Catholic activists criticize Indiana’s move to resume using capital punishment

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita gives a thumbs-up to a crowd in Carmel, Ind., gathered for the Indiana March for Life rally Jan. 22, 2021. Rokita and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb are seeing to resume the use of capital punishment in the state after obtaining the lethal drugs used in the practice after 15 years. (OSV News photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

by Kate Scanlon, OSV News

(OSV News) — Catholic activists criticized a recent announcement by Indiana’s governor that his administration would seek to resume the use of the death penalty in the Hoosier state after obtaining the lethal drugs used to carry out executions.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that opposes capital punishment, told OSV News that it has been “15 years since Indiana’s last execution— a hiatus brought on in part because of the state’s struggle to purchase lethal injection drugs.”

“Like many other states, Indiana has been met with difficulty in procuring lethal injection drugs after the pharmaceutical companies which provide them have opted not to have their products be used to kill,” she said.

In a June 26 statement, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Todd Rokita said they would seek the resumption of executions in Indiana prisons, starting with Joseph Corcoran, who was convicted on four counts of murder and sentenced to death in 1999. They filed a motion to do so with the Indiana Supreme Court.

Holcomb attributed the move to the state acquiring a lethal drug used to carry out executions. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the practice, departments of corrections across the United States have had difficulty in recent years acquiring some of the drugs traditionally used in lethal injection executions as manufacturers have explicitly banned the use of their products in executions or have stopped producing these drugs altogether.

“After years of effort, the Indiana Department of Correction has acquired a drug — pentobarbital —which can be used to carry out executions. Accordingly, I am fulfilling my duties as governor to follow the law and move forward appropriately in this matter,” Holcomb said in a statement.

Rokita said in a statement, “In Indiana, state law authorizes the death penalty as a means of providing justice for victims of society’s most heinous crimes and holding perpetrators accountable.”

“Further, it serves as an effective deterrent for certain potential offenders who might otherwise commit similar extreme crimes of violence,” Rokita said. “Now that the Indiana Department of Correction is prepared to carry out the lawfully imposed sentence, it’s incumbent on our justice system to immediately enable executions in our prisons to resume. Today, I am filing a motion asking the Indiana Supreme Court to set a date for the execution of Joseph Corcoran.”

Vaillancourt Murphy said that “even though the state of Indiana has not conducted an execution since 2009, the Hoosier state houses the federal death row at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, and therefore still carries the dark stain of a six-month federal execution spree which was conducted during the Trump administration.”

“After a 17-year hiatus of federal executions, former President (Donald) Trump oversaw 13 hurried executions before the end of his term — many of which took place in the dark of night,” she said.

This move toward resuming executions, Vaillancourt Murphy argued, is also in “stark contrast to another movement coming to Indiana this summer — the National Eucharistic Congress.”

The first event of its kind in the U.S. in more than half a century, the National Eucharistic Congress is expected to draw more than 40,000 Catholics July 17-21 for five days of prayer, speakers, liturgies and worship at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

“As the U.S Catholic Church gathers in this place to celebrate the unity, right-relationship, and healing that is made possible through Communion, Indiana’s government seeks to deal more death and only perpetuate more violence,” Vaillancourt Murphy said. “Catholics from all across the country will gather in Indianapolis in July as part of a multiyear Eucharistic Revival inviting each of us to recommit to the source and summit of our faith — the Eucharist. Resuming executions would be the antithesis to the message that the Eucharistic Revival proclaims — one of healing, wholeness and mercy.”

Vaillancourt Murphy also argued that states should “learn that this economy of executions is a failed one.”

“Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are used to procure these lethal drugs, and what does society yield in return? Only death and the continuation of cycles of harm that lead to crime,” she said.

Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2267) in 2018 to reflect that capital punishment is morally “inadmissible” in the modern world and that the church works with determination for its abolishment worldwide.

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