End of Death Penalty, Mandated by Pope Francis, is sign of Evolving Human Consciousness

Springfield, Ill.—In 1999 the Dominican Sisters of Springfield spoke out against the death penalty in an official, congregationally approved document called a corporate stance. Today they rejoice in the fruit of their prayer and advocacy with the announcement by the Vatican that Pope Francis has authorized a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which now states, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The sisters’ 1999 statement read: “We, the Springfield Dominicans, recognize and respect the dignity of all persons and seek to end all forms of violence in our lives and in our world. We therefore seek the abolition of the death penalty.”

“This is a sign of our evolving human consciousness,” said Sister Marcelline Koch, “Anytime the Vatican recognizes and works to mitigate structures that abuse power ‘over and against’ others it’s a hopeful sign. I couldn’t be more pleased.” Sister Marcelline is promoter of justice, peace and the integrity of creation for the Springfield Dominicans and co-promoter, along with Dominican Father Brendan Curran, in the North American region for the Dominicans worldwide.

Recognizing that systemic change takes time and involves multiple layers, in 2017 the Dominicans published the info graphic “An Anatomy of Systemic Change” in their publication JUST Words.

The introduction to that graphic calls personal transformation the heart of systemic change and says “Society-altering change begins in the human heart and radiates outward. Policy makers create transformational change when they allow their own hearts to change.” It makes a case study of the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, and demonstrates that policy change occurs when a combination of factors come to play, including prayer, study, storytelling, public imagination and human relationships.

“This change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an important sign that personal transformation has already occurred in the hearts of many individuals,” Sister Marcelline said. “We rejoice at this movement of the Holy Spirit in our world.”

In full, the new text in the Catechism reads as follows:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The Dominican Sisters of Springfield are part of a worldwide Dominican family, the Order of Preachers. For more than 800 years, Dominicans have preached the Gospel in word and deed. Today, thousands of sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates, and laity minister in more than 100 countries around the world. To learn more about the Dominican Sisters mission and ministry browse the website.

Sister Marcelline Koch, OP

Anatomy of Systemic Change