GLASGOW, Scotland, AUG. 25, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Glasgow is lauding his country’s show of compassion in the recent release of a Libyan prisoner suspected of causing a plane explosion that killed 270 people.
In a statement released Monday, Archbishop Mario Conti affirmed, “I personally, and many others in the Catholic community admired the decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on grounds of compassion which is, after all, one of the principles inscribed on the mace of the Scottish parliament by which Scotland’s government should operate.”
The prisoner was convicted of participating in a 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, though he maintained his innocence of this crime.
The 57-year-old Libyan was given a life sentence in 2001, but was released last Thursday on grounds of compassion due to the fact that he is dying of prostrate cancer, and has only a few months to live.
Archbishop Conti stated: “The showing of mercy in any situation is not a sign of weakness. Indeed in this situation, with the pressures and circumstances of the case, it seemed to me a sign of manifest strength.”
He continued, “Despite contrary voices I believe it is a decision which will be a source of satisfaction for many Scots and one which will be respected in the international community.”
Controversy arose when Megrahi was greeted by hundreds of people waving flags and celebrating his return to Tripoli, the capital of Libya.
As the majority of the victims were American, the U.S. authorities protested this public show of acclaim for a convicted criminal, and spoke out against the release of Megrahi.
A letter to the Scottish authorities from Robert Mueller, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, stated that this act “makes a mockery of the rule of law” and “gives comfort to terrorists around the world.”
On Monday, Scotland’s parliament called an emergency session to question the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, about his decision to release the Libyan.
Although accused of economic or diplomatic motivations, MacAskill asserted that he acted only out of compassion, and felt “bound by Scottish values to release him.”
He explained that he had asked Libyan authorities to give the ex-prisoner a “low-key and sensitive” reception, in light of the possibility of offending the families of the victims.
Although many of these families also protested the decision, some applauded it.
Archbishop Conti stated, “I have been impressed by the expressions of understanding and insight from Dr. Jim Swire and other relatives who lost loved ones on the Pan Am flight, who have acknowledged both the rightness of the gesture of compassion and their doubts as to the safety of the original conviction.”
Swire lost his 23-year-old daughter, Flora, in the plane explosion. Acknowledging his Christian faith, he stated the hope that “even if I was convinced that Megrahi was guilty, my Christian compassion and forgiveness would extend to wanting to see him die with his family around him in Libya.”
Swire is convinced, however, that Megrahi is innocent. After 20 years of studying the intelligence surrounding the crime, and even visiting the suspect in prison, he gathered enough evidence to convince him that the Libyan is not responsible for Flora’s death.
Though he did not meet much support in the British authorities in his attempts to bring the truth to light, the leader of the Glasgow Diocese affirmed his work.
Archbishop Conti stated, “I would welcome any move which would try to find clearer answers as to what happened and why.”