A Time to Speak — Support for ending the death penalty is growing

Fr. Patrick Delahanty
Father Patrick Delahanty

By Father Patrick Delahanty

We are living in some exciting times for the campaign to end the death penalty in Kentucky. First of all, you can imagine the joy that swept over me as I stood outside on the lawn at the U. S. Capitol and listened to Pope Francis call again for the abolition of the death penalty.

His ringing endorsement of the work of those like the many Catholics in Kentucky working for repeal is an affirmation of our work. Pope Francis, as did his immediate predecessors, asks us to be “champions” of life willing to protect it from conception until natural death.

The Catholic witness on this issue has always been important in Kentucky and continues to be so. Since July, in all four dioceses, pro-life and social-concerns committee members of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky have been finding Catholic constituents willing to meet with state senators and state representatives to discuss repealing the death penalty in Kentucky. These meetings will continue.

So far reports to me as chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (KCADP) are heartening. At least one legislator has changed his position and is now willing to vote to repeal the death penalty and some other proponents are saying they have not shut the door and are open to more dialogue. This is healthy, respectful and a civil approach to changing public policy.

Catholic leadership in the Covington diocese led to the formation of the Northern Kentucky Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty. Part of a national movement among social, political and evangelical conservatives, this brings a new dimension to the work in Kentucky. Conservative voices like these announce that repealing the death penalty is not simply the work of one party, nor a partisan issue, but an issue about respect for human life that members of all parties are called to have.

Thomas More College in Covington recently hosted Sister Helen Prejean for an evening presentation. The pro-life and social concerns committee members of the Catholic Conference had approached the college to arrange for the event. In Lexington, members from these same two committees set up presentations at a parish and at Lexington Catholic High School. In the Archdiocese of Louisville, staff of the Merton Center worked to have
Sister Helen speak at Bellarmine University and engaged Interfaith Paths to Peace as an additional host. She also spoke at DeSales High School.

The series of articles published in the Courier-Journal on Sunday (Nov. 8) indicate how broad the support for abolition is becoming. Written by a former executioner and dean, a victim family member, a state representative and a leader of the group, Conservatives Concerned, the opposition to the use of the death penalty now spreads across the political spectrum.

Catholics are some of the leaders of this opposition. I hope readers will visit the Coalition’s website and sign up for the eNewsletter and the legislative alerts that KCADP distributes. KCADP posts a special video to its Facebook page each Thursday.

Many of these could be used in classrooms and religious education programs. These reflections by Kentuckians — murder victim family members, family members of those on death row, Kentuckians all over the state — often speak of forgiveness and other values that mirror our beliefs about human life and dignity.

After viewing these, you can help ensure others see them by clicking on the “like” button and sharing them with your own Facebook friends.

Kentucky has executed three men in 40 years; 60 percent of the death sentences imposed have been struck down by the courts; we have not executed anyone in seven years; only one death sentence has been imposed since 2010; and Kentucky is under court order not to proceed with any executions at this time.

What better time could there be for legislators to move ahead and repeal the death penalty? They will when they hear from readers who champion human life asking them to do so.

Father Patrick Delahanty is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish to Death Penalty.

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