By Sr. Alice Gerdeman, CDP
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Brothers and Sisters All*, is to all people across the world and not just us in the United States. Everyone needs a challenge and everyone will find many in his spiritual reflections and vision of a world caught up in love and a social system that “puts human dignity back at the center and on that pillar builds the alternative social structures we need.” This is a call for the entire world to be about. Among the many social ills Pope Francis points out there are “ two extreme situations” in our world to give special consideration. At one time people may have thought they were ways to resolve major problems but actually they destroy the fabric of countries and the world. These are War and the Death Penalty. The special section in the letter hits very close to home on this World Day Against the Death Penalty.
Actually 105 of the 195 countries of the world don’t have the death penalty and more have it on the books but don’t use it. Only 34 countries execute and the United States in one of them. Many people across the globe can hardly believe it of us. I vividly remember encountering one of our sisters while visiting our congregation’s motherhouse in France 25 years ago. She came up to me and said, “You know that your country still executes people.” When I nodded “Yes,” she said, “It’s barbaric.” She is right. But it’s not all of us. 22 states have abolished. 3 more have a moratorium on executions. But 25 states, including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are death penalty states. Pope Francis’s gives us a strong admonition and we know he is correct. Execution is morally wrong. It corrupts our moral fabric. We must work for its abolition. That’s not just a good idea or a suggestion. It is a commitment that we, as people of good will, need to make. We know everyone has innate dignity. We are sacred in God’s eyes. There is no exception to this.
Pope Francis’ encyclical and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s excellent article gives us much to think about, pray about. We are not starting from scratch in the work for abolition. Progress has been made and there are groups like IJPC that made the commitment to abolish the death penalty years ago. This World Day Against the Death Penalty and the new religious document is an opportunity to be recharged with the momentum of the Spirit. That is a gift! Do we accept?
*The section on the death penalty begins at #263