‘ DVD Promotes Godly Fatherhood

By Genevieve Pollock

ALBANY, Georgia, JAN. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Thousands of men are answering the call to rediscover God’s plan for fatherhood, inspired by a new movie, “Courageous,” due to be released on DVD on Tuesday.

The film, which debuted in theaters Sept. 30, follows four men striving to fulfill their mission “to serve and protect,” both as law enforcement officers and fathers.

Stephen Kendrick, producer and co-writer of the film, told ZENIT that every day he sees some 200 e-mails from “people sharing how the movie has impacted, inspired and blessed them.”

“The stories they share are so heartfelt and moving,” he said. “Countless dads are now reaching out to win the hearts of their children.”

Kendrick continued: “One man realized he needed to step up and reconnect with the daughter he’d abandoned.

“Many have chosen to forgive their dads.

“Wives are saying that ‘my husband was a good dad, but now he’s becoming a great dad after seeing this movie.’

“Couples heading for divorce have reunited and said that they must resolve to leave a legacy of faithfulness to their children like the men in the movie. We thank God for this!”

Waging war

As policemen, the main characters must team up against gang members and drug dealers to protect the community. Yet even as they battle evil with their guns and Tasers, they learn to use Scripture to fight the demons within in order to become the men of integrity their families need.

“There is so much in Scripture about what fatherhood means, but most men have not taken time to search it out and then live it out,” Kendrick stated. “‘Courageous’ shows it to them in living color.”

He continued: “It is so incredible to see how a message about the importance of strong fatherhood is so deeply resonating with audiences.

“The issue of fatherhood touches the core of who we are. Millions of people have seen this movie and have gone on the emotional roller-coaster of laughter and tears as they watch five men trying to figure out what it means to be a great dad.”

For actor Ken Bevel, who portrayed the cop Nathan Hayes, the movie was an opportunity to “help serve in turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

He explained to ZENIT: “As I look at the consistent decline of families and the minimal involvement of fathers in our communities, my heart is challenged — challenged to the point of action. So, when God provided the opportunity to address biblical fatherhood through film, I was humbled that he would allow me to be used in such a task.”

This role, Bevel said, “caused me to examine my own life and my role as a father.”

He added: “I asked myself the question, ‘Am I being completely intentional about fatherhood and leading my children to the Lord?’ Unfortunately the answer was no. So, ‘Courageous’ has also challenged me to spend more time in Bible study with my family, while praying for wisdom in leading my children to the Lord.”

Kendrick expressed the hope for this “life change,” not only for all who worked on the movie, but also for all who view it.

The film’s release on DVD will allow its viewing by greater audiences. Parishes, ministries and other groups are encouraged to show the movie and utilize the corresponding resources to help effect this life-changing experience.

Tremendous opportunity

One group, the Philadelphia-based Fatherhood and Leadership Initiative, sponsored a showing of the movie that drew the players of two football teams with their fathers, in addition to other families.

Jim Gabriele, one of the group’s founders, told ZENIT that “the response was tremendous.” People were moved not only by the film, he said, but also by “the underlying message of love of Christ and faith in him as the foundation of a man’s most important vocation — his family.”

“This movie clearly brings people together,” added Gabriele, “and challenges men in particular to be men of the kingdom, the Godly husbands and fathers we are all called to be.”

He added that the “widespread release of the movie provides a tremendous opportunity to put the emotion we all felt at the end of the movie to practical use in our daily lives.”

“It is an unbelievably easy tool to use for ministry, and the producers have provided outstanding resources to bring the movie to life via Bible studies, small group sessions, etc.” Gabriele noted.

He continued: “Men are notoriously hard to reach in ministry, but the ability to invite men to an engaging movie, followed by structured discussions and the ability to delve more deeply into their faith and how it applies to marriage and fatherhood is an incredible gift.”

He revealed to ZENIT that his group will be sponsoring an eight-week study series, available through the Internet as well, on scriptural fatherhood.

Kendrick expressed the hope that many of this generation of men will see “Courageous” and “learn that the role of father is irreplaceable.”

He underlined the hope that the audience will see that God created fatherhood “to introduce the next generation to what their loving Heavenly Father is like: a loving Provider, a strong Protector, an honorable Authority, a great Example, a wise Teacher, and an intimate Friend.”

The producer continued: “We hope that men get a vision for this and begin to step up with courage and begin to lead their families by example as God intended. This will positively affect the next generation in countless ways.”

“We produced a movie,” he concluded. “But only he can change a heart. To him alone be the glory!”

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A Tribute to L’Osservatore Romano

By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, JAN. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- It should be called “the friend of truth.” It opposed Nazism and Communism. In defense of the Pope and of the poor, it has challenged dictators worldwide. Its motto affirms “Non praevalebunt.” Pope Paul VI pointed it out as “a light nourished by the See of Peter,” it has just celebrated its 150th anniversary, and Benedict XVI speaks of its “long and great history.”

We are talking about L’Osservatore Romano, commonly known in Rome as “the Pope’s newspaper.” Born in difficult times in 1861, when it seemed that the Holy See would be swept away, it has grown enormously and today comes out with editions in eight languages among which is also the Malaysian version published in India.

In Brazil there is a street dedicated to L’Osservatore Romano in the Carlos Lourenco Garden of Campinas.

The paper was founded by lawyer Nicola Zanchini together with journalist Giuseppe Bastia after Pope Pius IX gave his blessing to the publication.

Written in the founding constitution is that the objective of L’Osservatore Romano is to “unmask and confute the calumnies hurled against the Roman Pontificate,” to “recall the principles of the Catholic religion and those of justice and law as the basis of ordinary civil living” and to “stimulate and promote the veneration of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

In connection with the nascent Italian nation and the sciences, L’Osservatore Romano proposed “to instruct on the duties owed to the homeland” and to “bring together and illustrate all that through art, literature and sciences merits being pointed out to the public, especially the inventions and related applications.”

In the course of its glorious history, L’Osservatore Romano has distinguished itself for opposing every form of totalitarianism and for defending the liberty and dignity of the person.

Speaking of the 30s, when Italy was under the Fascist dictatorship, Francis Charles Roux, ambassador of France to the Holy see, writes in his memoirs that L’Osservatore Romano is “the only newspaper in Italy that does not obey the governmental dispositions and those of the Fascist party.”

“Its independence in confrontations with the government, made its circulation grow to a number that was very different from the usual,” added the French diplomat. In that period the Pope’s newspaper sold close to 60,000 copies, reaching even to 100,000, an enormous number at that time.

The diffusion of L’Osservatore Romano infuriated the Fascist militia, to the point that some customers were mistreated, entire packets of the newspaper were confiscated and burnt.

In this connection, in the Constituent Assembly of March 20, 1947, the well-known Italian journalist, jurist, writer and politician Piero Calamandrei said: “In the years of the greatest oppression, we must remember that the only newspaper in which one could still find some reference to liberty, to our liberty, to the liberty common to all free men was L’Osservatore Romano.

“And when the racial persecutions began, the Church lined up against the persecutors and in defense of the oppressed; because when the Germans sought our sons to torture and shoot them, they, no matter what their party, found refuge in the rectories and convents; because priests were found who were prepared to offer themselves as hostages to save the population of a municipality and to rescue the life of all with their sacrifice.”

Among the thousands of acts of heroism carried out by Catholics, emerges that of the director of L’Osservatore Romano, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, who, to follow the indications of the Servant of God Pius XII, on Oct. 29, 1943, took care of and sent the Jew Giovanni Astrologo with his father and four aunts to the Lombard Seminary of Rome.

They were persecuted and sought by the Nazis. Dalla Torre entrusted them to Monsignor Francesco Bertoglio, rector of the seminary, who on June 29, 2010 was recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

On Sept. 24, 1936, intervening in the second international congress of Catholic journalists, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli said that L’Osservatore Romano “for fifteen lustrums was the austere herald of the voice and sentences of Peter and the champion of his most sacred rights.”

And when Pacelli became Pope Pius XII he described it as “faithful and dear.”

According to Blessed Pope John XXIII, L’Osservatore Romano is “the daily herald, the instrument, the surest voice by which the Pope’s thought is ordinarily transmitted and guaranteed of its authenticity, from Rome to the extreme ends of the world.”

In the introduction of the pamphlet marking the paper’s 150th anniversary, Benedict XVI explained that L’Osservatore Romano knows how to express “the cordial friendship of the Holy See for humanity in our time, in defense of the human person created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ.”

How Science Should be Used to Stem the Tide

By Arland K. Nichols

WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Recent controversies in the United States surrounding the “morning after pill” point to international trends making such potentially abortifacient drugs increasingly accessible to men and women of all ages. While the Catholic Church’s consistent teaching about the intrinsic evil of contraception (cf. Humanae vitae) seems to be increasingly validated by the sciences as a destructive social and physical phenomenon in society, many still have the mistaken impression that it is to be avoided only for “religious” reasons. In fact, what we are seeing is widespread acceptance of drugs that not only prevent pregnancy, but actually cause abortions, making their labeling as “contraceptives” somewhat misleading.

In the late 1990s the Rockefeller Foundation formed the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC), whose charter was to spread the use of “emergency contraception” throughout the world.[1] Among the original member organizations are International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Council, and Population Services International, and their initial campaign targeted nations long in the crosshairs of “population control” organizations: Sri Lanka, Kenya, Mexico and Indonesia.

The campaign has been “successful” as emergency contraception is now available in over 140 countries today.[2] It is available from a pharmacist (which allows for consultation with the patient) without a prescription in 58 nations and enjoys full “over the counter” status in six nations — India, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, most provinces in Canada, and for women as young as 17 in the United States. The widespread and growing acceptance of emergency contraception is a troubling trend for Catholics that deserves our attention, so in order that our concern may be properly informed, let’s briefly make some distinctions among the drugs in question.

The primary emergency contraception promoted all these years by the ICEC is the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, which is marketed under numerous names: in English-speaking countries these include Plan B, Next Choice, Levonelle and Pregnon. Levonorgestrel is approved for use up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse, but is commonly used up to five days later to prevent pregnancy. Studies indicate that  levonorgestrel does not kill an embryonic human being who has already implanted in the uterus; nonetheless, it may still act as an abortifacient.  

Levonorgestrel is often confused with what is popularly known as “the abortion pill” or “RU-486.” RU-486 is the synthetic steroid, Mifepristone. Mifepristone (marketed as Mifeprex in the United States) is FDA approved to chemically abort a child who has reached seven weeks of age in the womb. Mifepristone terminates established pregnancies.

Another “emergency contraceptive” was added to the market when the European Medicines Agency approved ulipristal acetate in 2009, while the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use for the United States in 2010. It is marketed as Ellaone and Ella, respectively, and is available in 30 countries. Its method of action is summarized well by the European Medicines Agency: “Ulipristal acetate prevents progesterone from occupying its receptor … progesterone is blocked, and the proteins necessary to begin and maintain pregnancy are not synthesized.”[3] That is, it can prevent a newly conceived child from implanting, and can disrupt the child that has already implanted, killing him.

Because levonorgestrel is the most common emergency contraceptive, here we will focus on two common and flawed claims that have led to its acceptance in the international community. The first claim is that science has proven that levonorgestrel never causes an early abortion, so a woman may take it without fear of ending the life of her child.

Levonorgestrel primarily functions so as to prevent a woman from ovulating. As has been noted, it does not kill a child that has already implanted. Many studies indicate that Plan B may also have a secondary method of action if a woman ovulates even though she took levonorgestrel.[4] If fertilization occurs (bringing a new human being into existence) following a “breakthrough ovulation” the drug may prevent this embryonic human being from implanting on his mother’s uterus. Patrick Yeung Jr. and his coauthors explain that levonorgestrel “interferes with the normal development and function of the corpus luteum; a dysfunctional corpus luteum then leads to an impaired endometrium [wall of the uterus] that interferes with embryonic implantation.”[5] They argue that “no evidence exists to contradict this interceptive effect” and suggest that “levonorgestrel is estimated to act as an abortifacient 3%-13% of the time” when taken immediately prior to ovulation. This abortion-inducing effect is acknowledged by the FDA, which states that levonorgestrel “is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by preventing ovulation or fertilization. … In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium).”[6]

The Catholic Church, noting that levonorgestrel may at times act as an abortifacient by preventing the child conceived from implanting in his mother’s womb, says in Dignitas personae that use of such a drug when it prevents implantation “fall[s] within the sin of abortion and [is] gravely immoral” (n. 23).

The second claim that is often used to gain public acceptance of Plan B is that easy access to it will reduce unintended pregnancies and, thus, abortions. For example, Doctor Andre Lalonde of Canada’s Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has stated “[b]etter access and greater knowledge and use of emergency contraception could significantly reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy in Canada.”[7] This claim was echoed by the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recent recommendation that led the United States Department of Health and Human Services to require all insurance plans to cover levonorgestrel free of charge. The IOM stated “that greater use of contraception within the population produces lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates nationally.”[8] Such assertions are specious, as numerous studies show that greater access to emergency contraception reduces neither unintended pregnancies nor abortion.

A 2010 study of eleven randomized control trials by Chelsea Polis of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded: “Our review suggests that strategies for advance provision of emergency contraception which have been tested to date do not appear to reduce unintended pregnancy at the population level.”[9] Further, a 2007 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology arrived at the same conclusion: “increased access to emergency contraceptive pills enhances use but has not been shown to reduce unintended pregnancy rates.”[10] And a November 2006 study in the same journal concluded that increased access to emergency contraception “did not show benefit in decreasing pregnancy rates.”[11] Similarly, levonorgestrel does not reduce rates of abortion, as indicated in a 2004 study published in Contraception.[12] In spite of free provision of emergency contraception to 18,000 women, “no impact on abortion rates was measurable. While advanced provision of EC probably prevents some pregnancies for some women some of the time, the strategy did not produce the public health breakthrough hoped for.”

All told, the studies reveal that, contrary to the many “professional and editorial opinions and projections” that emergency contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and abortion, I am unaware of a single population-based study indicating that it is actually effective in doing so.

Yet the international trend toward greater and easier access to levonorgestrel continues, and over time, drugs that are more likely to cause the death of the embryonic human beings (such as “Ella” and “EllaOne”) are likely to replace levonorgestrel. While this article has not focused on the immoral use of contraception within marriage, it has identified the pervasive and life-threatening results of the contraceptive mentality in society. We cannot ignore these troubling trends which are clear manifestations of the culture of death. Our knowledge and principle-based action can stem the tide as seen in Honduras which, in 2009, banned the sale of emergency contraception.

Massive and influential organizations with deep pockets are actively promoting abortion-inducing contraceptives throughout the international community, misleading many who would oppose their use if they were aware of their potential abortifacient effects and non-effectiveness in reducing abortion rates. To date, such organizations have faced little effective opposition. One way for the Catholic pro-life community to stem the tide is to shed light upon the false claims made about emergency contraception. Against those who claim that “science” requires the adoption of ever more life-changing and life-ending medications, we must be ready to reply with the scientific facts that show their claims for what they really are — anti-life.

* * *

Arland K. Nichols is the National Director of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. His articles may be found at http://www.hliamerica.org.

[1] http://www.cecinfo.org/

[2] http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/dedicated.html

[3] http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/EPAR_-_Product_Information/human/001027/WC500023670.pdf

[4] The author notes that there are some, including within the Catholic scholarly community, who suggest that an abortifacient effect is extremely unlikely. Perhaps most notable is Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P. See “Is Plan B an Abortifacient?,” National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, (V7 N4), 703-707.

[5] Yeung et al., “Argument Against the Use of Levonorgestrel in Cases of Sexual Assault,” Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual for Practitioners, Ed. Edward J.Furton, (Philadelphia: 2009), 144.

[6] http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/021998lbl.pdf

[7] http://www.cwhn.ca/resources/cwhn/ec.html

[8] http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Clinical-Preventive-Services-for-Women-Closing-the-Gaps.aspx

[9] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/182584.php

[10] http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2007/01000/Population_Effect_of_Increased_Access_to_Emergency.25.aspx

[11] http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2006/11000/Impact_of_Increased_Access_to_Emergency.9.aspx

[12] http://www.cwfa.org/images/content/scotland0905.pdf

Former Baltimore Archbishop Comments on ‘Ad Limina’ Visit

By Ann Schneible

ROME, JAN. 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Christians must remain ever vigilant in confronting movements that seek to infringe upon religious freedom.

This was the reminder voiced by Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien when he spoke to ZENIT today about Benedict XVI’s address Thursday to U.S. bishops on their “ad limina” visit.

The archbishop of Baltimore from 2007 till last year, and now the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal O’Brien also served for a decade as the archbishop for the Military Services.

The Holy Father announced Jan. 6 that the 72-year-old prelate will be made a cardinal next month.

ZENIT: What have been your impressions of this ad limina visit, especially in light of the upcoming consistory in which you will be created Cardinal?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Well, I don’t see much connection, but I’m certainly taking an extra interest in things Roman, since I will be living here soon, as soon as my successor is installed — and I hope that’s very soon, but we’ve had no word on that yet. I will be moving permanently here to Rome, and the visits to these dicasteries have given me some good insight, some good orientation, and kind of a sense of expectation for what awaits me here.

ZENIT: The Holy Father in his discourse to the bishops spoke about the issue of religious freedom. Throughout the world Christians have been facing persecution, both through the secularization of the West and also with violent persecution in other places. What does it mean for you to be created a cardinal at this point in Church history?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Aside from being created a cardinal, I think we in the United States have always been concerned about persecution and intolerance around the world. I don’t think we ever expected it to come in the form it is coming in our own country, where the government is impinging on some very good work we are trying to do, to force on us values that are foreign to the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The highlight of this ad limina visit has been the visit with the Holy Father. I don’t think any of us expected as magnificent an allocution as we heard yesterday. He was right on, and made the proper distinctions and it applies perfectly to our country. I hope that we can make best use of that to help our fellow Americans realize that slowly but surely, “Big Brother” is closing in on religious communities such as ours and the good work we’re trying to do.

ZENIT: Could you speak a little more about this problem of the government infringing on religious freedom, such as regards abortion and same-sex marriage. For instance in Baltimore, there was the instance of the mayor speaking in favor of same-sex marriage.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: In Baltimore, a couple of years ago, we had a novel requirement which would never have been dreamed of, where our pregnancy counseling centers were told by law, passed by the city council, that they had to put a sign up saying: “We do not provide birth-control or abortion services.” Why did we have to do that? That was totally arbitrary on their part, and an attempt to put us out of business in favor of Planned Parenthood. The courts so far have ruled in our favor on this.

[Moreover,] if we imitate other states that have passed legislation regarding same-sex marriage, the next step will be that we have to teach this as appropriate in all our schools, that every one of our institutions has to accept the principle, and the reality in their communities and wherever they work. The next step will be as it is in European countries: if you speak openly about the immorality of same-sex marriage, you’re open to prosecution. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s certainly going to happen.

The basic thing is, that to compare this to discrimination by race, discrimination by color — that’s pigmentation, that’s real discrimination. But we’re talking about the basic fundamental institution of marriage from the very beginning, from Scriptures and through civilized nations has [always] been between a man and a woman open to children. When we try out of sympathy or emotion to change that, it’s a huge and dangerous initiative, and one that is dangerous for our future.

ZENIT: As the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, could you speak about the conflicts that are going on in the Holy Land, and how the Church in Rome can be present to the Christians there?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: My responsibility will be to support the Christian institutions in the Holy Land, primarily — but not exclusively — as they relate to the patriarch of Jerusalem. And to encourage members of the order to take interest in what’s going on there: [such as] the diminishing number of Christians, and the many obligations we have in schools and hospitals, seminaries, the obligations we’ve taken on to support these Christian institutions, and many Catholic institutions, and the people living there. [With] so few people living there, help has to come from outside. That is the principle goal that I will have: to educate, to encourage members of the order to take greater interest — not only by their donations, and by their participation in the activities of the order, but certainly by pilgrimage.

Our main emphasis is the personal sanctity of every member of the order. If we accomplish that — and have that especially [present] in this upcoming Year of Faith — and work on the new evangelization with the various lieutenancies and members of our order, I think the rest will fall into place. Our attention and our help to the institutions in the Holy Land and our patriarch there will follow pretty quickly. We’re doing a lot already, but throughout the Church, this new evangelization reminds us that we never are where we should be. There’s always more we can do, and we should not presume without grace. And grace is available to us, and I think there will be many graces during this Year of Faith.

ZENIT: You were the archbishop of the Military Services. What is the state of the military chaplaincy, and how can this new evangelization be brought to the military?

Cardinal-designate O’Brien: From 1997-2007 I was the archbishop for the military services, which includes 1.5 million Catholics in the armed forces of the United States and their families, and veterans’ hospitals, over 170 of them. Archbishop Broglio is now the military ordinary, and he’s doing a wonderful job. Our biggest problem is bringing the faith to our brave and generous men and women of our armed forces and their families. And without priests we can’t do that adequately. We should have more than 800 priests serving in all the branches, and we’re well below 300 right now. And it’s still diminishing.

There are some good signs of vocations; Archbishop Broglio has done wonderful work, and I think there are over 30 seminarians now studying. They will belong to the various dioceses of the country, but after three years of ordination they will join the military. That’s a first, it’s a huge step forward. And I hope that, as a result of the experiences that some of our men have had in combat, and in the armed forces, the sense of generosity, of self-sacrifice, of discipline, there are ample signs that vocations are coming as a result of the reality of sin and hardship and suffering that’s taken place, and the importance of the Church to meet those needs. I think that’s what our young people are going to respond to when it comes to vocations.

Report Shows Historic Low

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JAN. 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- For the first time since capital punishment was reintroduced in the United States in 1976 the annual number of new death sentences fell below 100 last year. Shortly before the end of the year the Death Penalty Information Center released “The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report.”

New death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011. This compares with the high point in 1996, which saw 315 capital punishment sentences. The decline started in the late 90s, which had seen an average of about 300 annual sentences. Since then the number has steadily dropped.

The number of executions also declined, down to 43, three fewer than the previous year.

Only 13 states carried out executions in 2011, 74% of which were in the South, the report pointed out. Only eight states, however, carried out more than one execution. As usual Texas was the state with most executions, with 13. Even so the report pointed out that this number is a 46% decrease from 2009, when there were 24 executions, and also a drop from 2010, when there were 17 executions.

Since 1976 out of the overall number of 1,277 executions Texas has accounted for no less than 477, which is 37% of the total. In 2011, nevertheless, there were only eight new death sentences.

In January, the Illinois legislature voted to repeal the death penalty. In its place is the option of a sentence for life without parole. This made Illinois the fourth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment.

One of the reasons behind the change in Illinois was the cost of the death sentence. A state commission found that $100 million had been spent on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions over the past seven years.

“The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right,” said Governor Pat Quinn as he signed the bill abolishing the death penalty.

This brings down to 34 the number of states that have the death penalty.

As well, in Oregon in November, Governor John Kitzhaber halted a pending execution and declared that no additional executions would occur during his tenure.

Among other news at the state level, in Ohio, the Chief Judge of the state’s Supreme Court convened a 21-person commission to study the problems with the death penalty. Meanwhile, the report said that in Pennsylvania a justice of the Supreme Court described the appellate work being done in many capital cases as marked by “disarray and inconsistencies” and called “for immediate reform.”

Opinion

Support for the death penalty also continued to decline. According to the report an annual Gallup Poll on the death penalty revealed that last year only 61% of people were in favor of the death penalty, the lowest level recorded in recent decades.

The report also observed that the application of death penalty sentences continues to be very arbitrary. In 1972 the Supreme Court stopped the use of the death penalty because it considered it was being applied in an unpredictable and arbitrary way.

Following changes to the laws in some states the Supreme Court allowed the use of the death penalty in 1976. Nonetheless, according to the Death Penalty Information Center death sentences continue to be applied in a very inconsistent fashion.

This accusation was reinforced by a study recently carried out by Professor John Donohue of Stanford Law School. He examined the death penalty sentences handed out from 1973 to 2007 in the state of Connecticut.

In its summary of his findings on Jan. 12 the Death Penalty Information Center reported that Donohue concluded that “the state’s record of handling death-eligible cases represents a chaotic and unsound criminal justice policy that serves neither deterrence nor retribution.”

Donohue found that “arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features of the state’s capital punishment regime.”

According to his study there is no meaningful difference between death-eligible murders in which prosecutors pursue the death penalty and those in which prosecutors do not.

Racial factors also heavily influence the likelihood of receiving a death sentence. Defendants who belong to a racial minority that commit death-eligible murders of white victims are six times more likely to receive a death sentence as minority defendants who commit murders of minorities, Donohue found.

Meanwhile, early news in 2012 suggests that the trend away from the death penalty will continue. On Monday, the Death Penalty Information Center reported that the Pennsylvania Senate recently passed a resolution to initiate a study of the death penalty. It will look at issues such as fairness, equality and costs of capital punishment.

Only three people have been executed since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978, but there are more than 200 prisoners on death row.

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