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Newsom leaves the Vatican with pope's praise for refusing to impose the death penalty

Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In an opulent hall in the Apostolic Palace framed in marble and adorned with Renaissance murals, Gov. Gavin Newsom waited in a line of governors, mayors and scientists for an opportunity to greet Pope Francis.

The queue wasn't the ideal setup envisioned by the governor's advisers. Newsom traveled more than 6,000 miles from California to the Vatican to give a speech before — and hopefully talk with — the pope about climate change.

Pope Francis, however, had other topics on his mind besides the warming planet.

"I was struck by how he immediately brought up the issue of the death penalty and how proud he was of the work we're doing in California," Newsom said afterward. "I was struck by that because I wasn't anticipating that, especially in the context of this convening."

The talk was brief and informal. But the politically astute head of the Roman Catholic Church still took advantage of the moment to support one of Newsom's most controversial actions as governor.

Through executive order two months after his inauguration, Newsom issued a temporary moratorium on the death penalty and ordered the dismantling of the state's execution chambers at San Quentin State Prison. Families of murder victims criticized the decision, and legal scholars called it an abuse of power.

 

Newsom's refusal to impose the death penalty could hurt him politically if he runs for president.

As a Catholic, however, the governor's decree is in line with the church and the pope's teachings.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after he left the Vatican, Newsom said he has yet to propose a statewide ballot measure to abolish the death penalty because he doesn't have confidence that it would pass. California voters rejected measures to ban executions in 2012 and 2016.

Newsom said recent polls conducted by his political advisers show soft support for a ban.

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