Bishops among first signatories to pledge to end death penalty

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — Bishops attending a meeting were among the first to sign the
National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters
building May 9.

person taking the pledge promises to educate, advocate and pray for an end to
capital punishment.

Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to fight not only for
the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its
forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the
human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom,” Pope Francis has
said. This quotation kicks off the pledge.

The pledge
drive is organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

death penalty represents a failure of our society to fulfill the demands of
human dignity, as evidenced by the 159 people and counting who have been
exonerated due to their innocence since 1973,” the organization says on
the pledge sheet following space for someone’s signature.

from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the network added, “The death
penalty is not needed to maintain public safety, punishment must ‘correspond to
the concrete conditions of the common good and (be) more in conformity to the
dignity of the human person.'”

After capital
punishment was halted nationwide briefly in the 1970s, more than 1,400 people
have been executed since it resumed 40 years ago, according to the Catholic
Mobilizing Network. “The prolonged nature of the death penalty process can
perpetuate the trauma for victims’ families and prevents the opportunity for
healing and reconciliation called for in the message of Jesus Christ.”

idea for the pledge campaign took root in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network
executive director Karen Clifton in an interview with Catholic News Service,
but Arkansas’ bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in
April — four were ultimately put to death — “exacerbated the situation and
showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why
the system is so broken,” she said.

for crime are “supposed to be retributive, but also restorative. The death
penalty is definitely not restorative,” Clifton said. Those on death row are
not the worst of the worst, they’re the least — the marginalized, the poor,
those with improper (legal) counsel,” she added.

Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on
Domestic Justice and Human Development, said he and his fellow bishops have
voiced their views strongly with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where capital
punishment is legal and where prisoners have been executed.

Dewane, in recalling Pope John Paul II’s successful personal appeal to the
governor of Missouri to spare a death-row inmate’s life during the pope’s visit
to St. Louis in 1999, said the episode offers hope. “It’s a great
example,” he added. “You never know how your words will be taken, or

Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who was one of a number of bishops who
signed the pledge following a daylong meeting May 9 at the U.S. bishops’
headquarters building in Washington, said the church’s ministry to prisoners is
another source of hope. “It’s the ministry of companionship that’s so important,”
he noted.

Soto said the ministry of accompaniment is also necessary to the victims of
crime. He recalled an instance when a priest of his diocese, who was expected
to attend a meeting of priests, had to bow out “because he had to bury
someone who had been killed by violence in his neighborhood. … We are not
recognizing that the futility of the death penalty system.”

Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, told
CNS that networking is a key tool in the toolbox in spreading information
opposing the death penalty. CMSM, he said, has a person on staff to monitor
issues surrounding justice and peace, and has consistently communicated capital
punishment information to CMSM members.

Pavlik said he takes inspiration from an Ohio woman whose child was murdered
decades ago. The killer was arrested, tried and convicted on a charge of
capital murder, “and she has spent the last 25 years advocating against
the execution of this man.” The priest also voiced his distaste at the
“disregard for life” shown in Arkansas, which he said had tried to
execute eight death-row prisoners in such a short time because “the drug
(used in the fatal injection) was going to expire.”

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