By Sharon Schuhmann, Pro-Life Coordinator,
In August, 2010, just three weeks into my new ministry as pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, the governor of Kentucky signed a death warrant. Although the execution never happened, this event sparked three years of education about abolishing the death penalty in Kentucky.
Less than a year later, an exonerated death row inmate gave a chilling account of his experience with a broken justice system at a University of Kentucky-sponsored event. He told the crowd that he spent 20 years on death row, despite his innocence.
Before the program I was introduced to him as a diocesan “pro-life coordinator.” He took my hand and said, “Your title is ‘pro-life’ – I hope that means you are against the death penalty.” With tears in both our eyes I assured him I was.
This was one of many examples that affirmed a need for education on the pro-life issue of abolishing the death penalty. Our work continued in the fall of 2011 when the Kentucky Council of Churches and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky co-sponsored an ecumenical training to equip pastoral leaders to advocate for abolition of Kentucky’s death penalty. Facts were shared from the Death Penalty Information Center and hearts were inspired as we took this information back to our faith communities.
The Archdiocese of Louisville has hosted several educational events using materials on the death penalty from the USCCB, Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty (CMN), and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. A parish leadership education forum on pro-life issues highlighted the Catholic faith perspective on the death penalty.
In April, 2013, Cathy Jarboe of CMN held five forums around the state of Kentucky designed to prepare Catholics for informed involvement in campaigns to end the death penalty. The USCCB Vice President and Archbishop of Louisville, Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. attended. He remarked that what is needed is “thoughtful conversation to bring people to understand that the taking of life, innocent or otherwise, will only beget more violence.”
Education and conversation will be the key for Catholic involvement in abolishing the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
This article first appeared in the CMN June 2013 Newsletter.