Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

The Push for Repeal of the Death Penalty in Louisiana 

by | Apr 5, 2022

April 5, 2022 

Guest columnist

What a difference a year has made. Last spring, I received information about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) in an email from the Loyola Alumni Association and was invited to attend an informational meeting at Loyola’s Ignatius Chapel to learn more. 

IVC offers opportunities for retired or semi-retired persons older than 50 to serve the vulnerable and actively participate in a spiritual community that prays, learns and grows together. 

I graduated from Loyola University and Loyola Law School in the 1970s, so I met the criteria of retirement age and could share my legal knowledge and practical experience in certain areas of need. 

There are a multitude of possible service positions, and volunteers are encouraged to see what appeals to them so that the chosen experience is mutually beneficial to the server and the served. 

After discernment and more than one attempt to find the best “fit” for service, I found The Promise of Justice Initiative (promiseofjustice.org) – a Louisiana-based nonprofit that is working to repeal the death penalty in Louisiana. The team works in affirmation of Catholic social teaching of human dignity from conception through natural death. 

As an IVC volunteer, I was introduced to the Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Mobilizing Network that helps states repeal their death penalty laws. (More information is available at catholicsmobilizing.org and also by using @CMNEndtheDeathPenalty on social media.) 

The network asks all Catholic schools, church parishes and respect life groups to write their elected state representatives affirming the Catholic Church’s stance for life and supporting the repeal of the death penalty in Louisiana, which is contrary to the Gospel (actionnetwork.org/letters/end-louisiana-death-penalty). 

St. John Paul II said, “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” In 2018, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” was updated (No. 2267) to clearly state that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” adding that the church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” 

The death penalty’s arbitrary and flawed application in a fair and consistent manner is a serious problem. In Louisiana alone, 11 prisoners who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in Louisiana have been exonerated as recently as 2017. 

The death penalty does not deter crime and is no longer needed to protect society. Senate Bill 294 proposes that money saved in not prosecuting these cases and their subsequent costs for lengthy appeals borne by the taxpayers might be used for early childhood education. 

Each month, IVC volunteers meet as a group to pray and to talk about Gospel readings and the life of St. Ignatius Loyola as it relates to a monthly topic. We have discussed awareness, openness, courage, how to seek help and dealing with conflict as people of faith. 

The group is reading a book by Pope Francis, “Let Us Dream, The Path to a Better Future,” and discusses it in relation to Ignatian teachings. Another great book we have read is Barbara Lee’s “God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet: A Guide to Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life.” 

Our monthly meetings also include a presentation on a topic and a discussion with the community about service opportunities. We heard recently from Eva Sole of the Harry Tompson Center about the unhoused in New Orleans. 

Sister of St. Joseph Helen Prejean, the author of “Dead Man Walking,” will speak at Holy Name of Jesus Church on April 6 at 7 p.m. about her more than 30 years experience with death-row inmates and the need for all Catholics, as well as others, to work to repeal the death penalty. 

For more information on the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, go to IVCUSA.org/neworleans. For detailed information on the repeal effort, go to www.LARepeal.org/catholic.