By Clarion Herald Staff
The eight church parishes that comprise the East St. Tammany-Washington Deanery in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have sent an open letter to their parishioners and to their elected representatives in the Louisiana Legislature asking for their support in eliminating the death penalty in the state.
Father Wayne Paysse, dean of the East St. Tammany-Washington Deanery and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell, said the pastoral letter was the result of weeks of discernment among priests and permanent deacons in the deanery.
In a separate letter to the senators and representatives who represent those living in the East St. Tammany-Washington Deanery, the priests and deacons urged the state to “eliminate the death penalty and put an end to this practice that fosters death and devalues human life and dignity.”
Pastoral letter on the death penalty: East St. Tammany-Washington Deanery
Dear Catholics of the East St. Tammany/Washington Parish Deanery and All People of Good Will,
As you may know, the 2019 Legislative Session recently concluded in the state of Louisiana. Among the many bill proposals that were debated was the abolition of the death penalty. For the first time, one bill to eliminate the death penalty made it out of committee and was debated on the floor of the House. We, your Catholic clergy of the East St. Tammany-Washington Parish Deanery, seek to raise the awareness of the Christian faithful concerning the unacceptable use of the death penalty in Louisiana and our obligation as Christians to uphold and defend the dignity of every human person, no matter race, creed, socio-economic background or being incarcerated in a penal institution.
It is clear that the use of the death penalty in no way addresses the deep-rooted issues that are the cause of widespread violent crime within our society. Instead, it is a “solution” that seduces us into believing that the taking of a life solves a problem, when in fact it forces us further into a culture of death. Sadly, the culture in which we live oftentimes mirrors a “culture of death” rather than one of life. St. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) makes a clear distinction between a culture of death and a culture of life, and calls upon all of humanity to embrace the culture of life by recognizing and defending the dignity of the human person. We are all God’s children – we are all made in God’s image.
We echo the sentiments of St. Pope John Paul II in asserting that “not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, as God himself pledges to guarantee this. For this reason, whoever attacks human life in some way attacks God himself.” We must never ignore this foundation of our Catholic social doctrine – The Life and Dignity of the Human Person. As a people of faith, it is essential that we uphold human dignity, which remains the same for the innocent and the guilty. Because life is valued above and beyond all else, we must advocate for an alternative to the death penalty.
In speaking out against capital punishment, Pope Francis declares that it is an offense against the inviolability of life and dignity of the human person, thus contradicting God’s plan for humanity and society. It does not render justice to victims, but rather fosters vengeance. For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure. It obliges the state to kill in the name of justice, and justice can never be wrought by killing a human being. In addition, it neither redresses the wrong, nor does it offer rehabilitation, healing or promote the common good. Our Church’s teaching on the death penalty is summed up and presented quite clearly in the newly revised paragraph 2267 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
Our nation’s founding documents also affirm the right to life. Today in Louisiana, sentences such as life in prison without parole make it possible to protect society without having to kill a person convicted of violent crime. If, as a society, we wish to affirm that killing is wrong, we cannot do this by killing more people. We can both protect society from violence and promote a culture that respects all human life without resorting to state-sanctioned executions.
In our own archdiocese, Archbishop Aymond is calling all of us to action – to stand against the death penalty in Louisiana. In a recent statement, he reminded us of what we pray each week at Mass in “Our Family Prayer,” how we ask God to “give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.” Archbishop Aymond continually emphasizes that we must be a voice for all life, for human dignity is not reserved solely for the unborn and the innocent.
As Catholic citizens, we have the opportunity to make our voices heard. We urge you to take definitive steps to end the use of the death penalty through daily prayer and by contacting your state representatives and senators to lobby for an end to capital punishment in our state. Now is the time to act. The clergy of the East St. Tammany/Washington Parish Deanery ask all men and women of good will, especially those members of the Louisiana Legislature, to mirror the love and mercy of Jesus Christ by supporting the repeal of the death penalty and aiding in building a culture of life in the great state of Louisiana.
Wishing you God’s peace and blessings,
The priests and deacons of East St. Tammany-Washington Parish Deanery
• Our Lady of Lourdes
• Sacred Heart of Jesus
• St. Genevieve
• St. John of the Cross
• St. Luke the Evangelist
• St. Margaret Mary
• Sts. Peter and Paul