While some were surprised by Pope Francis’ August 2 revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, longtime advocates against capital punishment such as Los Angeles priest Father Chris Ponnet weren’t.

“What the pope has done is close the last loophole that the death penalty was permissible if there was no other way to protect society from a criminal,” explained Father Ponnet, who sits on the board of the anti-capital punishment organization, Death Penalty Focus. 

California has the largest death row population not only in the U.S., but in the entire Western Hemisphere: More than 700 current prisoners have been condemned to death in the state. Most of their cases are tied up in appeals courts, and many inmates see their death sentences reversed or held under court review before they ultimately die in prison. 

In 2016, a bid to repeal the death penalty in California failed by a 53 to 47 percent margin at the ballot box.

In light of this newest development in Catholic teaching, Father Ponnet believes reaching the hearts and minds of civil servants is key. 

“The new challenge for any of us at local dioceses and parishes is to really interact with attorney generals, with district attorneys, with state supreme court justices,” said Father Ponnet. “I think this is a new day for all of us who have been active in the movement against the death penalty to continue our efforts.”

“Our various groups — Death Penalty Focus, Catholics Against the Death Penalty, Pax Christi — really need to be strategically asking, ‘How do we help people get educated in the context of this new developed teaching in our Catholic Church?’ ” 

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