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Issue Date:  May 27, 2005

Connecticut bishops continue efforts against capital punishment


The death of Michael Ross, the convicted rapist-murderer whose May 13 execution was the first in New England in 45 years, “is about much more than a person on death row,” according the head of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“It is about us as a human society. We failed to prevent our own denigration by this execution,” said Marie T. Hilliard, the conference executive director. The bishops had used their pastoral role and the conference offices to lobby for keeping Ross alive, citing in a Jan. 29 news release “our deep belief in the need to end a cycle of violence, based on the Gospel imperatives.”

Connecticut’s bishops have been active this year trying to halt executions.

  • On the second weekend in January, the Catholic conference disseminated a petition to parishes throughout the state, calling for abolition of the death penalty. Nearly 40,000 Catholics signed it.
  • Bishop Peter Rosazza, auxiliary bishop of Hartford, testified before the state judiciary committee in favor of abolishing the death penalty.
  • The Connecticut bishops wrote to every state legislator to support ending the death penalty.
  • On March 30, the Legislature defeated 89 to 60 a bill that would have abolished the death penalty. Though they lost the final vote, bill supporters counted as a victory the floor vote, which was the closest in the state’s history of such legislation. The bill was passed by two committees to advance as far as it did.

Hilliard said those who opposed Ross’ execution were left numb by his execution. “Now we have rallied,” she said, “and are focusing on the future.”

“With the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, we are focusing our efforts for the legislative session of 2007,” she said, explaining that the legislature focuses on fiscal matters on even years.

Related Web site
Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty

“Also by 2007, legislative elections will have occurred. There may be some new faces in the legislature,” Hilliard said.

The Connecticut bishops got a boost in their efforts in March when the U.S. bishops’ conference launched the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, an education program for Catholics and a lobbying effort for state legislatures and Congress. With all of this happening, Hilliard said, “we will have enhanced opportunity to change hearts and minds.”

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, a freelance writer from Worchester, Mass., contributed to this story.

In the two months since NCR last reported the names of prisoners executed in the United States, 11 more have been killed.

Glen Ocha, 47, was executed April 5 in Florida; Richard Longworth, 36, was executed April 15 in South Carolina; Douglas Roberts, 42, was executed April 20 in Texas; Bill J. Benefiel Jr., 48, was executed April 21 in Indiana; Donald Jones, 38, was executed April 27 in Missouri; Mario Centobie, 39, was executed April 28 in Alabama; Lonnie Wayne Pursley, 43, was executed May 3 in Texas; Earl J. Richmond, Jr., 43, was executed May 6 in North Carolina; George James Miller Jr., 37, was executed May 12 in Oklahoma; Michael Ross, 45, was executed May 13 in Connecticut. Vernon Brown, 51, was executed May 17 in Missouri. Brown was the 967th person executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Learn more about the death penalty and organizations working to abolish it at the Death Penalty Information Center on the Web at

National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 2005

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