July 29, 2021

Pope Francis calls for abolition of death penalty as justices watch

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Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Mike Sacks, From The National Law Journal

Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayor attend papal address to Congress.

In a speech before a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis on Thursday called for the abolition of the death penalty, urged compassion for immigrants and refugees and sounded the alarm on climate change.

Pope Francis, making his first papal and personal visit to the United States, said the church’s “responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” has led him “from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. … Since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was one of the four U.S. Supreme Court justices in attendance on Thursday, questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty in a dissenting opinion in a lethal-injection case decided in June. The dissent’s author, Justice Stephen Breyer, was not present for the speech. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor—all Catholic—were in attendance alongside Ginsburg on the House floor.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who is Catholic, was not in attendance Thursday. Earlier this week, in remarks in Tennessee, Scalia said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

On immigration, the pope said: “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

Pope Francis also called on the lawmakers before him to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States—and this Congress—have an important role to play.”

The pope weaved his messages into shoutouts for four notable Americans: President Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, religious activists who tried to push the church toward promoting social justice. His remarks will likely boost the movement in favor of sainthood for Day, a pacifist who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement. She died in 1980.

The pope’s prepared remarks are posted below.

Tony Mauro contributed to this report.

IMAGE: Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202738064371/Pope-Francis-Calls-For-Abolition-of-Death-Penalty-as-Justices-Watch#ixzz3mlJ4UD5Q

 

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