US Catholics have denounced the execution planned for this Wednesday of the only Native American on federal death row.

– “The dignity of the human person is God-given and inviolable”

“As Catholics, we uphold that the dignity of the human person is God-given and inviolable. It is this belief that leads us to oppose the death penalty in all cases and work for its abolition worldwide in accordance with Pope Francis’ revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018″, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, wrote August 24 in a column on the America website.

“But ours is not the only tradition which espouses this hallowed tenet. Navajo culture, too, professes the sanctity of life, a teaching which undergirds the opposition of the Navajo Nation and many other tribes to the practice of capital punishment”, Vaillancourt Murphy continued.

After its 2018 revision by Pope Francis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (2267).

– “A manifestation of the racial oppression inflicted upon Native Americans for centuries” in the US

Vaillancourt Murphy, The director of the US Catholic group advocating for an end to the death penalty and the prioritization of restorative justice was speaking out ahead of the planned execution by lethal injection this Wednesday in Terre Haute, Indiana of 38-year-old Navajo man Lezmond Mitchell.

Mitchell is to be executed for the 2003 murders of Alyce Slim, 63, and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Lee, in what would be the fourth federal execution to take place this summer after a 17-year hiatus of that punishment on federal level.

But as Mitchell’s legal team pointed out, under the terms of the Federal Death Penalty Act, for crimes such as Mitchell’s – committed by a Native American against Native Americans on Native American land – the Department of Justice must receive tribal approval before seeking the death penalty.

But in this case, Mitchell’s lawyers said authorities “exploited a legal loophole” and sought the death penalty for the man for the federal crime of carjacking.

That was against the wishes of the local District Attorney’s Office, the victims’ family, the Navajo Nation, the National Congress of American Indians and hundreds of other Native American tribes and individuals, all of whom are opposed to Mitchell receiving the death penalty.

“The federal government’s planned execution of Mr. Mitchell violates the Navajo Nation’s cultural values, serves as a manifestation of the racial oppression inflicted upon Native Americans for centuries in the United States and devalues the sacred dignity of human life”, Vaillancourt Murphy deplored.

“What a travesty that the pleas to save Lezmond Mitchell’s life – from Catholics, people of good will, and his tribal community – have so far fallen on deaf ears”, the Catholic activist continued.

– “Another shameful chapter in our country’s terrible treatment of Native Americans”

The Catholic clamour to save Mitchell’s life has been constant and strong ever since authorities announced that they would resume the practice of federal executions.

On June 18, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis spoke out against the “very grave matter” of the resumption of federal executions, warning that “humanity cannot allow the violent act of an individual to cause other members of humanity to react in violence”.

Sr. Helen Prejean, a longtime anti-death penalty activist immortalised in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, tweeted in late July that Mitchell’s execution was “another shameful chapter in our country’s terrible treatment of Native Americans and constant disrespect for tribal sovereignty”.

Last week, Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico – who is leading an online prayer vigil for Mitchell August 26told CNA that prison instead of the death penalty should be “an opportunity for true contrition, true conversion of heart, and [an] opportunity to embrace Christ and the Gospel”.

“And whenever we do something like this, when we take a life, what we also do is we don’t provide that person the opportunity to repent. And everyone has to be given that opportunity”, Wall insisted.

Update 27/8 17:10 CEST:

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.