WASHINGTON – Pope John Paul II has asked President Bush to spare the life of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who is scheduled to be executed on May 16.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that a letter from John Paul requesting clemency was received this week. She would not reveal the details of the letter.
Legal scholars said it appeared Bush had no way to intervene in the execution even if he were inclined to.
McVeigh allowed a Feb. 16 deadline to pass without filing a request for clemency. After that the execution date was set. Under federal rules, McVeigh had one month after his execution date was set to ask the president for consideration.
Buchan said Bush believes McVeigh has been treated fairly.
"The president has great respect for the pope and this is a tragic situation. The president also has deep compassion and sympathy for the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and their families," Buchan said.
"While a clemency decision is not before the president, as governor of Texas, he asked two questions ...: one, was there any doubt about the guilt or innocence of the person? and two, did they have full access to the judicial system? In this instance, there is no doubt and Mr. McVeigh has had full access to the courts."
Catholic officials here and in Vatican City did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.
McVeigh, 33, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Ind., for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The blast killed 168 people, 19 of them children.
John Paul regularly asks for clemency for death row inmates whose time is running out. In speeches, he has made several pronouncements against the death penalty.
"I hope still that we reach the point where capital punishment is renounced, given that nations today have other means of efficiently repressing crime without definitely taking away the possibility of self-redemption," he said in a recent speech.
Until recently, McVeigh had not admitted his involvement in the bombing or explained his reasons for doing it. But in a book about the attack written by two reporters who interviewed him, McVeigh admitted that he was the mastermind.
Paul Howell, whose 27-year-old daughter Karan Howell Shepherd died in the explosion, said the clemency request should be respectfully discarded.
"I've been in the military near all my life and seen enough death and hurt to last me for the rest of my life," said Howell, who will be among those witnessing McVeigh's execution.
"But McVeigh in all the doggone six years has never tried to say `I'm sorry' or show any remorse. He's made derogatory comments like children being collateral damage. I want to see this man go for that simple reason."
Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter, Ashley Eckles, and in-laws Luther and LaRue Treanor, was also against the request.
"Let me ask the pope, where's my clemency? When do I get any clemency? When does my family get some clemency?" Treanor asked. "When the pope can answer that, we can talk."
Catholic leaders released statements echoing the pope's request.
"Our faith challenges us to transcend a personal desire for revenge," said Stephen Glodek, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. "Afterall, if an unrepentant Timothy McVeigh does not deserve the death penalty, who does? Yet our spiritual conviction remains that state-sanctioned execution is immoral."