The State of Texas (USA) has modified what has been the intended procedure so far for lethal injection executions: from now on, only security personnel will be present in the “death chamber” at the time of an execution, without any religious representative being allowed to assist the convicted person in his last moments.
This recent provision—made public on April 3, 2019 by Jeremy Desel, the director of communications of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—is not directed against the Catholic religion, even if it indirectly affects it, thereby demonstrating the limits of “American style” religious freedom.
Until now, Texas has allowed the presence of Christian or even Muslim chaplains in the “death chamber.” However, a prisoner under a sentence of capital punishment, who claims to be Buddhist, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States to have a Buddhist religious as his side in the death chamber.
The highest federal court ruled in favor of the detainee in a judgment of March 28, 2019. Texas was therefore faced with two possibilities: either ensure that any representative of any religion may accompany a convict to his or her last moment, or none. The State of Texas has chosen the latter option.
This is a sad decision that shows that in the country of “religious freedom,” the conversion of a prisoner condemned to death will not be possible. St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, who prayed for the conversion of the murderer Henri Pranzini, writes in her Manuscrits Autobiographiques: “The day after the execution I found the newspaper La Croix, I opened it eagerly and what did I see? Ah! my tears betrayed my emotion and I was obliged to hide. Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in Heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!...”