Tennessee Catholic Bishops Support Bill that Prohibits Death Penalty of Severe Intellectual Disabilities 

The three Bishops of Tennessee, our Bishop David Talley, Memphis, Bishop Mark Spalding, Nashville, and Bishop Richard Stika, Knoxville, have expressed their support for two bills introduced in the state Legislature that would prohibit the use of the death penalty for those with severe intellectual disabilities. 

The Bishops recently wrote to State Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga and State Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville expressing their support for SB1349 and HB1062, which the two legislators are sponsoring. The bills are companion bills that will soon be considered on the floors of both the Senate and House of Representatives. The bills must pass in both the Senate and House before being sent to the governor to be signed into law.

“We write to let you know of our strong support as the Bishops of the Dioceses of Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville for your efforts to prohibit the application of the death penalty to defendants with severe intellectual disabilities,” their letter said. 

“As you may be aware, we have strongly opposed the application of the death penalty in all cases. Carrying out any execution fails to serve the cause of justice and bucks the national trend of states moving away from capital punishment,” they added in the letter. 

Nationally, more than 165 people have been released from death row after they were found innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. “Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person,” the bishops wrote in their letter. “Even when guilt is certain, execution is not necessary to protect society.”

Pope Francis and St. John Paul II have called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary. In their letter to the two legislators, the Tennessee bishops said that the death penalty “is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing 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 and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

The bishops thanked the legislators for their pro-life legislation, calling it a “step forward for the good of the people of Tennessee,” and noted that it “recognizes the dignity of the mentally disabled and blocks the application of the death penalty to those individuals, even when they have committed terrible crimes.

“We pray for the victims of crime and their families and friends that they might find peace and healing in God’s boundless love,” the bishops continued.


“We pray for the people of Tennessee, that through our elected government, we might turn to the path that respects and defends human life from its beginning at conception to its end at a natural death.” 

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