By JAYNA HOFFACKER, Commentary | Published September 30, 2022
In his September prayer intention, Pope Francis called on “all people of goodwill to mobilize for the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world.” As the faithful of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, in a nation and a state with active death penalty statutes, we should be particularly committed to answering this call to mobilize in defense of human life and dignity.
As Catholics, our work to abolish the death penalty is informed by our church’s teaching that capital punishment is an attack on the inviolability of human dignity, and as such must be opposed in every case. Our respect for life is not contingent on guilt or innocence. Even individuals who have committed acts we may rightfully see as horrific maintain their human dignity and their identity as beloved children of God. We cannot enact punishment that contradicts that reality.
As Pope Francis said, “There must be a window of hope” in every sentence. The death penalty seals that window, allowing no recourse for mercy or reconciliation.
There are several ways that we as individuals, and as a Catholic community in North Georgia, can dedicate ourselves to the abolition of the death penalty. Pope Francis has just illustrated for us one of those avenues—prayer. We can pray for an end to the death penalty, for those sentenced to death, for victims of crime, for families and for those who carry out executions.
Everyone touched by crime and by capital punishment experiences trauma as a result. We must pray for healing and for mercy.
Many people, especially those whom this issue has not touched personally, have not considered what their stance on capital punishment may be. They are not aware of the church’s teachings on the death penalty, the inequities in the criminal legal system, or of the deeply flawed ways in which capital cases are handled as they move through this system. Education, therefore, is one of the key ways we can help mobilize our faith community to abolish the death penalty.
As we continue to educate ourselves, we can also help to educate others in our community. This does not have to happen in a classroom, nor do we need to be experts. It can be as simple as a conversation with a fellow parishioner after Mass about the issues that matter to us.
In addition to prayer and education, we can also use our voices in advocacy against capital punishment with our elected officials. Whether we are working at the federal or state level, we have not only the right, but the obligation to advocate for the respect of human life and dignity in our laws. You may feel as though you do not know where to start when speaking to your legislators. Please know that you do not have to do this alone.
Georgia Catholics Against the Death Penalty is committed to educating and mobilizing the Catholics of both the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah in the work of death penalty abolition. All are welcome to join this network at www.gacadp.org, through which we share news and resources to help the Catholic faithful of our state effectively advocate with legislators and other elected officials.
As we begin Respect Life Month in October, take a moment to consider how you can do your part to answer Pope Francis’ call to abolish the death penalty. Whatever avenue you may discern is your path, the archdiocese’s Office of Life, Dignity and Justice is available to support you with guidance, resources and training for the work to protect all life at every stage.
Jayna Hoffacker is the associate director of Justice and Peace Ministries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.