Fr. George Horan, co-director of the Office of Restorative Justice for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a chaplain at LA County's Men's Central Jail, questioned the requirement that a chaplain report the details of conversations with the condemned.
"Chaplains are there to be a loving and compassionate presence for those in prison," explained Fr. Horan. "They are not trained physiologists or part of the prison staff able to evaluate how something revealed in a conversation might be pertinent to the execution."
He said that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has consistently recognized the confidentiality of discussions between inmates and chaplains (unless the chaplain learns of potential harm to staff, another inmate or the inmate themselves).
The new reporting requirement might assist prison staff in the execution procedure, but do allow for a free expression of religious concerns between the condemned and the chaplain.
In comments on the protocol, Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference wrote that "chaplains provide spiritual care, which is intended to address the religious needs of inmates, improve behavior and enhance public safety. The actions expected by these protocols are not consistent with that role."
In his testimony, Fr. Horan also pointed out that the old protocols called for counselors and psychologist to be available to help witnesses deal with the trauma many experience after watching an execution. Counseling was available for all except the family of the person executed.
"Those services should be provided for everyone, even if it just a matter of public safety," explained Fr. Horan. He told of one witness stopped by the Highway Patrol for driving 20 MPH on the freeway after watching an execution.
Fr. Horan explained that Catholic chaplains, in particular, take a holistic approach to their work. They understand that everything that happens in a person's life impacts his or her spirituality. They recognize that inmates have different faiths and try to bring resources to help explore that faith. Chaplains also handle difficult duties such as notifying a prisoner of a death in his or her family.
The public hearing is in response to a temporary halt on the use of the death penalty ordered by a San Jose Federal Court judge, who ruled that the old protocols may have constituted "cruel and unusual punishment".
An anti-death penalty march to the Capitol followed the hearing.