Catholic Church Fighting to End Death Penalty in Calif. at November Elections

The Roman Catholic Church is petitioning voters to support Proposition 34 in California - a bill seeking to end the death penalty in the state; arguing that "all human life is precious, even flawed life."

"There are both public policy reasons and moral reasons to pass Prop 34," Carol Hogan, Pastoral Projects and Communications Director of the California Catholic Conference, shared in an email with The Christian Post.

The Conference made their position on capital punishment clear in 2005 when they issued a statement titled "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death", where they highlighted two main points in opposition to the death penalty:

• The original intent of the death penalty was the protection of society from those who had killed a fellow human being. However, in modern times the state can incarcerate those convicted of a capital crime for the rest of their lives-with no chance they will ever rejoin society.
• The application of the penalty of death can be irreversibly wrong-as has been demonstrated by many condemned individuals who were later exonerated with DNA testing.

The death penalty is a controversial issue in America, which has switched back and forth between legalizing the punishment or sticking to life-long prison sentences. Thirty three states, including California, currently allow for capital punishment, and last year America was one of only 20 countries that carried out an execution. In terms of the number of executions it carries out on a yearly basis, the U.S. is only behind four countries - China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.

Issues such as abortion and gay marriage have made headline news more frequently in recent times, but Hogan insists that repealing capital punishment has not taken a backseat for the Church.

She highlighted that the last time California voters had a chance to express their wishes on the subject was back in the 1970s, when the death penalty became legal. A 2011 Gallup Poll showed that 61 percent of respondents in America still favored capital punishment – but that support has been steadily dropping for the past 20 years.

Hogan told CP: "The Catholic Church teaches us that all human life is sacred--even flawed life. If you study the entire panoply of Church teaching you will understand that it comes from tradition, revelation (scripture) and the wisdom of the Church fathers--all of which point us toward human thriving."

As for concentrated efforts that the Church is undertaking regarding encouraging Californians to vote for Prop 34, Ned Dolesji, the California Catholic Conference's executive director, has said that the Church is using a variety of print and media sources to spread its message.

"We're encouraging our pastors to distribute materials for Prop. 34 in English and Spanish, we've produced bulletins, public service announcements, sample homilies radio interviews, and videos," Dolejsi remarked.

Prison Fellowship International, a Christian prison outreach and criminal justice reform organization that supports prisoners and runs programs in over 112 countries worldwide, also shared with CP that from a moral and global perspective, America needs to step up its efforts to end the death penalty.

"While recognizing that Christians may differ on their interpretation of Scripture in regard to the use of the death penalty," Ron Nikkel, President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International told CP.

"PFI's Board and Secretariat oppose the use of the death penalty as a means of vindicating victims and punishing offenders," he said.

PFI was founded by the late Christian evangelist Charles Colson, who died this April from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage.

"We base this position on our respect for the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to a natural death. Furthermore we recognize God's redemptive justice and mercy, which extend to all people regardless of the crimes they may have committed. Furthermore we recognize that the mission of PFI is to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus to the prisoners of the world, a mission which would be rendered impossible if they are executed."

Nikkel also said that he believes capital punishment has taken a backseat to other issues such as abortion because of the "human desire for vengeance against violence."

"However violence against violence has been shown to increase the level of violence in society. A consistent pro-life position would look at abortion and capital punishment as being equally (although not numerically) wrong from a Christian moral perspective," he added, however.

Californians will get to vote on Proposition 34 at the Nov. 6 general elections.

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