Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released its annual statement for Respect Life Month, their initiative which every October purports to honor life “from conception to natural death”.
However, despite the 5 unnatural deaths scheduled for the next month in the form of executions—including one today in Texas—the statement, from USCCB Pro-Life Chair Bishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, deals only with abortion.
“Like St. Joseph, we are also called to care for those God has entrusted to us–especially vulnerable mothers and children,” it reads, referencing the ongoing Year of St Joseph.
“We can follow in the footsteps of St. Joseph as protector by advocating against taxpayer-funded abortion, which targets the lives of millions of poor children and their mothers here in the United States.”
The bishops have ramped up their anti-abortion advocacy in recent months, in the wake of a controversial new Texas law that allows lawsuits against those procuring an abortion and those assisting them.
The measure, which went into effect September 1st, has spurred pro-abortion comments from President Joe Biden—including a new admission that he does not believe life begins at conception—and a new bill in Congress that would override the Texas law altogether.
Naumann released a statement on September 24th excoriating the proposed legislation, which passed the House that day but is almost certain to fail in the Senate, calling it “the most extreme pro-abortion bill our nation has ever seen.”
His committee has also put out statements this year on several other similar measures, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Build Back Better Plan; the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill; the Equal Right Amendment; the American Rescue Plan; and the Equality Act.
(The USCCB has claimed that all of the above bills will help fund abortion.)
Among the two dozen issuances currently listed on the Pro-Life Committee’s main webpage, none deal with capital punishment.
While the USCCB did release statements celebrating the moratorium on federal executions announced in July—co-authored by Naumann—and the repeal of the death penalty in Virginia in March, no direct advocacy against what the Catechism calls “inadmissible” has been seen from them since January.
Since then, five Americans have been killed by the state, including Lisa Montgomery the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953; three Black men in Corey Johnson (federal), Dustin Higgs (federal), and Quintin Jones (Texas); and John Hummel, a White Texan.
Three other Texas executions were stayed due to intellectual disability claims, and two others in that state were stayed earlier this month due to a legal claim that their pastors should be able to pray with them as they are killed.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, during a Q&A at a National Press Club luncheon on September 8th. argued that inmates should be able to pray with their ministers in the chamber—but also that capital punishment is “proven to be flawed”, targeting minorities and the poor, often killing innocent persons, and out of step with the current scientific research.
Meanwhile, over the past year Naumann has spearheaded the infamous effort within the USCCB to create a teaching document on the Eucharist, widely regarded as a rebuke to pro-choice Catholic politicians—especially Biden himself.
Gregory, Biden’s bishop, has repeatedly stated that he will not deny Communion to Biden for his dissenting stance, though he acknowledged at the NPC luncheon that Biden is “not demonstrating Catholic teaching”.
Yesterday in Rome, after taking possession of his titular church as a new cardinal, he also lamented the “divisions” currently ensnaring the USCCB, perhaps seen concretely in the all-but-partisan Respect Life statement issued today.
After tonight's, the next scheduled execution—of the mentally disabled Ernest Lee Johnson on October 5th—is in Naumann’s home state of Missouri.
Correction 9/28: A previous version of this story noted that the USCCB had remained silent on the case of John Ramirez, a Texas death row inmate whose execution was stayed this month due to his request for a pastor to pray with him during his execution. News broke this morning, however, that the USCCB has joined the Texas bishops' conference on an amicus brief in favor of Ramirez' request. We regret our unfortunate error.
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).