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October 15, 2004
The Honorable George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am writing to ask that you support and sign into law H.R. 5107, the Justice for All Act of 2004, which was passed by the House and the Senate this past weekend.
First and foremost, the Conference supports this legislation because we believe that it will help reduce the risk of innocent persons being executed by encouraging and enabling states to provide indigent defendants in capital cases with competent counsel and by ensuring that eligible death row inmates have access to evidence that could establish their innocence. Second, the proposed legislation would also offer assistance to the states in upgrading and improving crime lab facilities and reducing the backlog of untested DNA samples.
As you know, the bishops of the United States oppose the use of the death penalty. Catholic teaching on capital punishment is clear, “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). While H.R. 5107 does not end the use of capital punishment, we support it because it brings together both opponents and supporters of capital punishment in a common effort to safeguard defendants from wrongful conviction and prevent lethal mistakes in death penalty cases at both the federal and state level. Nothing illustrates the need for such protection more than the large number of death row inmates who have been exonerated, some within days or hours of being put to death. We also welcome this important effort because it focuses our nation’s attention on the serious problems with the use of the death penalty.
The Conference also supports H.R. 5107 because it proposes to protect the rights of those who become the victims of crime. In our 2000 criminal justice pastoral, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, the Bishops specifically addressed the participation of victims: “Victims and their families must have a more central place in a reformed criminal justice system. Besides the physical wounds some victims suffer, all victims experience emotional scars that may never heal.” We need to respond to victims’ “legitimate and necessary participation in the criminal justice system.”
As a community of faith, we seek both justice and mercy and we pray that the passage of this new legislation will help promote the dignity of both victims and offenders. Your support and signature will be an important step to making this possible. Thank you for your time and consideration Mr. President. With every good wish, I am
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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