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Pope pleads for commutation of US death sentences

Georgia rejects papal pleas, executes female inmate

Pope pleads for commutation of US death sentences

Published: October 01, 2015 03:57 AM GMT

Updated: September 30, 2015 05:37 PM GMT

Less than a week after Pope Francis told a joint meeting of Congress that he backs U.S. efforts to abolish the death penalty, news came of his U.S. nuncio's letters to authorities in two states appealing on the pope's behalf to commute death sentences.

On Sept. 29, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano unsuccessfully appealed on the pope's behalf to Georgia officials to commute the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner, who was executed shortly after midnight the next day.

Within hours of receiving the letter on the pope's behalf, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Gissendaner's request for clemency and her execution proceeded.

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Earlier, speaking for Pope Francis, the nuncio weighed in Sept. 19 on another highly publicized execution scheduled in Oklahoma for Sept. 30 (and now rescheduled for Nov. 6), that of Richard Glossip, whose challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol was rejected by the Supreme Court in June.

In the letter to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Archbishop Vigano cited both Pope Francis and St. John Paul II as well as Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley.

"Together with Pope Francis, I believe that a commutation of Mr. Glossip's sentence would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person's life and would contribute to a society more cognizant of the mercy that God has bestowed upon us all," wrote Archbishop Vigano.

In the letter to Georgia's parole board, he quoted the words of Pope Francis to Congress on Sept. 24, noting that the pontiff had, since the beginning of his ministry, advocated for the global abolition of the death penalty. "I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes," Pope Francis said.

In both letters, Archbishop Vigano said that he did not wish to minimize the gravity of the crimes for which Gissendaner and Glossip were convicted and that he sympathized with the victims. "I nonetheless implore you … to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy," he wrote in the Georgia letter.

"Please be assured of my prayers as you consider this request by Pope Francis for what I believe would be a just act of clemency," Archbishop Vigano wrote.

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