Catholic San Francisco


(Photo courtesy San Quentin Prison)

A delegation of California bishops and others visited San Quentin State Prison in 2013.

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Archdiocese launches grass roots effort urging death penalty repeal
September 19th, 2016
By Christina Gray

As if we had to tell you, the stakes are high in California’s Nov. 8 general election. Among those stakes is the possible return of the state’s use of the death penalty as the maximum punishment for murder – and the archdiocese’s Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns is in overdrive promoting the Catholic Church’s position that the death penalty should be repealed.

The California bishops urge a yes vote for Prop. 62, “The Repeal of the Death Penalty Initiative”; a no vote against Prop. 66, “The Death Penalty Procedures Initiative”; and a yes vote for Prop. 57, “The California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative.” Those three are the only propositions among the 18 on the ballot for which the California bishops have taken a public policy position.

“Many of our people don’t know, if you ask them, what these propositions are about,” said Julio Escobar, coordinator for the archdiocese’s restorative justice program. He and colleagues Lorena Melgarejo and Carolina Parrales met with the archdiocesan Council of Priests Sept. 7 to seek support from pastors for educational outreach visits to parishes and schools which would include after-Mass voter registration.

“The Jubilee Year of Mercy presents a key opportunity for us to respectfully engage and educate parishioners and help them vote according to their values,” Escobar said.

More than a dozen parishes so far have formed and trained voter outreach and registration teams. Melgarejo has been with many of them after Mass at Mission Dolores, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Peter, St. Mary’s Cathedral and Corpus Christi parishes in San Francisco County and All Souls, St. Anthony of Padua, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Holy Angels, St. Matthew, St. Bartholomew, St. Timothy, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Francis of Assisi in San Mateo County. Melgarejo is coordinator of parish organizing for the archdiocese and lead organizer for the interfaith community organizing network, the San Francisco Organizing Project/Peninsula Interfaith Action, a member of PICO National Network.

“I’ve had some really wonderful conversations with people after church,” she said. She said few people are familiar with a document central to her office’s outreach: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

The 41-page document, first published in 2007 and most recently revised for the 2016 election, says the “obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of a society is a requirement of our faith.” The document applies Catholic teaching to major policy issues but does not give specific direction on how to vote.

Prop. 62 would repeal the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without possibility of parole and would require the convicted to work to pay restitution to victim’s families. It would apply retroactively to 747 people already sentenced to death in California.

In concert with supporting Prop. 62, the California bishops oppose Prop. 66, which speeds up the appeals process. A majority vote for Prop. 66 would override a majority vote for Prop. 62.

The bishops also support Prop. 57 which would increase parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allow judges to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. “Proposition 57 offers alternatives: an increase in public safety leading to less crime; programs to promote healing and rehabilitation and the means to deal with offending juveniles as the wounded children that they are,” the bishops wrote.

The archdiocese will continue voter registration until the deadline of Oct. 24 and parish educational outreach until the Sunday before election day. If your parish is interested in forming and training a voter outreach and registration team, contact

From September 22, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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