Entitled “Dignity and the Death Penalty”, the virtual event is a rescheduling of an October event by the same name, at which Gregory was slated to appear but was prevented by a dental emergency. Filling in for him was Dr. Jeannine Marino, an official from the archdiocese.
Both events are collaborations between the Archdiocese of Washington and RENEW International, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that promotes Catholic small group ministry.
This week’s event is birthed from (and titled after) a RENEW resource developed in collaboration with Catholic Mobilizing Network, which focuses on death penalty abolition and restorative justice. It was released in 2020 and is based on the ministry of Prejean.
“In addition to sharing their own views of capital punishment, Cardinal Gregory and Sister Helen will talk about how Catholics can participate in civil discourse on this polarizing topic and how Catholics can take part in the movement to abolish the death penalty,” reads a description for the event.
Prejean is known globally for her advocacy against executions, including a bestselling 1993 book (and later film adaptation) covering her ministry with a death row inmate. She is based in New Orleans, the heart of a state known for repressive criminal justice policies—including a disproportionate use of the death penalty against African Americans.
Gregory, a former USCCB president based in the nation’s capital, has long been an outspoken voice among the bishops on ending the death penalty, and participated in an event with Prejean in 2018 when he was serving as archbishop of Atlanta.
Over the years, he has issued multiple statements condemning executions at the state and federal levels, and was published in America Magazine on the topic alongside two other bishops in December 2019—just ahead of the Trump administrations’ resumption of federal executions, which resulted in 13 killings over the following 13 months.
Though President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice head Merrick Garland has since halted federal executions indefinitely, the danger of a restart remains fresh as state-level executions proceed largely unfettered (with the heavily conservative—and Catholic—Supreme Court offering little resistance).
As such, tomorrow’s event with Gregory and Prejean aims to give a perspective founded in Catholic Social Teaching and Pope Francis’ 2018 decision to render the death penalty “inadmissible” in Church teaching.
The webinar will begin at 4pm ET and interested parties can register here.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).