Supporters of Prop. 34 include those whose family members were murdered, as well as priests and nuns.Deldelp Medina and Tomás and Juana Bonilla say the death penalty does not alleviate the pain someone feels when their loved one is murdered. On the contrary, it “fuels negative feelings.”The three have lived the tragic experience of losing a relative at the hands of another person. And yet they have become advocates of Proposition 34, the initiative statute that repeals death penalty as the maximum punishment for a person found guilty of murder, and replaces it with life without the possibility of parole.It took seven tedious years for the Medina Family to obtain a resentencing for one of their own members, who murdered his own mother (Deldelp’s paternal aunt) during a schizophrenic episode.“His crime was horrible, but all the family gathered after my aunt’s death and agreed the death penalty was not the proper punishment for my cousin,” said Deldelp. In her efforts to seek appropriate justice, she went from being a “simple office manager” at a small business to a strong advocate of the abolition of the death penalty in California and other states. She is now the Northern California coordinator of the Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.The Bonillas, who lost their oldest daughter and a granddaughter two years ago, believe the alternative should be rehabilitation of the offenders, which they are advocating for the man who killed their loved ones after a burst of anger gone wrong.“The [death penalty] is unjust because you are not only punishing the person being sentenced, it’s a punishment for all the families involved,” said Tomás Bonilla, a parishioner of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, where he is part of a survivors of victims of crime support group. “It would be a mark that will never disappear; a pain that all the involved will carry forever.”He said he and his wife Juana felt “very happy” when they learned that the offender in their case would not face the death penalty. “I really felt at peace because I knew that the [offender’s] family wouldn’t have to go through another pain,” he continued. “It’s hard enough to know what your own loved one has done. Vengeance is not the example I want to give to my children.”Reflects ‘violent’ societyThe death penalty only reflects the “violent culture” of our society, insist those who advocate for the abolition of capital punishment, which was reinstated in California in 1977 and affirmed by voters in 1978. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional in 1972.Among the advocates are religious women and priests as well as laymen and laywomen, who throughout years of working in prison ministry have acquired a wide knowledge of the criminal justice system and the arbitrary nature of several measures, including the death penalty.Even some advocates have gone through a process of information and education to reach the conclusion that capital punishment is totally against Catholic social teaching.“Growing up I believed on the death penalty because my family believed in it,” Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Mary Sean Hodges told The Tidings. “I had to go through a process of educating myself to conclude that if we believe that killing is wrong then it’s not right for the state to kill.” Sister Hodges runs the archdiocesan Partnership for Re-entry Program, part of the Office of Restorative Justice. Since 1985 she has exchanged mail with a Hispanic man on death row at San Quentin State Prison. She visits him every year, the last time in February. And at least two of the men she has hosted in the homes for released prisoners she runs lived for a short term on death row.Her relationship with the men has given her “more clarity of how they come to commit their crime,” she said. “I have seen these men’s transformation and rehabilitation and this happens when they go through their own process of maturation in prison. “In prison they have enough ‘inner time,’ and many realize that life is more worthwhile than doing what they have been used to doing and they start making life changes, finding programs in prison. They become active in their own recovery. Not having executions gives all these people a chance to rehabilitate.”Based on her 10 years in restorative justice work, Sister Hodges asserts that the death penalty is applied mostly to people of color and poor whites. There are 725 men on death row in California and more than 40 women. Criminal defense attorney David Evans concurred that the status of the victim determines the verdict. His interest in the death penalty law begin while still in law school in the 1970s, and he has spent most of his career representing prisoners on death row with trials and filing habeas corpus petitions.Currently, he is defending three men on death row: a Mexican-American, a Pacific Islander and an African American, all of whom grew up in “dire poverty” and suffered abuse from their own relatives.A witness to the “monumental and staggering” financial costs of the death penalty and the “arbitrariness” of its application, Evans says it was many years ago, defending a parishioner of St. Agatha Church facing death row, that his own spirituality was challenged. He witnessed the loving support from three priests (Fathers Greg Boyle, George Horan and Ken Deasy, then the parish’s pastor) during a trial where they helped “save the life of the offender.”“Because of them [the priests] I converted to Catholicism,” said Evans, who grew up Episcopalian. He is now an active member of Holy Family Church in South Pasadena.‘A very Catholic issue’After ministering to families of victims of “brutal crimes” for more than 18 years and participating in numerous vigils during execution of prisoners, Father Chris Ponett, pastor of St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care, said there is a need to educate not only parishioners on the matter, but also Church leadership.“It is not only theologically but pastorally clear that that level of punishment doesn’t bring reconciliation and healing to the victims or to society,” he said. “Thus we need to educate California’s people of faith against death and be very consistent and vocal in pro-life issues and in our restorative justice approach to criminals.“Sadly,” continued the priest, “the strongest people I’ve ever encountered supporting this measure are my friends opposing abortion, who don’t see this as part of Respect Life.”He said the arbitrariness of the measure always gives way to executing an innocent person, just as “Jesus was executed although being innocent.“It is due to such arbitrariness that law enforcement agents are now joining us in saying yes to Prop. 34,” he said.For those who fear that the prisoner could be released at some point, Father Ponett said that based on his experience there are minimal chances that a prisoner sentenced to life with no possibility of parole will ever be released. Holy Names Sister Jo’Ann De Quattro, a longtime justice and peace advocate, concurred that the death penalty is a “very Catholic issue.”“Thou shall not kill is what we are taught, and I don’t want the state to kill in my name,” she said.“We should be about promoting life, not death,” added Sister of Social Service Gail Young, program coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace. “The death penalty isn’t a closure for the victims either, and it leaves no room for restorative justice.”Bishops support campaignThe same year that the death penalty was affirmed by voters in California, Pope John Paul II opposed using the death penalty, said Andrew Rivas, a lawyer and current director of the archdiocesan Office of Clergy, who worked with the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ “End the death penalty campaign” from 2001-2006.In 1980 the USCCB voted not to support the measure and in 1985 voted to go forward with the campaign. But for the next 25 years the support was “bleak,” mirroring society, says Rivas. Results of a USCCB survey released in 2005 revealed that 48 percent of Catholics supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it.Rivas attributes the response to a society that focuses on death and seeks revenge, based on fear, “but slowly people started changing their minds inspired by Pope John Paul’s advocacy.”In many states, he points out, the bishops have played a big role in the abolition of the death penalty. But informing and educating parishioners depends to a great extent on whether it is a priority of the parish pastor.The inclusion of the measure on California’s 2012 electoral ballot has offered an opportunity for the faith community to educate and inform congregants. A 20-member working group was formed two months ago, led by Javier Stauring, co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice with support of the Office of Justice and Peace. A campaign was officially launched Oct. 7, Respect Life Sunday, when pastors were asked to address the issue in their homilies and many churches displayed information booths for their parishioners. Prior to the date, church lay leaders were trained to help educate their communities so they can have an informed decision when voting, explained St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Pat Krommer, who was a key person in forming the working group.“Prop. 34 has offered an opportunity to educate parishioners on the Catholic social teachings, still the Church’s best kept secret,” said Jane Argento, who leads the restorative justice and social concerns ministry at South Pasadena’s Holy Family Church, where Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” and witness of about four executions, spoke at Mass during Respect Life Sunday.Holy Family has sponsored restorative justice educational programs for more than 10 years, including a four-part series on the death penalty that included presentations by Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, who was exonerated after five years on Florida's death row. Her co-defendant, who was convicted on similar evidence, was wrongfully executed.“Many people are totally unaware that being in favor of the death penalty is not being consistent with life,” said Argento. “The Catholic social teachings call us to be against the death penalty and take a stand with life.”Seventeen states have abolished the death penalty. If Proposition 34 wins in California, its advocates assert, it will set an example for the rest of the country.The archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice is teaming up with the Prop. 34 campaign for canvassing, precinct walking and phone banking. For information, call the Office, (213) 438-4820. For more about Prop. 34, visit The Catholic bishops are supporting Proposition 34; for more information, visit and{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1102/prop34/{/gallery}