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Death penalty abolished in Virginia

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This story has been updated.

While standing outside the prison that housed Virginia’s execution chamber, Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in the commonwealth March 24. Legislators and anti-death penalty advocates joined the signing ceremony outside Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, where 101 people have been executed since 1991. 

“Over our 400-year history, Virginia has executed more than 1,300 people,” said Northam. ‘(Today) we join 22 other states in saying the government will not take a life, the government will no longer execute people.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout welcomed the new law. “We embrace this hope-filled new beginning,” they said in a joint statement March 24. “As Pope Francis states, ‘The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe’ (Fratelli Tutti, no. 269). 

Virginia legislature votes to abolish death penalty

“Through our Virginia Catholic Conference, we supported this historic legislation as it progressed through the General Assembly because all human life is sacred. We are grateful to those who worked to make this a reality.

“Our dioceses also continue our prayers for families of victims of horrific crimes and renew our commitment to provide for their pastoral support. We stand ready to accompany them in their journey to find healing and peace.” 

During the ceremony, many people praised the advocacy of the Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC), including bill-sponsor Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who thanked the VCC and several priests for their work. “I can’t tell you how much that has helped,” he said. 

Earlier this year, local Catholics welcomed the news that both houses of the legislature passed bills abolishing capital punishment. “It’s an incredible moment for Virginia,” said Bob More, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Reston who previously participated in execution evening prayer vigils. “To finally uphold the dignity of every person including those who offended against society in a serious way, and to recognize the death penalty has not been applied in a fair and defensible manner, and that people need an opportunity for rehabilitation and repentance.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021