Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops wrote to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons Sept. 5 urging its members to recommend to Governor Tom Corbett a commutation of Terrance Williams’ sentence to life in prison, according to a statement by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. The bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in his column on CatholicPhilly.com, are encouraging concerned citizens to do the same.

Williams was convicted in 1986 of first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy for the robbing and beating death of Amos Norwood. Williams, now 46, is a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution at Greene. He has exhausted his appeals. The execution has been scheduled for Oct. 3.

The bishops are not questioning Williams’ competency or guilt. “We are not advocating that Mr. Williams go unpunished for the crimes for which he was convicted,” the bishops’ letter said. “However, the modern penal system provides alternatives to taking the lives of guilty persons, alternatives that break the cycle of violence in our society.”

They urge the board of pardons to “reflect and pray about the grave matter before it and that it affirm the culture of life.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that the government has a legitimate authority to protect society by punishing wrongdoers,” said Robert J. O’Hara Jr., executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. “In our modern society however, non-lethal means like life imprisonment are enough to defend and protect our safety.”

The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere to carry out an execution in 2011.

The five-member board of pardons is chaired by the lieutenant governor. A public hearing to consider Williams’ petition is set for Sept. 17 in Harrisburg.

Under state law, the board must be unanimous if it recommends that the governor commute Williams’ sentence from death to life imprisonment. The governor can choose to accept or reject the recommendation. If the board of pardons does not recommend a commutation, the governor can grant a temporary reprieve to spare Williams’ life.

The bishops have invited concerned citizens to add their voices to the call for the Board of Pardons to recommend a commutation of Williams’ sentence and “help break the cycle of violence that so plagues our society.” Citizens can send this message at www.pacatholic.org.