WASHINGTON (May 24, 1999) -- Noting the more than 3,500 men and women on death row, organizers of the National Catholic Gathering for Jubilee Justice have made capital punishment a key issue for their meeting slated for July 15-18 in Los Angeles.
More than 500 persons have been sentenced to die in California alone, giving the state the highest number of persons on death row of all 50 states. Since 1976, when the United States reinstituted the death penalty, Texas has executed the most persons, more than 170, followed by Virginia, with almost a third of that. In the same period, more than 70 persons who were given the death penalty were ultimately found innocent of the crimes for which they were to be executed.
The Los Angeles meeting, titled, "Open the Doors to Christ: A National Catholic Gathering for Jubilee Justice," features noted speakers, including anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean.
Sister Prejean, who was featured in the Academy Award Winning Movie Dead Man Walking, will speak at a reconciliation service with Bud Welch, another death penalty opponent and the father of one of the victims who died in the Oklahoma City bombing.
The death penalty also will be addressed in the workshop "Forgiving the Unforgivable: The Church on Capital Punishment," on why forgiveness and abolition of the death penalty are important to murder victims' families. The session will focus on the Church's teaching on capital punishment and what Catholics are called to do.
Last month, on April 2, the U.S. Bishops' Administrative Board urged Catholics to oppose capital punishment.
"We see the death penalty as perpetuating a cycle of violence and promoting a sense of vengeance in our culture," the bishops said.
"We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes but for what it does to all of us as a society," they added. " Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life."
Other speakers at the Jubilee Justice meeting include Nobel Peace Prize-winner Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor, McArthur grantee Father J. Bryan Hehir, veteran actor Carroll O'Connor and PBS and CNN commentator Mark Shields.
Workshops in English and Spanish will address more than 100 topics, including racism, the environment, health care, non-violence, parish social ministry, liturgy and worship, debt forgiveness, sweatshops, immigration, euthanasia and other pro-life issues, education for justice and Catholic identity.
Co-chairs of the event, Annette Kane, Executive Director of the National Council of Catholic Women, and Father Robert Vitillo, Executive Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, note that the meeting is a response to the Pope John Paul's call for Catholic to prepare for the Jubilee Year 2000.
Persons seeking copies of the registration booklet can call (202) 541-3149. Information on the meeting also can be found at www.nccbuscc.org/jubileejustice.