible in human terms. Yet, with the grace of God, we see family members and loved ones of murder victims who can and do forgive. Our Lord Jesus, himself a victim of the death penalty, forgave his oppressors. Pope John Paul II also forgave his would-be assassin and visited him in his prison cell. The power of forgiveness is real. It heals the forgiver and communicates God’s mercy to the sinner.

Please, find it in your hearts to grant clemency to Mark Fowler. In this instance you have the power of life or death -- choose life -- not violence and death.

Thank you and God bless you.

Most Reverend Eusebius J. Beltran

National Catholic Reporter, January 19, 2001