Three Bishops Speak Out Against Death Sentence in Case with Racist Juror

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Bishop Frank Dewane, and Bishop Shelton Fabre write:

There is no toxin more pernicious than hatred based on racial stereotypes. Despite progress in overcoming the sin of racism in recent years, racism still exists in American society—causing pain and hurt, and even leading to death. As a case in point, Keith Tharpe sits on death row in Jackson, Georgia, convicted of a gruesome murder 28 years ago. While we cannot speak to the legal issues of this case, it is apparent that racism may have played a part in Tharpe’s death sentence. After the trial, one of the jurors displayed shocking racial prejudice in an affidavit, liberally using racial slurs as he “wondered if black people even have souls.”

Lower courts have been unwilling to reconsider the verdict, but the case is now before the United States Supreme Court, which could grant a writ of certiorari to consider the merits of Tharpe’s contention of racial bias. The failure to thoroughly consider the effect of racism in jury deliberations could lead to Tharpe’s execution. We therefore join with many others in asking the Supreme Court to consider this case and the effects of an admittedly racist juror….

Whenever personal prejudices surface in a trial, society relies on appellate courts and especially the Supreme Court to rectify these biases. We thus exhort the Supreme Court to take up Tharpe’s case and correct the clear, documented racism in the case by granting him a new sentencing hearing….

It’s not just the stain of racism that leads us to oppose Tharpe’s execution. The Catholic Church teaches that in the light of the Gospel, “the death penalty is inadmissible,” a teaching that has been reinforced most recently by Pope Francis. Indeed, the death penalty violates human dignity even if the convicted individual has committed a terrible crime….

The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene in his case to ensure that fairness is protected and justice is defended—before it’s too late. To do nothing would be tragic not only for Tharpe, but for our collective dignity.


Syrian Military Linked to More than 300 Chemical Attacks

Embed from Getty Images
via Louisa Loveluck:

The Syrian government and affiliated forces have launched more than 300 attacks using chemical weapons during the country’s nearly eight-year conflict, a report said Sunday.

The findings by the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute offer the most comprehensive record to date of presumed chemicals weapons use in Syria, where the long war appears to be winding down.

The tally by the policy group also could be cited as part of possible international war-crimes cases against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) said it had “credibly substantiated” 336 uses of chemical weapons, ranging from nerve agents to crude but dangerous chlorine bombs.


To Be Happy, Give Up Idolatry and Be Close to the Poor, Afflicted, and Hungry

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via Vatican News:

Pope Francis explained how Jesus, “declares the poor, the hungry, the afflicted, the persecuted blessed while he admonishes those who are rich, well fed, who laugh and are acclaimed by people. He went on to say that the “woe to you” phrase, “addressed to those who are doing well today, serves to “awaken” them from the dangerous deception of selfishness and open them up to the logic of love, while they still have time.”

The Pope emphasized that “the passage of Sunday’s Gospel, therefore, invites us to reflect on the profound meaning of having faith, which consists in trusting the Lord totally… he alone can give our existence that much desired fullness, yet one that is difficult to achieve.”

He noted that, even today, “there are many who propose themselves as dispensers of happiness”: They promise success in the short term”, Pope Francis said, “great profits to be had, magical solutions to every problem, and so on. And without realizing, it is easy to slip into sin against the first commandment: idolatry, replacing God with an idol.”

“That is why Jesus opens our eyes to reality,” the Pope stressed, “we are called to happiness, to be blessed, and we become so from now on in the measure in which we put ourselves on the side of God, of His Kingdom, on the side of what is not ephemeral but endures for eternal life.” He continued, “We are happy if we recognize ourselves as needy before God and, if like Him and with Him, we are close to the poor, the afflicted and the hungry.”


Jesuits Announce Four Areas of Focus for the Next 10 Years

via the Society of Jesus:

Universal Apostolic Preferences are the fruit of a process of discernment lasting almost two years. All Jesuits were invited to take part and in addition our mission partners. It concluded with a confirmation from Pope Francis in a special meeting with Fr General Arturo Sosa. The Preferences give a horizon, a point of reference to the whole Society of Jesus. They capture our imaginations and awaken our desires. They unite us in our mission. The new Preferences are four areas vital for our world today. The Society of Jesus will pay special attention to them in the next ten years.

The four areas are:

  1. Discernment and the “Spiritual Exercises”: Helping people find Jesus Christ and follow Him
  2. Walking with the Excluded: Walk alongside the poor, vulnerable, the excluded and those whom society considers worthless, in a mission of reconciliation and justice
  3. Caring for our Common Home: Work, with Gospel depth, for the protection and renewal of God’s Creation
  4. Journeying with Youth: Accompany young people in the creation of a hopeful future

People’s Policy Project Releases Bold Pro-Family Plan

Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project has authored a new paper offering a comprehensive set of pro-family policies, as progressives and Democrats increasingly turn to this important subject:

The seven benefits in the paper are:

  1. Baby box. Three months before the birth of a child, each family will receive a box that contains essential items like clothes and bottles with the box itself doubling as a bassinet.
  2. Parental Leave. Families will receive 36 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child. In single-parent families, the sole parent is entitled to all 36 weeks. In two-parent families, each parent is entitled to 18 weeks but may transfer up to 14 weeks to the other parent. The paid leave benefit will be set equal to 100 percent of earnings up to the minimum wage and 66 percent of earnings beyond the minimum wage. All recipients will be entitled to benefits equal to at least the minimum wage but no more than the national average wage.
  3. Free child care. After the parental leave period, children will be entitled to a spot in a free public child care center. Parents who wish to care for their children at home can opt out and receive a home child care allowance equal to the per-child wages of child care workers. For example, if public child care workers are tasked with caring for four kids at a time, then the home child care allowance would be equal to one-fourth of the pay of child care workers.
  4. Free pre-k. From age 3 to 5, children will be entitled to spot in a free pre-k center.
  5. Free school lunch. Public child care centers, public pre-k centers, and public k-12 will all provide free school lunches.
  6. Free health care. Everyone below the age of 26 will be entitled to free health care through the Medicare system.
  7. Child allowance. Parents will receive $300 per month for every child they are caring for under the age of 18. This benefit will replace the child tax credit, child and dependent care tax credit, dependent care flexible savings accounts, 529 accounts as used for elementary or secondary school, and head of household filing status. It will also mostly replace the earned income tax credit.

You can read the full paper here.


We Need a Whole Life Response to Extreme Access-to-Abortion Laws

My son Theodore was born when he was 36 weeks and 2 days old. Together, his body and mine decided that that was the time his life would transition from one lived inside the womb to one lived outside of it. His birth day was not the day that his life began, it was the day it changed from depending upon an umbilical cord for nutrition to depending on breasts, from being swaddled in amniotic fluid to being swaddled in arms, from sleeping on my bladder to sleeping on my chest. Many things changed the day Theo was born, the value of his life was not one of them.

I write today in response to the extreme access-to-abortion bills being passed, proposed, and considered in several states across the country. My current home state, Vermont, has proposed one of the most severe, calling for unrestricted abortion access for anyone at any time for any reason.

The emergence of these extreme access-to-abortion bills in several states during a time of intense polarization in our country presents a unique opportunity for those who value life at all stages—who often straddle political party lines—to unify. If the pro-life movement acts and reacts in meaningful and intentional ways at this particular moment in history, it has the potential to definitively gain momentum.

The proposed Vermont bill highlights and systematizes values (or the absence of values) in a way that has roused many dormant pro-lifers, and even thoughtful pro-choicers, to speak out against it.

I use the word “dormant” to describe those who, like myself, consider themselves decisively pro-life, but typically disagree with the narrow focus of much of the popular pro-life movement and therefore tend to stay on the sideline when it comes to publicly advocating against abortion. “Thoughtful pro-choicers” refers to those who, while holding positions (contrary to Church teaching) that allow for abortion to be considered in the early weeks of pregnancy or in regulated, informed, medical settings, feel that the proposed bill goes too far in its allowances.

Broadening the scope of the anti-abortion argument to embrace and promote a “whole life” perspective could be the most effective way to protect the specific life of the unborn child.

While often the whole life movement is found calling for those who value the lives of unborn babies to equally value the lives of immigrants, women, non-Christians, those with black and brown skin, prisoners, the ill, elderly, and disabled, among others, now is the time for us to vociferously persuade those who value the lives of many marginalized and vulnerable people that the unborn baby does, indeed, fall into that category. Comparatively, it seems to me that this should be a much easier task.

The pro-choice movement has successfully and effectively framed the abortion conversation as one of women’s rights, ignoring the life and vulnerability of the child. But in what other situation does pitting one group’s rights against another’s result in justice? Creating such stark divisions has often been used to preserve oppression, while justice has been achieved by greater solidarity among the vulnerable and a both/and approach.

Rather than argue for the rights of the women or the rights of their children, we must emphatically reframe the conversation as one of wholistic human rights. Let us not be tricked into the lie of binary thinking just because it is presented as progressive. There is nothing progressive about discounting the humanity of one group of people for the benefit of another. That is a practice that has been used for centuries to preserve the power of the elite.

Whole life proponents have argued that tying legal restrictions on abortion to support for parental leave and protections against pregnancy discrimination could attract a much wider base of support. Promoting and supporting legislation that both restricts abortion access and offers concrete alternatives helps change the question from “Who gets to flourish?” to “How can we ensure mutual flourishing?”

The original version of the Vermont bill stated that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.” After a public hearing on the bill at the Vermont State House and a committee debate about “how far the bill should go in codifying the definition of personhood under Vermont law” the next morning, the House Committee removed this particularly troubling sentence from the bill before passing it out of committee. While changing nothing in practice, this small measure gives me hope that some of the testimonies delivered at the public hearing did reach the ears and hearts of our lawmakers.

The Vermont bill, as it currently stands, is still upsetting in that it allows for unrestricted abortion for anyone at any time for any reason. However, something stopped the representatives in that committee from definitively claiming that the baby in the womb was not a person. Maybe we can still convince them that it definitely is a person, and that person, like all others, has human rights.

These extreme access-to-abortion bills appearing across the country do not represent who we are as Americans seeking just and humane policies of inclusion that value women, families, the marginalized, and the vulnerable. We can, and must, do better.

Stephanie Clary serves as the Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication for the Diocese of Burlington and the Assistant Editor of Vermont Catholic.


Highlights from the New Catholic-Muslim Document on Human Fraternity

via the Vatican:

Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need….

It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and
sisters….

In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace;

In the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill, affirming that whoever kills a person is like one who kills the whole of humanity, and that whoever saves a person is like one who saves the whole of humanity;

In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized and those most in need whom God has commanded us to help as a duty required of all persons, especially the wealthy and of means;

In the name of orphans, widows, refugees and those exiled from their homes and their countries; in the name of all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; in the name of the weak, those who live in fear, prisoners of war and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction;

In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace, and the possibility of living together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war;

In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;

In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women;

In the name of freedom, that God has given to all human beings creating them free and distinguishing them by this gift;

In the name of justice and mercy, the foundations of prosperity and the cornerstone of faith;

In the name of all persons of good will present in every part of the world;

In the name of God and of everything stated thus far; Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West, together with the Catholic Church and the Catholics of the East and West, declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard….

We call upon intellectuals, philosophers, religious figures, artists, media professionals and men and women of culture in every part of the world, to rediscover the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence in order to confirm the importance of these values as anchors of salvation for all, and to promote them everywhere.

This Declaration, setting out from a profound consideration of our contemporary reality, valuing its successes and in solidarity with its suffering, disasters and calamities, believes firmly that among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and a prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles….

History shows that religious extremism, national extremism and also intolerance have produced in the world, be it in the East or West, what might be referred to as signs of a “third world war being fought piecemeal”….

It is clear in this context how the family as the fundamental nucleus of society and humanity is essential in bringing children into the world, raising them, educating them, and providing them with solid moral formation and domestic security. To attack the institution of the family, to regard it with contempt or to doubt its important role, is one of the most threatening evils of our era….

He is the Creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it. It is a gift that no one has the right to take away, threaten or manipulate to suit oneself. Indeed, everyone must safeguard this gift of life from its beginning up to its natural end. We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia….

Moreover, we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood….

Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action….

Justice based on mercy is the path to follow in order to achieve a dignified life to which every human being has a right….

Dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity…

It is likewise important to reinforce the bond of fundamental human rights in order to help ensure a dignified life for all the men and women of East and West, avoiding the politics of double standards….

It is an essential requirement to recognize the right of women to education and employment, and to recognize their freedom to exercise their own political rights. Moreover, efforts must be made to free women from historical and social conditioning that runs contrary to the principles of their faith and dignity. It is also necessary to protect women from sexual exploitation and from being treated as merchandise or objects of pleasure or financial gain. Accordingly, an end must be brought to all those inhuman and vulgar practices that denigrate the dignity of women. Efforts must be made to modify those laws that prevent women from fully enjoying their rights….

The protection of the rights of the elderly, the weak, the disabled, and the oppressed is a religious and social obligation that must be guaranteed and defended through strict legislation and the implementation of the relevant international agreements.