In the US, opposition is growing to a Catholic award for Attorney General William Barr, who directed the July 2020 restart of federal executions after a 17-year moratorium.

– Archdiocese of Santa Fe “appalled”

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico became last Friday the latest Catholic group to express its disapproval over National Catholic Prayer Breakfast plans to award Barr with its Christifideles laici award in an event due to take place September 23.

The award is given “In Honor and Gratitude for Fidelity to the Church, Exemplary Selfless and Steadfast Service in the Lord’s Vineyard”.

But in a news release from its Office of Social Justice and Respect Life, the Santa Fe archdiocese said it was “appalled” that such a nod would go to Barr, in light of the fact that the Attorney General “just recently began executions of federal prisoners; something that has not been done since

“Catholic teaching on capital punishment (the death penalty) is clear”, the archdiocese stressed. Citing the Catechism (2267), it recalled that “the Church teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide'”.

The Santa Fe archdiocese decried the fact that on Barr’s watch “in just six weeks, five men have been executed including a Native American man, despite calls for clemency from his tribal leaders. There are two more scheduled for execution in September, one the day before and another the day after Barr is to receive recognition for ‘serving the Church well'”.

The archdiocese called on the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast – the organisation of which is unaffiliated with the Catholic hierarchy – to withdraw their honour for Barr, and urged the Attorney General himself “to stop all federal executions”.

“Let us not become the evil we despise”, the archdiocese pleaded.

– “Shocking, incomprehensible and scandalous”

The Santa Fe archdiocese’s disapproval of the Christifideles laici award being presented to Barr is the latest in a long line of criticisms of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast organisation for their honouring of the Attorney General.

“I raise my voice in fervent opposition to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast’s scandalous offer of an award to Attorney General Barr for his “exemplary Christlike” behavior. I urge the group to immediately rescind their inivtation, and I urge anyone reading this to join me”, anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean wrote on Twitter September 8.

“What is Christlike about a Catholic believer using his discretionary power as Attorney General to undertake a series of speedy federal executions? In contrast, those in power before him for 17 years chose not to seek death”, the religious recalled.

In late August, the US Association of Catholic Priests called the decision to honour Barr “shocking, incomprehensible, and scandalous”.

For his part, director of the Franciscan Action Network Stephen Schneck tweeted August 7: “Good works? Barr personally restarted the federal death penalty. Willingly supported the separation of children from parents at the border. Directed the attack on protesters to give Trump a photo op with a Bible. The National CATHOLIC Prayer Breakfast need to change its name”.

With the widespread pleas to the Prayer Breakfast to rescind its award to Barr apparently falling on deaf ears, attention is now turning to auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles Robert Barron, who is due to give a keynote address at the Breakfast.

“It is crucial that Bishop Robert Barron withdraw from giving the keynote at this “Catholic” event! If he goes through with it (unless he intends to actually denounce Barr to his face, which would be even better), he will have lost his credibility as a Catholic bishop”, theologian Adam Rasmussen warned on Twitter.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.