“I trust God”: before execution, man receives last communion from a deacon


Robert Moormann, who killed his mother and chopped her into pieces during a compassionate leave from prison 28 years ago, was put to death Wednesday morning by lethal injection.

Moments before the lethal injection began, Moormann smiled at the witnesses assembled behind glass nearby. In his last words, he apologized to his family and to his victim in a 1972 abduction and rape.

“I hope that this will bring closure and they can start the healing now,” he said. “And I just hope they will forgive me in time.”

It was the first Arizona execution carried out with a single drug instead of a three-drug cocktail. But result was the same. Execution started at 10:23 and ended at 10:33, roughly the same amount of time that the execution with the three-drug protocol took. Moormann died with a peaceful look on his face.

Moormann’s execution at Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence came after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court denied last minute requests for a stay late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

Prison officials fulfilled Moormann’s Tuesday night request for a last meal consisting of a hamburger, fries, two beef burritos, three RC Colas and rocky road ice cream.

Wednesday morning, Moormann met with a Catholic deacon, telling him he was “ready to go home” and that he hoped there would be healing after his execution. According to prison officials, he prayed, took communion and said, “I trust God.”

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  1. is there any reason why deacons can’t hear confessions? it doesn’t seem like this guy confessed sacramentally at the end.

  2. Fiergenholt says:


    Yes, there is but I’ll let one of the deacons explain that.

    My comment goes back to “Right-to-Life” Sunday January 21/22. At our local parish, the priest/pastor did the homily and he did not speak about abortion at all except to say that next year — in 2013 — he is taking a bus load of high school students to the March in Washington DC. Instead he spent 85% of his message talking about his own ministry on Death Row as a Chaplain. It was a power message and I’m glad he did it — but it sure did surprise a lot of folks in our parish.

  3. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    There’s no evidence that he did — or that he didn’t. He may have been to confession earlier in the day. Dunno.

    Confession — like anointing of the sick — is not one of the sacraments a deacon can celebrate.

    However, I get people all the time asking me if I can hear their confession. “Sure,” I tell them cheerfully. “I can’t give absolution, though.”

  4. This man had been sleeping with his stepmother for decades?? He was 34 when he murdered her, which meant that he was a child when they started having sex. God alone knows what evil she unleashed when she started raping her child, but it seems to have come to its malignant full-flower in that motel room.

    The poor guy never had a chance.

  5. I agree. That face is a mixture of evil and pain.

  6. ron chandonia says:

    From visits to Death Row, I’d say that “mixture of evil and pain” is common. No question that almost all of the men have been badly damaged by a life’s journey that none of us would care to undergo, yet most of them also acknowledge responsibility for the violent acts that put them in line for execution.

    In the wake of the Troy Davis case here in Georgia, it is obvious that Catholics here have not been vocal enough in calling for an end to the death penalty. We are preparing now for a new initiative to promote the teachings of the Church on the issue. In the build-up to that, I discovered that the brother of our late Atlanta Archbishop James Lyke (d. 1992) was a murder victim. At his funeral, the bishop preached a powerful homily of forgiveness for his brother’s killers; a selection from it is still available on the USCCB site:


  7. Deacon Norb says:


    I agree with Deacon Greg and probably could not have said it better. No, we have no idea whether he was absolved earlier or not but the deacon would not have been able to do it.

    I know a LOT of deacons who work in prison ministry but I do not work in that ministry myself. I did do a “prison ministry orientation” once and went behind the wire for about three hours. Glad I did it — it was a genuine awakening experience for me — but have no desire — and probably no “call” — to do it as a pastoral assignment.

    None of the deacons I know who are in prison ministry, however, are EVER assigned to Death Row for just that reason — they cannot absolve sins in the name of the Church

  8. Not a big fan of capital punishment here (though not for the usually cited reasons). But I am glad he seems to have gotten right with God before the end.

    May God have mercy on him and his victims.

  9. May Mr. Moormann finally find peace in God.

    I hope, also, that there was a good representation of Catholics — including maybe a few bishops — outside the prison protesting this effort by the state to stop a beating human heart: an obvious contribution to the culture of death that John Paul II rightfully decried.

  10. Steve, the Catholic Church has not been against capital punishment for the majority of its existence. Historically, Pope’s have had prisoners executed on Vatican grounds. The Vatican even had it’s own executioner.

    1) Saint Ambrose encouraged members of the clergy to pronounce and even carry out capital punishment. Saint Thomas Moore even agreed that the state had the right to capital punishment.
    2) Pope Innocent III required Peter Waldo and the Waldensians to accept that “secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgement of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation” as a prerequisite for reconciliation with the church.
    3) The Lateran Treaty of 1929 copied from the contemporaneous Italian legal code (concerning attempted assassinations of the King of Italy), providing for capital punishment for anyone who attempted to assassinate the pope within Vatican City. It was not until 1969 that rule was removed by Pope Paul VI.
    4) The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.
    5) In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches.
    6) The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty.

    and finally….

    “The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the “Consistent Ethic of Life” at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the “classical position” that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment. “

  11. ron chandonia says:

    On your point #1, can you provide a citation for your statement that St. Ambrose encouraged members of the clergy to carry out capital punishment?

  12. Clare Krishan says:

    Its so easy to be tough on crime but let’s make sure its the law of the land and not the retribution of ignorant sentimentalists (the detective interviewed in the news clip is of the opinion we’re owed “an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth” overlooking that Jesus Christ has already paid with His body blood soul and divinity — or he’s functionally a muslim, like so many evangelical Arians, who forget the divinity part of the atonement for our sins, tend to be) for to follow that route, what equivalent would a sex-abuse victim have as their due, in a judicial system designed to tally only his delicts, not their own? Incorrigible uncontested neglect, malformation and alienation of a vulnerable dependent’s physical, mental, spiritual and autonomy resulting in the mob lynching of the VICTIM? Well, I certainly would not be so quick to call that JUSTICE and hold my head high to him who gave me the powers to judge so abjectly unjustly with impunity. Pray for the hearts and minds of those who still harbor a utilitarian preference for capital punishment, for ‘as you judge so will you be judged’… is the measure meted out at the Pearly Gates.

  13. Clare Krishan says:

    its St. Thomas More not Moore.
    And there’s perfect illustration of why ultimately we’re not faultless enough to be able to exercise this sort of power over life and death. The prison was reprimanded for the umpteenth time for changing the protocol for the “induced” (the journalist reporter’s term not mine) delivery. Why? The were too lazy to check the pharmaceutical expiration date on the 3-pt cocktail on the legally-approved items, and oops, So Sorry please accept out apologies, we’ll use the technique the defense asked for all along since we can’t get the other stuff (no one in the world wants to make a profit manufacturing it)… the rest of the world is watching and American is not looking too good, let me tell you…

  14. George:
    A counter to your comment:
    “Saint Ambrose encouraged members of the clergy to pronounce and even carry out capital punishment.”

    In his encyclical, “Gospel of Life” Pope John Paul II quoted St. Ambrose:

    “…God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, “put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him” (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel’s death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. As Saint Ambrose writes: “God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide’.”

  15. George, I am sorry that you have chosen to defend the culture of death. I am sorry, further, that you seem to gloat about the fact that popes (unspecified popes) have evidently contributed to that culture of death.

    Let us remember that many bad, bad things have happened in the church, and much of it has been defended or perpetrated by people in power. We can easily remember that Cardinal Law did some awful things in Boston, by helping to cover up the tracks of abuser-priests, and the late Cardinal Bevilacqua has been alleged — within the past week or so — to have ordered the destruction of evidence about exactly who were the abuser-priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. But I doubt we want to defend such behavior by saying, Hey, there’s been a lot of bad, sinful stuff that has helped devalue human life — let’s have more of that.

    I hope you will find it in your heart to pray for respect for all human life. And let’s also pray that our bishops will come to the forefront on this issue and help the U.S. as it begins to roll back that pastime that was at one time so popular — the state’s killing of a living human being, an act committed in all of our names. A culture of death indeed.

  16. Scott123 says:

    Steve, I think you don’t understand the point George is making.
    He has pointed out that the official teachings of the Church do not claim that capital punishment is immoral, to the contrary, they say that it is a legitimate option.
    This means that one can freely debate and advocate for or against capital punishment as a legitimate deterant for crime or as a legitimate way of expiating for one’s crimes.
    What one cannot do is say that capital punishment is immoral.
    Your example of Cardinal Bernardin’s pecadillos is beside the point completely.

  17. Amen Dr. Nadal.

  18. pagansister says:

    Guess knowing exactly when and how you will die might make you convert and hope that you might make heaven. He lived longer than his mother—who he saw fit to chop in little pieces, according to the article. I can’t say I’m sorry he paid the ultimate price.

  19. Scott: Thanks, but I actually DID understand what George was trying to say. I would suggest to you, however, that George is reading church history in a rather selective manner. Your argument (yours and George’s) reduces morality to only what was once considered acceptable at some time in the Church. St. Paul, for instance, writes about how slaves should obey their masters. The Holy Spirit has given more recent generations of Christians greater insight on this point, and the Church has evolved in its teaching: slavery is an evil institution; slaves do not have to just silently endure their enslavement. (Yes, I know — slavery in the ancient Roman Empire was not chiefly or primarily based on race. I get that. But the issue of slavery’s immorality is what I’m driving at.)

    As for the more particular point of someone like a pope (as yet unnamed by George or you) having prisoners executed on Vatican grounds: Since when have we accepted the notion that anything and everything(!) a pope has said or done is infallible? Sorry — not even the staunchest defenders of the 1870 doctrine of infallibility will line up behind that idea. There HAVE been popes who have done very bad things, very sinful things, sometimes in the name of God and the Church. If you’re not familiar with that legacy, you may want to read church history at greater length.

    Finally, as for your claim that “What one cannot do is say that capital punishment is immoral” — really? I’m not allowed to believe that capital punishment is immoral? Not under any circumstances? What basic tenet of Catholicism am I breaking if I argue that capital punishment is immoral? And did John Paul II not come mighty, mighty close to arguing just that — at least with regard to most developed societies, where civil authority is strong enough to keep the murderer safely detained for life? When John Paul (admittedly in a book that did not constitute infallible teaching) referred to the death penalty — the state killing a human being — as part of the culture of death, it certainly seemed to me to be suggesting that the death penalty is usually a very immoral act (at least in part because it helps diminish respect for all human life, not just the convict’s).

    Let’s hope we can all pray for an end to the culture of death. We don’t need to keep defending a system that kills human beings just because the political party one has jumped in with says it’s just fine, don’t sweat it, those people in prison don’t count much anymore; no, let’s just defend “innocent” human life, because there are some humans we want to kill in our so-called Christian society.

  20. Just a brief correction, Scott. You’ve referred to Cardinal Berardin’s supposed “pecadillos.” I believe you used the wrong cardinal’s name. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was at one time FALSELY accused of abuse, but his accusser recanted fully and Cardinal Berardin forgave him readily and celebrated Mass for the man. Cardinal Berardin was a very holy man, God rest his soul. (I highly recommend the book he wrote as he was dying, The Gift of Peace.)

  21. Steve,
    I think we would need to qualify the term “immoral” here. If you are suggesting that capital punishment is circumstantially immoral, while some might disagree, I think that would be an opinion that is within the bounds of the historic teaching of the catholic tradition. If on the other hand you are suggesting that death penalty is intrinsically immoral, that would be a serious overreach.

    It is undeniable that the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox) has historically taught that the death penalty is acceptable and in some circumstances even a moral imperative. John Paul II’s teaching that you keep throwing out comes very close to an overt reversal of the traditional teaching of the church affirmed by more Popes and saints than I care to start enumerating as well as those of the Eastern Churches.

    Further it would imply that God erred in the many passages of the Old Testament where He overtly and unambiguously declares certain offenses to be capital. Then there is the unhappy fact that nothing in the New Testament can be quoted as seriously suggesting that the death penalty was to be proscribed. Indeed Romans Chapter 13 pretty much affirms the contrary position.

    My own opposition to capital punishment is not moral but pragmatic. It is outrageously expensive, it is tying our legal system in knots, it takes decades to carry out, and the risk of executing innocent parties has been established beyond doubt. Further with the development of natural life sentences it is possible to neutralize offenders who might well be highly dangerous if they were ever released back into society.

    But is it intrinsically immoral? Not according to Scripture, the clear consensus of the saints and the consistent teaching of the Church for almost its entire history. My own view is that most of those on death row are probably eminently deserving of the sentence they sit under. My problem is the already mentioned shortcomings of our legal system.

    As for John Paull II, to the extent that anyone, Pope or not, proposes a doctrine that is both novel and inconsistent with the historic teaching of the Church, I would take a very deep breath before building on that foundation.

    “It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.”
    - Pope Innocent I, Epist. ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum

    “The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.”
    -Pope Innocent III

    “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

    In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8). ”
    -Catechism of the Council of Trent (Edited by St. Charles Boromeo and issued under the Imprimatur of Pope St. Pius V)

    “Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the state does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the enjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live.”
    -Pope Pius XII

  22. wineinthewater says:


    Actually, if you say that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral, then you are denying Catholic teaching. The Church firmly teaches that capital punishment *can* be just. In fact, Catholic teaching even includes the conditions that must be present for it to be just. But that means that it can also be unjust. The end result is that Catholic teaching holds that capital punishment is conditionally moral. As faithful Catholics, we can disagree about which conditions push capital punishment across the immorality line.

    Pope John Paul II actually did nothing to change that teaching. What he did was articulate that in our age and in our more developed countries, the conditions making capital punishment just had become so narrow as to be practically non-existent.

    And in the US, you don’t even need to get at the inherent morality of capital punishment to be able to clearly and loudly state that the US’s use of capital punishment is unjust. I don’t think any faithful Catholic can deny that the way that capital punishment is executed in this country fails to meet the standards set out in Catholic teaching (not even JPII’s more narrow articulation) for the just application of capital punishment.

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