By Sr. Camille D’Arienzo
National Catholic Reporter
– August 6, 2013 –
Catherine Jarboe is director of Catholic state networks and organizations for Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) to End the Death Penalty. Its mission is to proclaim the church’s unconditional pro-life teaching, especially in its application to capital punishment and restorative justice. I began our conversation by asking what this job entails.
Jarboe: CMN works to prepare Catholics for informed involvement in campaigns to repeal state death penalty laws and expand or inaugurate restorative justice programs. Ending the death penalty is a state issue, so we work to lift up the Catholic voice in the movement state by state, and we’re making progress. Six states in six years have passed repeal legislation, and in each state, Catholics were at the vanguards. We’re a ministry of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet against the death penalty and a lay collaborative of the USCCB.
Sr.Camille: Do you find that Catholics are as well-informed about the church’s position against the death penalty as they are on other pro-life issues?
Jarboe: No, and that’s why we’re here, to clear things up.
Sr.Camille: Why do you think this is?
Jarboe: One reason is that the church’s position on the death penalty has evolved over time to the catechesis of today, outlined by Pope John Paul II. There’s a sort of “generation gap” on the issue. Plus, the teaching is absolutely clear, but proponents of the death penalty use its last line to manufacture ambiguity and confuse people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means” (CCC 2267). And so, the test of whether the death penalty can be used is not the gravity of the offense, but whether it is absolutely necessary to protect society. The catechism adds that today, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent’ ” (CCC 2267).