Arkansas Catholic (Print Edition)

Respect Life Month means Pro-ALL Life

Just a short time ago, the state of Arkansas attempted to execute eight men in eleven days. These men were labeled “the worst of the worst,” and they indeed committed acts of grave harm.

But a different image emerged when one looked more closely at these cases: these men all had backgrounds defined by intellectual disability, mental illness, and abuse.

Now, in Respect Life Month, we await another execution of a man suffering from severe mental illness. Jack Greene is scheduled to be executed on November 9th and experiences delusions so great that two different psychiatric experts have determined he cannot rationally understand his execution.

Sadly, Jack Greene indeed inflicted harm on his victim and their family; but will justice really be served by his execution?

Respect Life Month challenges us to be consistently pro-life and lift up the dignity of all of our sisters and brothers.

Catholics believe that human life is sacred because each person is created in the image and likeness of God. This dignity and worth cannot be diminished by any conditions including intellectual disability, mental illness, or abuse.

Throughout Jesus’s public ministry, individuals who struggled with mental illness and intellectual disability often served as witnesses and testaments to the love and the mercy of Christ. Called to care for the “least among us”, Catholic teaching has a preferential option for these vulnerable members of our society.

People with intellectual disabilities and mental illness not only must overcome societal barriers to daily living but are also much more likely to become victims of crime and are particularly at risk for wrongful conviction. They are truly some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Becoming an advocate for the dignity of all life, especially those faced with overcoming extreme obstacles, includes working to end the death penalty. Solutions to harm must be restorative and allow for the flourishing of all people. We must seek sources for rehabilitation and treatment - not retribution and vengeance.

As a Church, we are called to be a people of life who fight against an unjust system that targets and denies the dignity of those most vulnerable in our society. When an act of great harm is committed, “punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity.” The death penalty violates this pro-life call.

This Respect Life Month, we are challenged to build a culture of life. I urge all Catholics and people of good will to join this work of life by signing Catholic Mobilizing Network’s National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty and educate, advocate, and pray to end the death penalty.

Karen Clifton is the Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.