An active Catholic anti-death penalty group is engaged in a yearslong mission to spread what its director calls the “fundamental belief” that even convicted murderers should be “treated with dignity” and protected from capital punishment. 

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), which is based in Washington, D.C., describes itself on its website as “a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill” to “value life over death, to end the use of the death penalty,” and “to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative.”

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the group’s executive director, told CNA the organization’s mission “is rooted in the Gospel value that every human is created in the image and likeness of God.” 

CMN promotes “the fundamental belief that all those who have caused or been impacted by crime should be treated with dignity — no matter the harm one has caused or suffered,” Murphy said. 

The initiative arose following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) 2005 launching of the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. A few years after that program’s debut, a number of Catholic advocates and stakeholders, including family members of murder victims, collaborated on how to help support that effort. CMN was launched in 2009 as a result. 

On its website, the group urges activists to take part in anti-death penalty campaigns in numerous states, including petitioning the federal government to end the death penalty. Murphy told CNA that the organization uses “a three-tiered approach of education, advocacy, and prayer” to advance its goals. 

“Advocacy has proven effective in advancing death penalty abolition and curbing use of capital punishment,” she said. “In the last 15 years, nine states have abolished the death penalty, most as a result of legislative repeal campaigns.” 

“A majority of states (29) have now either abolished the death penalty or paused executions by executive action,” she added. “In the last 15 years, annual executions have dropped 65% and death sentences 80%.”

High-profile executions still carried out in numerous states

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Though the death penalty is arguably on a downward trend in the U.S., numerous states still carry out executions on a regular basis, such as Oklahoma’s recent killing of convicted murderer Anthony Sanchez and Alabama’s execution in January of Kenneth Smith. 

Smith’s execution was carried out with nitrogen gas, the first time in U.S. history that such a method was used. Witnesses said Smith writhed for several minutes while being administered the gas and was observed breathing for a considerable amount of time during the execution itself. 

Murphy said Catholics “have an important role in opposing the adoption of new execution methods” such as Smith’s nitrogen gas killing. 

“There are promising legislative efforts to abolish capital punishment at the state level, like in Ohio, the state which many believe will be the next to outlaw this deadly practice,” she said.  

Though executions are still regularly carried out in the U.S, Murphy said the country is “unquestionably” moving away from capital punishment. 

Catholics, she said, “have to raise our voice against each and every execution to remind our elected officials that they cannot continue to kill in our names.”

Among its numerous initiatives, CMN offers what it calls the “Mercy in Action Project,” which keeps participants abreast of upcoming executions, assists them in sending clemency letters to state authorities, and offers resources for prayer on behalf of condemned prisoners. 

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The group also “works at every level within the Catholic Church in the United States,” Murphy said, including collaborations with state Catholic conferences, involvement with religious communities, and cooperation with leadership at the USCCB. The organization holds a virtual prayer vigil on the first Friday of every month; nearly two dozen bishops have participated in the vigil events. 

Murphy said that at present the group is “concentrating mostly around opposing executions and supporting repeal efforts at the state level” but that “it’s not lost on us how important it remains to continue to urge abolition at the federal level too.” 

The federal government imposed a moratorium on the federal death penalty in 2021; several dozen condemned inmates still sit on federal death row. Over 2,000 convicts are still in state-level death rows as well. 

Though opposition to capital punishment remains its central focus, Murphy noted that CMN’s advocacy goes well beyond bringing an end to the death penalty.

“CMN also works to build a culture of life,” she said, “by providing training and resources to parishes and parish ministries to implement restorative practices that capacitate our Catholic communities to respond to harm and violence in a way that prioritizes the healing and wholeness of all people, rather than revenge.”