WASHINGTON — Fresh off a month of advocacy in union with Pope Francis’ September prayer intention for death penalty abolition, the US-based Catholic Mobilizing Network is conducting a novena for the same.
The nine-day prayer sequence began on Saturday, October 1, and coincides with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual commemoration of Respect Life Month.
“Capital punishment is an often-overlooked ‘life issue’ for Catholics, but it remains a direct threat to human dignity,” the organization said in a statement released on September 28.
“This October is an important moment to answer the invitation to action, and to carry our death penalty abolition prayers into Respect Life Month.”
CMN has provided a digital guide for each day of the novena, beginning with Saturday’s invocation on behalf of those individuals who have been executed, and a prayer on Sunday for victims of violence and their families.
Each day ends with an invitation to pray specifically with the Holy Father, who has remained outspoken on the issue of capital punishment since rendering it “inadmissible” via the Catechism in 2018. He later reiterated his stance in his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, calling the practice a “false answer” that serves to “introduce new elements of destruction in the fabric of national and global society.”
“There can be no stepping back from this position.”
Nevertheless, the issue of capital punishment has remained fraught in some Catholic circles within the US—where it remains legal in most states and many conservative Catholic politicians continue to support its use.
While the federal use of the death penalty has been on an indefinite moratorium under the nation’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden, four of the 10 state-level executions so far in 2022 have been carried out under a Catholic governor (including two each in Texas under Greg Abbott and in Arizona under Doug Ducey).
Three more state-sponsored killings are scheduled through the end of the year in Texas, while 5 others are set to take place in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Even so, while Sunday, October 2 marks Respect Life Sunday, the USCCB’s proposed document for homily considerations—to assist ministers in focusing on “the Church’s teachings on human life”—focuses solely on the issue of abortion. USCCB pro-life chairman Archbishop William Lori’s 2022 statement for Respect Life Month likewise makes no mention of the death penalty.
Presenting an alternative pro-life vision, CMN was founded in January 2009 by Karen Clifton and produces restorative justice resources from a Catholic perspective, regularly organizing online petitions against upcoming executions and livestreaming a monthly First Friday Prayer Vigil with clergy, other Church leaders, and activists.
Using “the powerful lens of prayer,” the organization says its goal this month is to invite Catholics to recognize the annual commemorations to protect life and “pray for all of those who are affected by capital punishment in fervent hope that this death-dealing practice will soon be no more.”
“World Day Against the Death Penalty is situated providentially in the midst of Respect Life Month, a U.S.-based dedication to efforts that uplift the dignity of life,” they said.
The WDAP, first organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, has been recognized annually since 2003. It was last commemorated officially by the US bishops in 2019, by means of a roundtable discussion with Catholic News Service featuring former USCCB president Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington.
Gregory is slated to receive one of CMN’s Justice Reimagined Awards this month at the Vatican embassy, and the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development is among the event sponsors.
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).