September 21, 2020

Washington, D.C. – More than 200 Catholic priests, sisters, theologians, and lay leaders from across the country have signed onto a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr urging him not to accept the “Christifideles Laici” award from the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week. The signers are opposed to his acceptance of the award due to Barr’s reinstatement of the federal death penalty. The letter notes that the award reception is sandwiched in-between two federal executions and calls Barr’s decision to accept the award “utterly shocking and an affront to our faith.”

Recognizing that this is about more than just an award, the letter goes on to ask AG Barr to “…reverse your Department’s support of the federal death penalty. Respect the dignity of life.”

Signers include Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network; Stephen Schneck, PhD, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network; Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary General and Co-President (2007-2019) of Pax Christi International; Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Fr. John Dear, Outreach Coordinator at Campaign Nonviolence; and Martha Hennessy of Kings Bay Plowshares.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network:
“The death penalty is falling out of favor with the American public and the Catholic Church has never been clearer in its stance against capital punishment. Yet this year, Attorney General Barr has led the relentless charge to execute more people than at any other comparable time in the past 70 years. It’s time to stop the executions!”

Stephen Schneck, PhD, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network:
“This is not like voting for a law that permits others to make an immoral choice. Attorney General Barr is himself pulling the administrative switch to execute these prisoners — all while knowing full well that Catholics must not condone, promote, facilitate, or perform executions. For Franciscans, all life is sacred. The death penalty is affront to that truth. It perpetuates a culture of death. We call on Attorney General Barr to decline the Christifideles Laici Award. We call on him to reverse his restart of the federal death penalty immediately.”

Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary General and Co-President (2007-2019) of Pax Christi International:
“For an event to call itself “Catholic” and to publicly honor for “Fidelity to the Church, Exemplary Selfless and Steadfast Service in the Lord’s Vineyard” an official who is responsible for blatant, unnecessary, repeated actions against the dignity of every life, which is fundamental to the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, is unconscionable and a scandal.”

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice:
“It is scandalous that the Catholic Prayer Breakfast is giving Attorney General Bill Barr and award for being ‘faithful to Christ.’ The Attorney General reinstituted executions, targets peaceful protesters with violence, protects corrupt politicians, and minimizes the impact of COVID-19. He fails to follow the teaching of our shared Catholic faith. This is the antithesis of a man who protects life, and it is scandalous that he is being given an award for such uncatholic behavior.”

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA:
“The idea that the policies which Attorney General Barr, his Justice Department and the Trump Administration are to be condoned in any way by Catholics or lifted up as an example of what it means to follow Jesus would be laughable if it wasn’t for all those who have suffered and died because of those policies. There is no overlap between the gospel message and the Attorney General’s support for caging immigrant children, teargassing nonviolent protesters, executing fellow human beings, the sexual assault of women, racist rhetoric and the blatant disrespect for human dignity that runs rampant with this administration. The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast should be ashamed.”

Lawrence E. Couch, Director, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd:
“It is disheartening and shocking that Attorney General William Barr is receiving an award from a Catholic organization, the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. While Mr. Barr has had a respectable career in the past, he has acted in his current capacity with cruelty against innocent immigrants and asylum seekers and has re-instituted the long dormant federal execution program. The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear. The Catechism reads that the ‘death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

John Gehring, Catholic Program Director, Faith in Public Life:
“For years, this event has been led by GOP activists and political operatives who consistently provide a platform to Catholic Republicans in elected office who ignore much of Catholic social teaching, but the decision to honor a Catholic Attorney General who plays a leading role in overseeing federal executions is particularly brazen,” said John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. “Church teaching is clear that the death penalty is always morally wrong and an attack on the sanctity of life.”

The full letter can be found here and the full list of signers can be found here.



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