SALT LAKE CITY — The combined social justice teams from St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center and the Cathedral of the Madeline are sponsoring a Sept. 4 presentation by Fr. John Norman, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, on the death penalty.
In an address last October, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to the death penalty, saying it “is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity,” he said. “It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which – ultimately – only God is the true judge and guarantor.”
Earlier this month Pope Francis ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that describes the death penalty as “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Because of these statements by Pope Francis, and with the death penalty in the news for other reasons, “this is a really important time for us to have a discussion on this and to open it up to the wider community,” said Catherine O’Hare Adams, a social justice team member. “Fr. Norman has always been respected for his solid theology and very balanced approach to all issues.”
The majority of Catholics are opposed to the death penalty, Adams said, adding that she was one of those people who didn’t know how she felt until she studied the issue.
“There are a lot of reasons the death penalty is unjust,” she said. “It is often racist, and the poor are much more likely to have a poor defense leading to this verdict. It also costs so much more to execute a person than to rehabilitate him/her.”
Fr. Norman was a member of the diocese’s Peace and Justice Commission for many years and taught social justice at all three Utah Catholic high schools for several years.
“The death penalty is a very current and important issue that is in the news a lot and that people are talking about,” Fr. Norman said. “With the pope’s recent clarification of Church teachings, it is particularly important as we’re trying to develop a consistent and comprehensive understanding of the value of human life as a church and a culture, and to eliminate the distinctions between a life that is not yet born, a life marred by sickness, injury or age and a life that can be imperiled because of sinful action.”
“They are all connected,” he said. “We teach about abortion and the value of life, but we also need to teach about it in regards to end-of-life issues and to the traces and issues of elimination of life because of crime.”
The diocese is expending effort “to help us be more precise in our approach to life in all conditions so we’re not just all focused on the life of the unborn but that we’re also focused on the life of people on death row,” Fr. Norman said.
The social justice teams will be joined by the Newman Center’s student group for Fr. Norman’s Sept. 4 presentation. After the presentation there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion.
Adams said it is hoped that participants that evening will be motivated to reach out to their state legislators and make their opposition to the death penalty and their support for legislation eliminating it known to them.
The social justice teams meet the first Tuesday evening of each month to educate themselves and the greater community on important social issues such as immigration reform and poverty.
WHAT: Death penalty presentation
WHEN: Tuesday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m.
WHERE: St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center, 170 University St., Salt Lake City
Presenter will be by Fr. John Norman, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. Free and open to the public.