US Catholics speak out in opposition to restart of federal executions

Washington, DC - Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organisation working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, delivered a petition to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr today opposing the planned restart of federal executions. The petition was signed by nearly 3,000 US 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, CSJ. Catholics join law enforcement officers, judges, victims' family members, and more in speaking out against the government's efforts to execute federal inmates.

On 2 Decembe 2019, the US 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 US 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 (see: ) 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, DC 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 recognise 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.

CMN is a national organisation that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the US criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in US society to engage in restorative practices. CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and lives the Spirit of Unity of its sponsor, the Congregation of St Joseph. For more information see:

Tags: Death Penalty, Catholic Mobilizing Network, Trump, Sisters of Providence, Attorney General William Barr, Most Rev Joseph A Fiorenza, Most Rev William Justice, Sr Helen Prejean, CSJ

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