Oklahoma City Archbishop Reiterates Calls for End to Death Penalty

Federal court decision just affirmed constitutionality of capital-punishment protocols in the Sooner State.

A prison cell block is seen at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, on July 16, 2015.
A prison cell block is seen at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, on July 16, 2015. (photo: SAUL LOEB / Getty Images)

In response to a federal court decision affirming the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s death-penalty protocol, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City on Monday called on state lawmakers to end the death penalty.

“No matter the decision of the court on Oklahoma’s protocol, the use of the death penalty only contributes to the continued coarsening of society and to the spiral of violence,” Archbishop Coakley said in a statement.

U.S. district Judge Stephen Friot, sitting in Oklahoma City, on June 6 ruled against 28 Oklahoma death-row inmates’ argument that one of the drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection protocol, the sedative midazolam, is an insufficient painkiller that makes the dying process severely and unconstitutionally painful, WRAL.com reported.

The Oklahoman reported that the court decision gives the state the ability to execute each of the 28 inmates over the next two years.

“Taking another life does not ultimately bring closure and peace to those who have lost a loved one, and it goes against the principle of valuing life,” Archbishop Coakley said.

“Justice is necessary, but it is not enough,” he added. “Mercy perfects justice and brings healing. I urge state leaders to end the death penalty in Oklahoma.”    

WRAL.com reported that the inmates’ attorneys are expected to appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver.

Archbishop Coakley has been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. In November he praised Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, for his “tremendous courage” in granting clemency to convicted murderer Julius Jones who was scheduled to be executed just hours later.

The court sentenced Jones to death about 20 years ago for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones maintains his innocence.

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church had recognized the death penalty as an extreme but sometimes acceptable response to certain grave crimes. Modern popes, including Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have called for an end to the use of the death penalty. In 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that “‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’ (Francis, discourse, Oct. 11, 2017), and [the Church] works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”