There are over 2,500 people on death row who are at risk of execution across the United States. They are primarily men, disproportionately African-American, and range in age from late teens to 70s and 80s. Moreover, they are overwhelmingly poor and vulnerable. The vast majority were unable to afford their own attorneys, proving that “those without the capital get the punishment”. Death row in the United States is composed of some of society’s most marginalized citizens, highlighted by the serious impairments of many death row residents: mental illness, intellectual disability, childhood abuse, serious trauma, and more.
Twenty-eight states still have men and women on death row, and while executions are declining, the US as a country still executed 22 people in 2019. The Department of Justice’s attempts to resume federal execution only furthers the threat to human life.
The Sisters’ Response
In 2008, a collection of women religious—including Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ (author of Dead Man Walking)—came together with activists, murder victims’ family members, and representatives from prominent Catholic organizations to brainstorm how they could support the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’s Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. As a result, the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, launched Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in January of 2009 to implement the bishops’ campaign to end the death penalty and to promote restorative justice. CMN continues to work closely with the USCCB and is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph (CSJ) Ministry Network.
Catholic Mobilizing Network is the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and is the only explicitly faith-based organization intimately involved in the movement to end capital punishment. Through education, advocacy and prayer, CMN asserts the Catholic Church’s strong stance against the death penalty and mobilizes people of faith to act.
In the eleven years since CMN entered the abolition movement, eight states have abolished capital punishment (the most recent being Colorado, just last month) and three others have distanced themselves from the practice through governor-declared execution bans.
Goals and Objectives
This initiative to mobilize women religious in opposing capital punishment will strengthen the overall movement to abolish the death penalty. In coordination with CMN’s national advocacy efforts, women religious will further CMN’s goals:
- At least one new state halting executions, through moratorium or repeal bill
- Increasing frequency and prominence of Catholic voices highlighting the moral and practical reasons to end the death penalty
- Declining number of executions
- Declining number of new death sentences
Immediate Charitable Response
In order to amplify the Catholic Church’s strong pro-life stance against the death penalty, mobilize women religious to leverage and deepen their leading role in opposing capital punishment, and strengthen the overall movement to abolish the death penalty, CMN will hire a religious sister to coordinate these efforts.
This new member of CMN’s staff will be an influential voice at the table when determining program advances, new resources, and ensuring relevant messaging. This religious sister will be key to including the voice of women religious, while building strong connections to women’s congregations, and additionally will explore deeper engagement with murder victim family members