BY ISN STAFF | December 5, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, delivered a petition to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, December 5 opposing the planned restart of federal executions. The petition was signed by nearly 3,000 U.S. Catholics, including signatures from prominent clergy and Church leaders such as Most Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Most Rev. William Justice, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, and Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J. Catholics join law enforcement officers, judges, victims’ family members, and more in speaking out against the government’s efforts to execute federal inmates.
On December 2, 2019, the U.S. Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to lift a preliminary injunction on federal executions after a 16-year hiatus. The injunction has temporarily halted the federal executions scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.
“Catholics are profoundly concerned about the federal government’s wrong-headed move to restart executions,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of CMN. “Restarting federal executions would be an affront to the dignity of human life and contradictory to the clear and growing opposition that Americans have to capital punishment.”
A recent Gallup poll shows that a higher percentage of Americans now say they oppose capital punishment than at any other time in the modern history of the U.S. death penalty.
The Catholic Church’s opposition to capital punishment is well-established. St. John Paul II, during a 1999 visit to St. Louis, Missouri, stated in a homily that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.”
Nearly 20 years later, in August 2018, Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to call capital punishment “inadmissible” in all cases “because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (CCC 2267).
In October, three prominent Catholic bishops—Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice and former Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Chairman of that Committee, and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, D.C., who has written and spoken extensively on life issues including the death penalty—addressed the Church’s opposition to capital punishment in a live-broadcasted roundtable discussion.
Bishop Dewane called the federal government’s move to restart executions “a real burden that we all have to face, acknowledge, and to do our best to turn around.”
Similar statements have been released by the Indiana Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Sisters of Providence, and the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in direct response to the planned restart of federal executions.
While the Catholic stance on the death penalty stems from its pro-life commitment, Catholics also recognize that the federal death penalty is riddled with the same issues found at the state level, including racial bias, arbitrariness, and innocence, and the targeting of vulnerable and at-risk populations such as those living in poverty and those who experience severe mental illness, intellectual disability, and brain damage.