Catholics called to help abolish the death penalty

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Cathy Jarboe of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
Cathy Jarboe of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and other officials called on local Catholics last week to become more involved in efforts to end the use of the death penalty.

About 80 people attended five presentations offered in Bardstown, Elizabethtown and Louisville on April 16 and 17.

Cathy Jarboe of the Catholic Mobilizing Network was the main presenter and Father Patrick Delahanty, chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, also addressed participants.

“I’m here because the death penalty is a pro-life issue,” Jarboe noted during one of two presentations she gave at the Maloney Center in Louisville April 17. “Not all persons are innocent, but all persons are sacred.”

“In every state where the death penalty has been abolished, Catholics have been at the forefront,” she said, noting that Maryland is the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment. “You’re part of a growing movement.”

During her presentation, Jarboe guided participants in a careful reading of the latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2265 to 2267, which define the church’s teachings on the subject.

The catechism explains that the death penalty may be used when it’s the only way to safeguard society from a guilty party whose identity and responsibility are fully determined. It concludes, however, that with the resources available today such circumstances “ ‘are very rare if not practically non-existent.’ ”

The last line quotes Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life.

Jarboe also offered tips for talking about the death penalty with others, including those who aren’t Catholic. Among those talking points were a host of statistics that she said point to an unjust and unevenly applied use of the death penalty across the nation.

Those statistics and other free resources, including lesson plans, are available on the Catholic Mobilizing Network website,

The Catholic Mobilizing Network is a ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph (of which Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean is a member). The organization works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), she said.

Archbishop Kurtz, the USCCB vice president, spoke during the afternoon program at the Maloney Center and opened by saying plainly, “I’m against the use of the death penalty.”

He said there’s a need for “thoughtful conversation to bring people to understand that the taking of a life, innocent or otherwise, will only beget more violence.”

The archbishop said that he’s explained his views to two Kentucky governors.

He’s opposed to capital punishment, not simply because executions take a life, including ones later proven to be innocent, he noted.

“The reason I stand against the death penalty is because I’m aware that violence will only beget more violence,” he said. “And also the awareness that a culture of death is fed by violence.”

He also noted that execution takes away a person’s opportunity for redemption. And he said that the state-sponsored killing has an effect on the public.

“You and I cultivate in our own lives a sense of error when we take a life, innocent or otherwise,” he said.

The effect the death penalty has on the public is an important one, said Father Delahanty, another speaker during that April 17 program. Father Delahanty is the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) and chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (KCADP).

“The killer is not the issue here,” he noted. “Everyone of those crimes (that are eligible for a death sentence) is horrible because somebody died. The issue here is our behavior.  We’ve already determined that to kill someone is wrong.”

More and more people are beginning to recognize this error, Father Delahanty said, noting that a growing number of Kentucky legislators — both Republican and Democrat — have said during confidential meetings they would vote to abolish the death penalty.

“There will be a time in the not-too-distant-future when Kentucky will have an opportunity to abolish the death penalty,” he said.

And Catholics need to be ready, he added.

Father Delahanty urged Catholics to sign up to receive email alerts — from both the CCK and the KCADP — so they can get updates about proposed legislation or other important actions.

He also asked for people to pray about the issue, write letters to the editor, volunteer with the KCADP during the Kentucky State Fair, meet with legislators, organize vigils and talk to their peers about the issue.

He also asked for donations to the KCADP, which he said is hiring a new staff person to help organize the coalition around the state.

For more information, contact the KCADP at or call Sharon Schuhmann, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s pro-life coordinator, at 636-0296.

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