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Attention Parish Leaders:

Converting from death to life


How two former capital-punishment supporters had changes of heart and took public stances
By Stephen James

he U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expends considerable effort to educate pro-death

penalty Catholics with the intention of persuading them to reconsider their positions and more closely align with Church teaching on the often emotionally charged issue. The results of the long-term re-education process have been incremental, but consistently encouraging.
The most recent USCCB polling on the issue, completed in 2005,showed a dramatic drop in Catholic support for capital punishment.We found that support for the use of the death p e n a l t y a m o n g Am e r i c a n Catholics has plunged in the past few years, Zogby International President John Zogby said at the time the results were released. The polling revealed that less than 48 percent of adult Catholics support the use of the death penalty,while 47 percent oppose. And while every conversion is important, some are more highprofile and therefore more potentially influential than others. ing about it, he said. And then once they get to talking about it, then we start changing their minds.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick CNS PHOTO BOB ROLLER

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Growing reservations
In California, another influential and long-time pro-death penalty Catholic has recently expressed his own reservations about capital punishment. Appointed to the Ventura County bench in 1974 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, Judge Charles McGrath was a lifelong law-andorder Republican and deathpenalty proponent. Known as a strict jurist throughout his career, McGrath refused to allow plea bargains in his courtroom until a higher court ruling forced him to change the policy. McGrath attributes the formation of his judicial philosophy to his conservative IrishCatholic upbringing. Over his career, the 68-year-old judge presided over several deathpenalty cases,and in two of them, sentenced the defendant to die by lethal injection.

Good stewardship of Gods creation is more than a buzzword: Its a Christian mandate. Heres how to get there Stories by Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller

ister Mary Anne Foley begins

her courseGod and the Earth

at the University of Scranton,a Jesuit

Judge Charles McGrath


PHOTO BY GUY W. KITCHENS

school in Pennsylvania, with Lynn

White Jr.s 1967 essay,The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.

Archbishop converts
When the 2005 poll was released, one of those high-profile conversions, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington,D.C., reflected on his own transformation from death-penalty supporter to opponent. Cardinal McCarrick said that supporting the death penalty was an inherent part of growing up in a family that had a lot of police officers. But the call of Pope John Paul II and his position as a Church teacher and pastor,compelled him to evolve. I have come to believe the death penalty hurts all of us, not just the one being executed, he said. It diminishes and contradicts our respect for all human life and dignity. Andrew Rivas,the U.S.bishops policy adviser on criminal-justice issues, explained that conversions like Cardinal McCarricks can have an influence on obstinate, pro-death penalty Catholics. I think that gives people a little bit more incentive and makes them feel more comfortable in at least talk-

Bold request
In an unprecedented reversal last January,McGrath asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to change the sentence one of those defendants, Michael Morales, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.Morales was convicted of raping and killing a teen girl in 1981. Citing new evidence in the case that indicated key prosecution testimony was tainted, McGrath told Californias governor that executing Morales would constitute a grievous and freakish injustice. Schwarzenegger, also a Catholic, denied the request. However,Morales was granted an indefinite stay of execution after the courts could not find quali-

fied medical professionals to administer the lethal injection. The state is now reviewing its lethal-injection policies. McGrath, who attends Mass at Santa Clara Parish in Oxnard, is a reserved man and not prone to exaggerated introspection.He was reluctant to say much more about the Morales case.And since he is still an active judge, he declines to say outright whether he supports capital punishment, but does admit that his oncestringent beliefs have evolved. Im a little dubious about the efficacy of the death penalty, he explained. But it appears his reservations actually began to evolve several years ago. While reflecting back on his career after he retired to part-time status in 1997, McGrath told a local reporter that sentencing someone to death was the hardest decision a judge could make. He also expressed doubts about the effectiveness and practicality of the death penalty. The appeals are interminable. We could use our judicial resources in other ways. Nobody really argues any more that its a deterrent, he said. I am beginning to feel its not worth all the trouble.
Stephen James writes from California.

Bring the current events and pressing issues affecting your parishioners into your lesson plans and group activities with the weekly OSV In Focus special section. Provoke meaningful discussion for all age groups from middle school on up with quick but thorough explanations and explorations of the facts, opposing sides and solutions to complex concerns involving the Catholic Church. In Focus delivers the questions, the answers and everything in between.
In it, the UCLA professor blames environmental degradation on Jews, Christians and Muslims for interpreting the Book of Genesis to mean that God created the earth for mans benefit. That narrative,he charges,means that no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve mans purposes. Thats a misunderstanding of the Bibles first chapter, said Sister Foley, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame, who teaches theology and religious studies. Gods command to subdue the earth is often cited as justification for what human beings have done, she said. That raises a question, and the rest of the course is a response to that question. The students are directed to Scripture, Christian texts and the writings of the Church fathers to learn what the Church teaches about mans responsibility to the environment. And its not what White wrote. I think that we need to read [Genesis] in the context of the human person being made in the image of God, so the earth should be treated the way God treats the earth,Sister Foley said.So the students discover,sometimes to their surprise,that human beings damaging the earth is not only not in keeping with the strongest Christian tradition about nature,but goes against it.

Defending all creation

The Churchs support of environmental stewardship is made clear in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Environmental issues, the council noted, are in crisis in the relationship between man and the environment.

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