- October 4, 2012 -
Representatives of CMN recently sat down to interview Ned Dolejsi, the State Director of the California Catholic Conference to speak about the efforts of the Catholic Church in California to support Proposition 34, which is a ballot initiative that would, if approved by voters in November 2012, end the death penalty in that state.
CMN: How is the campaign going in California?
Ned: We are engaged in a dynamic struggle. The polls show the race at 50/50 to pass Proposition 34. Our challenge is to connect with voters, especially Latino voters. The Bishops have been strongly committed to this issue and have produced bulletin material, videos, PSAs and radio interviews. We need prayer, support and money! Turning out the vote across the state is key and Los Angeles and the southern part of California are central to this proposition passing.
CMN: What made the Church’s teaching on the death penalty real for you?
Ned: Listening. I have been affected by listening to the stories of mothers whose sons have been killed by violence. The mothers pour their hearts out in their struggle to deal with the pain. You can feel their pain. How would one respond? I have seen moments of incredible grace as some of these women work to assist another mother to deal with that same pain as their child is put in prison and faces the loss of their child. It is amazing to see the unleashing of God’s grace through these people, through their stories of reconciliation and healing.
Amanda Wilcox lost a daughter through murder. Through her deep faith and belief in life, she has turned that loss into a personal crusade for better mental health care. While the myth of “closure” continues on, the real healing is expressed by women like her who through faith have turned tragedy into rebirth.
I was just with Amanda Wilcox as four of us recently met with the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee, our local newspaper, which has never in its history, editorialized against the death penalty. We were joined by Mr. Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles District Attorney, and Natasha Minsker, leader of our Campaign. The board asked good questions and I thought our responses were excellent. Amanda shared her journey and we spoke from our experiences, our head and our hearts. The Sacramento Bee editorialized in favor of Proposition 34! Answering the questions with honesty and telling the stories courageously work miracles.
From a faith perspective, vengeance should never be the motive and the answer is not to stop killings by killing. We need a society that values all life. We need to work for a society that leads us away from the coarseness we have developed. As one of our bishops said we can, “appeal to the angels of our better nature”.
CMN: What part of the death penalty issue do you connect with the other life issues?
Ned: Our vision of the human person as made in the image of God leads us to a respect for life that is not conditional. The respect life directors in California have taken this to heart. It is not an issue of innocence or guilt, it is wrong to resort to the taking of life to address anything less than our safety as a people. This is a moment for the Church to proclaim its message with consistency. In our faith we do no put God’s grace in a box and try to control it. We do not promote taking someone else’s life and believe that it will solve complex human problems and that all will be fine.
CMN: Any lessons learned to pass onto other states whose legislative action will come behind yours?
Ned: Start early. Form coalitions to make repeal happen and begin securing commitments to fundraising. It is important to look for the key moment. The death penalty is an emotional issue, especially in a state where it is exercised. It is helpful when there has been a moratorium on executions in a state. People are then more able to realize that those who murder can be removed from society and will not be a threat to us. This removes the issue from the press. People, especially those who have been victims of crime, do not like that our society turns murderers into celebrities. This is very harmful for victims. Let’s offer “legal finality” to these victims through life without parole.
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California’s replacement of the death penalty will have an enormous national affect. They need our help. Click here to donate to the Yes on 34 campaign.
Click here to volunteer to phone bank from your home.
Please pray for California to replace the death penalty with life without parole. Click to download California prayer cards with facts about Catholic teaching on the death penalty in English and Spanish.
This article first appeared in CMN’s October 2012 newsletter.