The following statement was issued by Bishop Richard F. Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville and Bishop J. Mark Spalding of the Diocese of Nashville at 5 p.m ET on Oct. 10, 2018:
Note: According to a report in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper, a federal appeals court on Wednesday night has granted a request to delay Zagorski’s execution.
We, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville, want to express our deepest sense of regret that the state of Tennessee appears ready to move ahead with the scheduled execution of Edmund Zagorski on Thursday.
Less than three months after the state carried out the death sentence of Billy Ray Irick, we are once again confronted with the profound ethical and moral implications of these decisions.
We recognize that the pain, suffering, and loss of life caused by Mr. Zagorski more than thirty years ago has negatively impacted many people, and we agree that the state has a right to expect punishment for those crimes.
However, we remain firmly opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases. Our stance on this is supported by the teaching of the Catholic Church and the pronouncements of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and most recently Pope Francis—who in August directed that the official Catechism of the Catholic Church assert that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Edmund Zagorski is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Oct. 11, and it now appears that the state plans to use the same three-drug protocol it used to carry out the death of Billy Ray Irick on Aug. 9. Eyewitnesses at Irick’s execution and medical professionals who have examined the case have ample reason to believe Irick’s death may have caused him torturous pain.
We appreciate the state Supreme Court’s review of this matter, and we are grateful for the time Gov. Haslam has afforded us to make our feelings known to him personally.
However, the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is simply not necessary when society has other means to protect itself and provide a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life.