In Upcoming Visit, Will President Biden and Pope Francis Discuss the Death Penalty?

For Immediate Release: Oct. 26, 2021
Contact: Katlyn Toelle at
Website: Twitter: @CMNEndtheDP

(Washington, D.C.) President Joe Biden is set to meet with Pope Francis on Oct. 29 during his first visit to Rome as U.S. president. Among other pressing issues, many Catholics hope the pontiff and Catholic president will discuss the next step to address the U.S. death penalty.

“By commuting the sentences of the 45 men on the federal death row, President Biden has the power to save lives with the stroke of a pen,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. “It is hard to think of anyone more persuasive than Pope Francis to make that point to Biden.”

Earlier this year, Biden’s Department of Justice ordered a temporary moratorium on federal executions following an unprecedented spate of executions by the Trump administration which interrupted a 17-year halt in use of the federal death penalty. Anti-death penalty advocates saw the action as a positive “first step” toward federal death penalty abolition, though not strong enough on its own to prevent a future execution spree or to eradicate the racial bias and inequity built into the federal death penalty system.

“History has shown us how mere stopgap actions of one administration can leave the door wide open to future government killing sprees in the next,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. 

During his 2015 visit to the U.S., Pope Francis called for a “global abolition of the death penalty” in an address before the U.S. Congress. After multiple public statements echoing the anti-death penalty sentiments of his predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, in 2018 the pontiff revised the Catholic Catechism to call the death penalty “inadmissible” in all cases. Released in October 2020, the Holy Father’s third encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” further cements the anti-death penalty stance, stating that “There can be no stepping back from this position.”

“While positive that President Biden is the first sitting president to openly oppose capital punishment, more needs to be done. With this week’s visit to Rome, Pope Francis has an opportunity to remind the president of their shared goal to end the death penalty,” said Vaillancourt Murphy.  “A personal appeal from Pope Francis to commute the federal death row could go a long way to encourage Biden to take this next step on this issue and to uphold the sanctity of life.”

Since January 2020, thousands of Catholics have called on President Biden to use his executive authority to commute the sentences of those on the federal death row through a Catholic Mobilizing Network petition. Nearly 10,000 signatures have been collected to date, including those by prominent Catholics such as: Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ; Most Rev. Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston; Most Rev. Ramon Bejarano, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego; Most Rev. William Medley, Bishop of Owensboro; Most Rev. Richard Pates, Apostolic Administrator of Crookston; and Most Rev. Oscar Solis, Bishop of Salt Lake City.


Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.

CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and lives the Spirit of Unity of its sponsor, the Congregation of St. Joseph.