The following went out to the media today:

Memphis, TN: The parish council of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception issued a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions during its monthly parish council meeting on Tuesday evening. The Catholic Church has called for an end to the death penalty in America for over thirty years, and a growing number of churches across Tennessee have recently joined in that call.

“Our Church has stated in no uncertain terms that the death penalty violates our belief in the dignity of human life,” said Father Val Handwerker, the pastor of the Cathedral. “Today our parish affirmed that we, as Catholics, cannot stand idly by as our state continues to kill in our name.”

The bishops’ statement against capital punishment also raised concerns about the arbitrary nature of the death penalty, especially the racial and economic biases, which persist in the capital punishment system.

“As a society we should be taking special care of the poor and disenfranchised, but it seems that, when we talk about the death penalty, we’re executing those people instead,” said Handwerker. In Tennessee, there are 102 people on death row, and not a single one of them could afford their own attorney at trial. Meanwhile, African-Americans make up 40% of Tennessee’s death row compared with only 17% of the general population.

Immaculate Conception is only the latest of over 100 churches and organizations in Tennessee to pass such a moratorium resolution, according to Alex Wiesendanger, a Jesuit Volunteer and Associate Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK), who spoke to the congregation and parish council last year.

“Across the state churches, businesses, and city councils are calling for a moratorium on executions and a thorough study of how the death penalty system is administered,” Wiesendanger said. “With more than 120 people exonerated after being sentenced to death, people are recognizing that the death penalty runs the unacceptable risk of killing an innocent person.”

A moratorium is simply a time-out on executions. It is neither an endorsement nor a rejection of the death penalty.

“A moratorium allows us to examine the flaws in the system of capital punishment outside of the emotional context of a pending execution,” said Handwerker when asked about the call for a moratorium. “Even people who support capital punishment agree that the system should be applied fairly and that we don’t sentence the innocent to death. Those of us who oppose the death penalty have to initiate a conversation around this common ground in order to move forward.”

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