Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bishop Finn Prays at Missouri Execution Vigil

About an hour ago, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon denied clemency for Dennis Skillicorn who's scheduled to die tonight. At the same time Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn was down on J.C. Nichols Plaza in KC, rosary in hand, joining death penalty opponents at a vigil. Here's the story filed moments ago by Kevin Kelly.

Bishop prays as Missouri resumes executions

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Just hours before Dennis Skillicorn was scheduled to die, Bishop Robert W. Finn prayed in public.

His rosary in hand, Bishop Finn joined the silent vigil May 19 at the J.C. Nichols fountain on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, where the Western Missouri Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has conducted evening vigils for 20 years, just before Missouri executes another prisoner.

Skillicorn, 49, would be the 67th inmate put to death in Missouri in those 20 years since Missouri reinstated capital punishment. He will be the first since 2005, when executions by lethal injection in Missouri were put on a court-ordered moratorium that was lifted in 2007.

Bishop Finn told The Catholic Key that he offered his prayers for Skillicorn, who has been involved in Christian prison ministry since his conviction for the 1994 murder of Richard Drummond, an Excelsior Springs businessman.

He offered his prayers for the family of Drummond, who stopped along I-70 to offer Skillicorn and two other men assistance when their car broke down and was later robbed and shot execution style in a wooded area in Lafayette County.

And he offered his prayers for the sanctity of life.

“The principle reason we oppose the death penalty is because it is not necessary in order to protect society, and if it is not necessary, we ought not to kill another person,” Bishop Finn said. “That is what we learned from Pope John Paul II.”

In his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this” and that society “ought not go to the extreme of executing offenders except in cases of absolute necessity . . . when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare if not practically nonexistent.”

Pope John Paul II also personally appealed to Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan during the papal visit to St. Louis to spare the life of Darrell Mease, a Missouri inmate whose execution date was rescheduled to avoid the dates that the pope was in Missouri.

“The public witness is important,” Bishop Finn told The Key. “Our laws need to be reconsidered.”

Bishop Finn said that his presence at the vigil will also serve to register his personal protest against the failure of the Missouri General Assembly this year to fund even a study of the state’s death penalty system.

“We wanted the possibility of a moratorium, but at the very least we should have had a study,” the bishop said, noting that three persons have been released from Missouri’s death row after they were later found to be innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted and sentenced to death.

“There are serious flaws in this process. Our elected leaders should have agreed that we ought to study this in a methodical way to determine if we are at least doing this in accordance to the law,” Bishop Finn said.

“They failed in their responsibility to support that study,” he said.

Bishop Finn said that he has been impressed to hear of how Skillicorn has spent his years on death row, ministering to other inmates, working in restorative justice, and editing a national magazine, Compassion, written by fellow inmates.

“I am happy that there are some indications of a conversion and a transformation,” he said. “If that is the case, then thanks be to God.”

Bishop Finn said he will pray for God’s graces for the Drummond family.

“The incomprehensible suffering of the Drummond family needs God’s healing, too,” he said.

But Bishop Finn said he is compelled to offer public witness in defense of life.

“When we face the mysteries of life and death, prayer is the best thing we can do,” he said.

“We stand up as free citizens and our neighbors need to learn that there is something here that is very important,” Bishop Finn said.

“It has to do with the sanctity of life, even if someone has made a horrible, horrible mistake,” he said.

“Our society will reject capital punishment before it is all said and done,” Bishop Finn said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

There is also no doubt in the mind of Donnie Morehouse of the Western Missouri Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who was elated to learn that Bishop Finn would be joining the May 19 vigil.

“One of the things that the bishop’s presence will mean is to point out how important this issue is, and it’s about time that (Gov.) Jay Nixon pays attention and grants clemency to Dennis Skillicorn,” Morehouse told The Key on May 18, less than 36 hours before Skillicorn’s scheduled 12:01 a.m., May 20 execution.

The coalition “is a diverse group of people who realize that the death penalty is not good policy, it’s not good criminal justice, and it’s not something we should be doing,” Morehouse said.