Deacon Volunteers Time With Death Row Inmates

Posted at 7:17 PM, Oct 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-10 20:32:09-04

When most death row inmates spend little time with the outside world, Deacon James Booth with the Catholic Diocese of Nashville has volunteered his time at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution for seven years.

The diocese calls him to minister and share biblical teachings to the men weekly. He finds the mood leading up to an execution difficult.

"The Catholic church rejects the death penalty under any circumstances. Capital punishment is directly an attack on human dignity and violates the standing of the human being as a creature made in the image of God," Booth said.

He hopes one day the death penalty will be taken out of Tennessee law and the United States but until then he said it's his calling to show compassion to all people.  

"Their crimes were committed when they were in their teens or early 20s. So when we as a society take it upon ourselves to execute somebody, we take upon ourselves a power which is uniquely God's," he said.

Death row inmate Edmund Zagorski's attorneys are fighting to change his execution to use the Electric Chair. The death row inmate asked that his execution method be changed but that request was denied by the Department of Corrections.

Booth finds the mood leading up to an execution difficult. 

"These are people who live together 24-7 in a very small community. So they get to know each other well. So the passing of the execution of one is felt by all," he said.

For the victims' families, Booth said the Catholic doctrine teaches about offering forgiveness in place of revenge.

"We share our prayers with them and our hope for their finding peace at the same time, we say that revenge is not a satisfactory Christian response and we know that's a very hard saying and difficult for people who have suffered these circumstances," he said.

A recent Pew Study found 53 percent of Catholics support the death penalty. Booth said he is not surprised although that is a dwindling number but it is still important to educate people about the Catholic teachings rather than worldly views.