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Lay group adds muscle to death-penalty fight.

The long-cherished desire that Catholic laity in the United States take the initiative on questions of social justice has been fulfilled -- at least on one issue. Catholics Against Capital Punishment, 18 months old, is a vibrant nonprofit organization based in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Its literature is compelling, its growth impressive and its capacity for leadership promising.

The aim of CACP is simple and straightforward: to disseminate "the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church -- in particular, the statements of the Catholic bishops of the United States -- which characterize capital punishment as inappropriate and unacceptable in today's world."

The monthly news notes of CACP contain information and documentation about the struggle against the death penalty that even the best-informed critics of capital punishment have not always seen. Statements from episcopal conferences around the world are particularly noteworthy.

Similarly, pronouncements of groups like the Michigan Catholic Conference and the bishops of the Atlanta province -- statements not always seen even in the Catholic press -- are recalled for the growing number of Catholics who subscribe ($25 a year, PO Box 3125, Arlington, VA 22203) to the evermore impressive newsletter of Catholics Against Capital Punishment.

The group's approach is to build and strengthen the pro-life attitude that is endemic in the Catholic tradition. CACP approves the policy of using the term pro-life only for those people or organizations that favor a consistent ethic of life, including opposition to the death penalty. The Catholic Missourian, the newspaper of the Jefferson City, Mo., diocese, wins praise for adopting this policy -- for ads as well as editorial matter.

Every struggle in the United States to end the death penalty is recorded in the monthly newsletter of CACP. The assistance, for example, of Cardinal James Hickey in defeating a congressionally imposed capital punishment initiative in the District of Columbia in November 1992 wins praise. Likewise, the struggles of Catholics in states from Alabama to Virginia are recorded.

The founder of Catholics Against Capital Punishment is a retired civil servant. None of the literature carries his name; he is humbly and genuinely eager that the organization not be identified with him. The mission of CACP is to radiate the overwhelming consensus among Catholics that the death penalty is undesirable, inefficient and immoral.

The new universal catechism, for example, raises the most serious questions about the justness of the death penalty. The catechism's position is similar to the 1980 statement of the U.S. Catholic bishops: "We believe that in the conditions of contemporary American society, the legitimate purposes of punishment do not justify the imposition of the death penalty."

Powerful forces around the world, led by Amnesty International, work ceaselessly to persuade the nations of the earth to join the 48 countries that have abolished the death penalty or the 16 others that restrict its use to certain crimes in wartime. Catholic voices around the world are more and more joining the cry of humankind against the execution of people for any crime.

A moving quotation reprinted by CACP on its membership application is relevant on the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The quotation is from his daughter, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo:

"I can remember so clearly, when my father died, thinking, 'I hope they don't kill the man who killed him.' I can remember lying in bed and praying, 'Please, God, please don't let them kill him. ...' I didn't want any other family to have to go through what our family was going through. That was an instinctive reaction, not a tutored one. But I am pleased to know that someone I hold in great esteem shared it: my father. 'Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily,' he said, 'whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence -- whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.'"
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Title Annotation:Catholics Against Capital Punishment
Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:May 28, 1993
Words:681
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