BRIDGEPORT — As the execution of serial killer Michael Ross looms, Bishop William E. Lori this weekend invites the 400,000 Roman Catholics of the Diocese of Bridgeport to sign a petition calling for an end to the death penalty.
“We are rightly troubled by the crimes of which Mr. Michael Ross has been convicted and by the irreparable harm done to his victims and their families,” Lori said in a letter to be read to parishioners at Masses on Saturday and Sunday. “However, such terrible crimes will not be redressed by killing the criminal, nor is there evidence the death penalty deters future heinous crimes.”
Similar letters will be read at services across the state in an effort to mobilize Connecticut’s estimated 1.2 million Roman Catholics against capital punishment.
The letter urges Roman Catholics to carefully consider the death penalty issue. On the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16 anti-death penalty petitions will be posted at church entrances.
Lori said highly publicized court cases raise serious doubts about the effectiveness of our criminal justice system in “detecting the true source and nature of such crimes and in protecting the legitimate human rights and dignity of those accused of committing them.”
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Archbishop of Hartford Henry J. Mansell, who also will exhort parishioners, expressed concern about inequities in the judicial process, in which those most often sentenced to death are poor and minority.
The petition, prepared by the Connecticut Catholic Conference, an organization of state bishops, and the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, will be presented to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and lawmakers.
On Dec. 6, Rell said she would not grant a reprieve to Ross, who is scheduled to die Jan. 26.
Rell spokesman Dennis Schain said Thursday that the governor respects the position of the church on this issue and understands that people have various positions on capital punishment.
“However, the governor has expressed her opinion and will not use the power of her office to grant a temporary reprieve,” Schain said.
Ross, 45, could become the first inmate killed by the state since 1960. He admitted killing four women in Connecticut and four in New York.
Ross has indicated he wants to be executed.
Marie Hilliard, CCC executive director, said the efforts against the death penalty are not a new initiative for the bishops. However, she added, the issue becomes “even more timely” in light of Ross’ pending execution.
The CCC will hold an ecumenical worship service Jan. 25 at St. Lawrence O’Toole Roman Catholic Church in Hartford.
The Rev. Walter Everett, pastor of United Methodist Church in Hartford, plans to speak at the vigil at St. Lawrence O’Toole. Everett’s son Scott was shot to death in Bridgeport in 1987 at the age of 24 by a young man who was high on cocaine.
Everett said he opposed the death penalty before his son’s murder and still does.
An inter-religious prayer vigil also will be held that night at Somers Congregational Church, about 5 miles from the prison where Ross is scheduled to be executed several hours later.
A number of religious leaders are planning to call for the abolition of the death penalty during a news conference next Wednesday at the state Capitol.
The Associated Press contributed to his report.