July 1, 2016
By Joyce Rothermel

Catholic social teaching offers a unique perspective on crime and punishment. It starts with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victims and offenders. It affirms a Catholic commitment to comfort and support victims and their families, while acknowledging the God-given dignity of every human life, even those who do enormous harm. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church, along with many other faith traditions, opposes the death penalty and its use in state sanctioned killing. This teaching is rooted in the belief that all life is a gift from God.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty has launched “Seeking Justice in the Year of Mercy: A Campaign to End the Death Penalty”. Pope Francis has named 2016 as a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The tradition of a Jubilee Year calls for designating a time for renewal and forgiveness. It is rooted in the Hebrew scripture. Every seven years, prisoners would be freed, slaves would be released, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifested. The Pope has appealed directly to Catholic public officials, “to make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.” Pope Francis said, “Mercy is not opposed to justice, but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner; offering him/her a new chance to look at him/herself, convert and believe.” Justice must always recognize the dignity of the human person and the redemptive power of God’s mercy to work in the lives of offenders.

Joining with the Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (PADP), the Catholic Mobilizing Network is seeking participation in this year’s Campaign to End the Death Penalty. The current moratorium on the death penalty established by Gov. Tom Wolf creates a unique opportunity to raise the voice of Pennsylvania Catholics in opposition to the death penalty through education and by organizing Catholics to go beyond the moratorium, and end capital punishment in Pennsylvania permanently. Writing in support of the Governor’s announcement, the Pennsylvania Catholic conference notes, “The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”

Officials from the PADP have provided us with a toolkit guide to incorporating abolition of the death penalty into our prayer life, education and social justice events this year. It includes ideas, printable resources, and ways to advocate. We are also fortunate to have a local interfaith chapter of PADP in Pittsburgh.

What can you do?

  • Pray for victims of crime and their families, those who have been wrongly convicted, and those awaiting execution.
  • Learn about Catholic social teaching or that of other faith traditions, U.S. criminal justice policies, and the policies in your state.
  • Educate people in your faith congregation or community about Catholic social teaching or that of your faith tradition and the criminal justice system. Statements on the death penalty by church officials can be found at: usccb.org/deathpenalty
  • Advocate by contacting your elected officials. Discuss Catholic teaching on the death penalty, or that of your own faith tradition, and what steps can be taken at the state and national levels to curtail or end its use.

To take action locally or obtain a toolkit, contact Joyce Rothermel at 412-271-8414/ rothermeljoyce@gmail.com or Martha Conley at 412-361-7872/marcon71@msn.com


Joyce Rothermel chairs the Social Justice and Peace Committee at St. James Church in Wilkinsburg.