From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic bishops of Washington State speak out against pending execution of James Elledge

the Washington State Catholic Conference

(From the Aug. 23, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editorís note: The following statement was issued this month by the Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of the three Catholic dioceses of Washington State.)

Barring any unexpected developments, James Elledge will be executed by lethal injection at the Washington State Penitentiary shortly after midnight on Aug. 28. Mr. Elledge was sentenced to die for the 1998 murder of Eloise Fitzner. Though not directly touched by this crime, each of us feels compassion for the victim and shares in the grief of her survivors. The effects of all murders ripple throughout our community, eroding our sense of security for our loved ones and ourselves.

Mr. Elledge will be the fourth man executed by the state of Washington since 1991. Like Westley Allan Dodd and Jeremy Sagastegui before him, Mr. Elledge has waived all his appeals and asked to be executed. He claims there is an evil part within him that must be destroyed and has asked that no individuals or organizations request clemency on his behalf. We cannot in conscience honor this request.

Our Christian faith assures us that Godís mercy and forgiveness are readily available to all, even those who have caused the greatest harm by taking the life of another human being. Our Church is founded in large part on the evangelical efforts of St. Paul who, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was instrumental in the persecution of the early Church. Several years ago we called upon the legislators of Washington State to abolish the death penalty, in part because doing so would be a powerful statement reaffirming that God grants all people the opportunity for conversion, reconciliation and reparation for the evil done. This affirmation would be an important stop towards reversing a tendency within our culture to use violence as a solution to problems. Only Godís law of forgiveness and restorative justice can break the cycle of violence.

Our state, like our nation, continues to struggle with our response to violent crime. We can and must do more to support those who have been harmed by violence and to lessen the likelihood of future violence threatening our children and community. Offenders must be held accountable for their actions, but in a way which affirms their human dignity and fosters the possibility of true remorse and rehabilitation.

We are acutely aware as well of the human cost of executions on those responsible for carrying them out. There are many people within the judicial system and Department of Corrections who are deeply conflicted about their part in the taking of a human life. Even if we were to believe that Mr. Elledge deserves to die for his crime, we do not believe that anyone should be asked to kill him in our name.

Mr. Elledge chose twice in his life to take the life of another human being and has asked that we join with him in the taking of his life at the hands of the state. Executing Mr. Elledge will only perpetuate the cycle of violence that has marked his life. We instead reaffirm our belief in Godís mercy and in his place as the sole author of life and death.

At last yearís Catechetical Institute in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Sister Helen Prejean shared her image of Christ on the cross as God reaching out both to offenders and crime victims, We ask all people of good faith to join with us in reaching out with compassion to those whose lives have been torn apart by violence, while at the same time reaching out with the hope of forgiveness to those who have harmed others.

+ Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, Archdiocese of Seattle
+ Bishop William S. Skylstad, Diocese of Spokane
+ Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla SJ, Diocese of Yakima
+ Bishop George L. Thomas, Archdiocese of Seattle

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