The Latest: Nun of ‘Dead Man Walking’ fame grateful to pope
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Latest on the pope’s move to change Catholic church teaching on the death penalty (all times local):
The Roman Catholic nun whose ministry to a death row inmate inspired the book and film “Dead Man Walking” says she’s “overjoyed and deeply grateful” Pope Francis has declared the death penalty unjustifiable under any circumstance.
In a tweet, Sister Helen Prejean said Francis’ decision to change church teaching on capital punishment “has closed the last remaining loophole in Catholic teaching on the death penalty.”
She wrote in response to Thursday’s Vatican announcement: “This is a great day for human rights.”
Prejean began giving spiritual advice in 1982 to a death row inmate convicted of killing two teen-agers. She turned the experience into a nonfiction book that explored the human toll the death sentence had on the inmate’s family and the families of the victims.
“Dead Man Walking” was made into a 1995 film that starred Susan Sarandon as Prejean and fueled the debate in the U.S. over capital punishment.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’ll introduce legislation that would remove the death penalty from New York state law.
The Democrat made the announcement Thursday after the Vatican said Pope Francis changed church teaching to say death penalty is “inadmissible” under all circumstances.
Cuomo says his proposal is made in solidarity with the pope and in honor of his late father, Mario Cuomo, a staunch death penalty opponent during his three terms as New York governor from 1983 to 1994.
The elder Cuomo vetoed legislation reinstating the death penalty 12 times in 12 years.
New York’s death penalty was reinstated in 1995 while Republican George Pataki was governor. The state’s highest court ruled it unconstitutional in 2004. The state hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1963.
The Vatican spokesman says Pope Francis’ decision to change church teaching to make clear there is never any justification for the death penalty is a message for all Catholics and for the world.
Spokesman Greg Burke says popes going back to St. John Paul II have called for the abolition of capital punishment. But until now, the official church teaching allowed for it in limited cases.
In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Burke said: “First of all I think it is a message to all Catholics: Let’s go back to what it means to respect life at all time and in all cases.”
He also said it sends a message globally, that the Catholic Church has changed its own teaching on capital punishment and now will work for its abolition globally.
Francis changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the compendium of church teaching — to show that the death penalty is now “inadmissible.”
Pope Francis has changed church teaching about the death penalty, saying it can never be sanctioned because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans.
The Vatican said Thursday that Francis had changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the compilation of official Catholic teaching. Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
The new teaching says the previous policy is outdated and that there are other ways to protect society: “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.”