Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors' and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members. On August 5, 2021, we archived old blog posts. You can find the archive by clicking here.
October is “Respect Life Month” for the U.S. Catholic Church. Each Fall, we are called to contemplate the sanctity of life and to commit ourselves to oppose systems that violate human dignity - especially the death penalty.
In honor of Respect Life Month and in anticipation of the World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10), Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) invites you to join their second annual Novena to End the Death Penalty.
A novena is a Catholic practice that consists of nine days of prayer dedicated to one particular intention. The intention of this novena is for the abolition of capital punishment in the U.S.
Novenas can be prayed all throughout the year and for many different purposes. Some novenas are prayed for penance or in anticipation or preparation of an event or feast day. This novena will be prayed from October 1-9, in anticipation of World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10.
This past week, the New York Times published a significant piece that was picked up by Milwaukee and Madison newspapers as well. You can read it here through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It concerns the agonizing months-long lockdown that occurred at the Waupun Correctional Institution. Since June, people at Green Bay's penitentiary have faced remarkably similar conditions.
Lockdowns, which the Department of Corrections euphemistically calls "modified movement", often mean people are confined to their cells all day, even for meals. They can only take one shower per week despite these institutions not being air conditioned. Programs are canceled. Even in places not under lockdown, it has become nearly impossible for loved ones to visit in person, and even video visits have been reduced.
These humanitarian disasters often get blamed on "staffing shortages." In Wisconsin's maximum security prisons, even dramatic pay hikes have not attracted enough people to fill the needs. Meanwhile, there is no staff shortage in most of Wisconsin's minimum security facilities.
The biggest problem is not a staffing shortage. It is that we have far too many people in Wisconsin prisons. If Wisconsin took common sense measures to decarcerate, we could close nightmarish facilities like Waupun and Green Bay. Wisconsin actually has too much capacity in its "maximum security" prisons. Many people are stuck in "maximum security" prisons because there is not enough room in "medium security" prisons. Many of the people in "medium security" ought to be in "minimum security," but those are overcrowded.
By moving elderly and ill people out of our prisons and by cutting the number of people sent back to prison for crimeless revocations, we could create enough space to safely close the Green Bay and Waupun facilities. If we did that, Wisconsin could save about $100 million per year -- money that could be reinvested in community programs that will help people succeed.
In the short-term, WISDOM and the WISDOM Action Network are calling for an emergency response to what is a humanitarian and human rights emergency. That same emergency demands that we act without delay to take measures to safely and responsibly reduce the prison population. Furthermore, the principles of Justice Reinvestment call for us to reinvest the money saved from closing prisons in programs that will help individuals, families and communities to thrive.
Public demand for a full reinvestigation of a heinous 1996 crime grows and could save a seemingly innocent man from the death chamber.
Anthony Sanchez is one of 25 Oklahoma prisoners set for execution over the next several years. His date is September 21, 2023. But there’s just one additional nagging problem. It seems Anthony is innocent and he is pleading for your help.
A private investigator says the DNA in this death penalty case does not conclusively show guilt and Anthony Sanchez has always maintained his innocence. He was not even in the area the night the life of his former girlfriend was tragically taken. Additionally, before Anthony’s troubled and abusive father, Glen Sanchez, killed himself, he confessed to the murder. So why hasn’t the State opened a full reinvestigation? Call Oklahoma officials and ask!
The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes opposes the death penalty.
What makes Mr. Sanchez’s scheduled execution even more problematic are several issues of concern regarding the evidence collection, poor representation, executions on native land, and more.Visit FreeAnthonySanchez.org and decide if justice has been served. Then call the Attorney General and/or sign this petition to demand action.
On the First Friday of each month, Catholic Mobilizing Network holds a Virtual Prayer Vigil to lament upcoming executions and bear witness to the inviolable dignity of all human life.
These virtual spaces offer a place to pray together as a faith community in response to the injustice of the death penalty. They include time for guided prayer, petitions, Scripture reflections, and contemplative silence. The vigils feature the voices of Catholic bishops, Church leaders, and allies across the death penalty abolition movement.
The next vigil is scheduled for Friday, August 4 at 1 p.m. CT and will include a Scripture reflection from the Most Rev. Lou Tylka, Bishop of Peoria.
Catholic Mobilizing Network intern, Anna Nowalk, shares her insights on what an unprecedented Catechism revision meant for Catholic anti-death penalty advocacy—what led us there and where have we gone since?
On August 2, 2018, Pope Francis ushered in the historic revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty, officially promulgating a clear and firm stance against capital punishment in all cases. Although it was indeed a change of language, this revision was far from unprecedented. It was rooted in a legacy of papal teaching against capital punishment, and reinforced by the Catholic belief that all life is sacred. Read more here.
On Friday, July 7th, Rev. Mark Rivituso, Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, will lead a scripture reflection in a virtual space that offers a place to pray together as a faith community in response to the injustice of the death penalty.
On the First Friday of each month, Catholic Mobilizing Network holds a Virtual Prayer Vigil to lament upcoming executions and bear witness to the inviolable dignity of all human life. You are invited to join this month’s vigil at 1 p.m. CST. Join virtually by tuning into the YouTube livestream or watch the recording.
Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) is pleased to announce the winners of the second annual Justice & Mercy Poetry Contest for Young Catholics. The winning poems were chosen from a collection of breathtaking entries submitted by young Catholics from 18 different states. Each piece, unique in style, point of view, and emphasis, conveyed the same truth: there is nothing just about the death penalty.
Read the breathtaking poems by several young poets here: https://catholicsmobilizing.org/first-place-2023-justice-mercy-poetry-contest
Then, please have a look at these interesting resources:
- Article: Minnesota lawmakers OK 'transformative' juvenile justice package (Star Tribune)
- Research article (summary): Restorative justice diversion reduces re-arrest rates for young people in Minneapolis
- Story: Freedom Community Center gives felons a second chance via restorative justice (St Louis Public Radio)
- Podcast: Equal Justice USA - Evangelical Network launches a Spotify podcast, based on the In the Movement webinar series.
- Webinar: Power and Control: Understanding Domestic Violence and Abuse in Relationships. Office of RJ and Abuse Prevention, Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis. June 26, 6:30-8:00 pm CDT. Sign up here.
- Online Public Dialogue: Building the Beloved Community: Addressing Racial Injustice and Finding Ways Forward. June 14, 12:30 – 1:30 pm EDT. Georgetown University, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life
What is Restorative Justice?
Catholic Social Teaching has 7 major themes: Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Preferential Option for and with People Who are Poor; Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.
All of these principles are evident in restorative justice, an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense or harm to collectively identify and address harm, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.
The traditional approach within criminal justice systems takes a retributive approach to justice, assigning guilt and punishment. A restorative approach in response to any injustice takes into consideration the Catholic social tradition principles. Learn more here: https://catholicsmobilizing.org/catholic-social-teaching-restorative-justice
(article adapted from Catholic Mobilizing Network)
Circles (sometimes called circle process or peacemaking circles) are a core restorative practice that create opportunities for participants to share openly and listen intentionally with one another. Rooted in indigenous tradition, circles can be used in instances of conflict and harm, as well as for storytelling, shared reflection, and community building. Increasingly, Catholic parishes and ministries use restorative circles to live in right relationship with one another and foster encounter among those impacted by crime.
Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) will host its annual circle keeper training in Chicago, IL with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) this July 12-15, 2023. This four-day, in-person training is ideal for Catholic leaders who wish to facilitate restorative circles in their parishes, ministries, and communities. It is most suitable for those who have some existing familiarity with restorative justice, but have not yet been formally trained in circle keeping.
Click here for details and application.
Please note that space is limited. The priority deadline for applications is Thursday, June 1,
In July 2022, CSA JPIC coordinator and Associate, Tracy Abler, attended this training. She continues to belong to the CMN’s Restorative Justice Ministry Community of Practice and assists in their “Introduction to Restorative Justice” hour virtual workshops that provide participants with basic concepts and practices of restorative justice. These 3-hour workshops are ideal for individuals who are new to restorative justice. Upcoming sessions are April 26, June 14, and August 24. Click here for details.
Tracy believes restorative/peacemaking circles are key to transforming justice and healing our world. Below is the picture of her training circle’s centerpiece from last July. It is filled with meaningful objects that visually represented her group's shared values.
While serving in a L’Arche community in Mobile, Alabama, Sister Janet Ahler CSA was invited by two staff members to visit Holman prison in Atmore, the holding prison for men awaiting execution. In the CSA spirit of “pastoral concern for those whose faith life or human dignity is threatened” (CSA Constitutions # 4), she was soon a regular visitor with James Bill Hubbard. James consistently held that he was innocent of the murder with which he was charged and condemned claiming that the murder weapon was handed to him after the shooting occurred, leaving his fingerprints on the gun. He never reported this, he said, because the actual shooter promised to kill him if he did. Sister Janet has written up James’ story which is in the CSA archives.
At the time of James’ sentencing, if a person had an IQ of 70 or less in Alabama, he was not sentenced to death. James had an IQ of 71. James was simple and straightforward. “You are like a mother to me,” Sister recalls James saying to her during one of her visits.
The day prior to his execution, Sister Janet joined members of Kairos in visiting and praying with James. Kairos is a lay-led, interdenominational Christian ministry in which men and women volunteers bring Christ's love and forgiveness to prisoners and their families. Also present was James’ daughter who was ashamed of her father, but who on this last day came to visit him. Sister Janet had been asked to be a witness of the execution, but James’ daughter witnessed instead. It was a memory that Sister Janet said she did not need.
Sister Janet accompanied another man on his last day, meeting with the family and with members of Kairos. She remembers offering comfort to his family by relating the good this condemned man had done in prison, shielding new people to the prison from being taken advantage of by others and aiding them in preparation for court procedures.
Since this interview, Sister Janet has succumbed to cancer. Up to that time, she had been corresponding with a man on death row in Ohio. She had always promised to pray for him, but said in her last letter to him, “It is your turn to pray for me.” For years, Sister Janet took turns with sisters and associates writing to the people whose execution dates were drawing near, promising the prayers of the CSA community for them. At Christmas time, she would invite sisters in the motherhouse community to join her in sending cards to the people on death row in Alabama.
The death penalty is authorized by 27 states and the federal government and prohibited in 23 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In three states, California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, governors have imposed formal moratoriums on executions. The majority of executions take place in Texas and Oklahoma.
The Sisters of St. Agnes have taken a public stance in opposition to the death penalty in line with the teaching of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church.
Links for more information: