The campaign to abolish the death penalty in the United States has been picking up pace as of late, and last week the American Catholic Church stepped even more definitively into the mix when the editors of four prominent Catholic journals made a combined statement that it was time for the US Catholic community and people of faith to actively speak out for the abolition of the death penalty.
The statement was published to each of the journals’ websites—America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor. It summarized the recent developments in the larger anti-death penalty movement and the Church’s response, showing how their own statement is a clear product of the Church’s position and has been a long-time coming.
The editors touched on the major reasons why they support this position. One is the Vatican and the US Bishops’ increasingly vocal stance on it—Pope Francis recently made a definitive announcement that Catholics ought to “fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.” Another is the need for the Church to authentically commit to its pro-life mission. Another topic is the senselessness of American society’s attitudes surrounding capital punishment, such as some states’ desire to make the process “humane,” or others’ to protect the rights of crime victims, when the real issue is that deliberate murder carried out by any body is inherently inhumane, or that killing to show that killing is wrong does not heal any harm already done.
These editors’ statement is yet another call for American Catholics to stand behind the anti-death penalty movement. As the anti-death penalty movement gains momentum, now is the time for Catholic communities to turn their passion to assert the dignity of life into concrete action. As an influential Catholic community, the Notre Dame community must model its commitment to its pro-life mission and channel its energies towards abolishing the death penalty. Abolishing the death penalty would be a major step in building an authentic culture of life in the US, and momentum from this campaign could then be channeled to advance the anti-abortion movement.
In the next few weeks, two talks are being given by major figures in the anti-death penalty movement. Vicki Scheiber will deliver one on Tuesday, March 24 from 2-4 p.m. in McKenna Hall. She is a mother of a murder victim who represents the position that additional violence is not the way for a victim or a society to heal from violent crime. Sister Helen Prejean, who is famous for having been portrayed in the film Dead Man Walking, which was based off of her popular book of the same title, will deliver the other. Sister Helen received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 1996 for her work. She is one of the major voices within the American Church calling for the end of capital punishment and she will be speaking at the South Bend Catholic Worker on March 31 at 7 p.m.
These talks are more than just educational opportunities—they are opportunities to gather and prepare for action so the Notre Dame community can rally around this incredibly important pro-life issue.
Kathleen Kollman is a sophomore studying theology and international peace studies.