One of the strongest calls from the Holy Father is that of encouraging the laity to lead in areas where their competence and expertise outweighs that of the priests and religious of the Church, as expressed in the Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, Christifideles Laici which teaches us that:
“In the context of Church mission, then, the Lord entrusts a great part of the responsibility to the lay faithful, in communion with all other members of the People of God. This fact, fully understood by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, recurred with renewed clarity and increased vigor in all the works of the Synod: "Indeed, Pastors know how much the lay faithful contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the entire saving mission of the Church towards the world, but they understand that it is their exalted office to be shepherds of the lay faithful and also to recognize the latter's services and charisms that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart" (italics in original)
And as ratified by Canon Law:
“Can. 215 The Christian faithful are at liberty freely to found and direct associations for purposes of charity or piety or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world and to hold meetings for the common pursuit of these purposes.
“Can. 216 Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”
There are, as noted by the modern spiritual classic, The Soul of the Apostolate, places in the world “to which no priest had access”.
“It is very certain that the primitive Church, as we have already hinted, knew how to organize magnificent and numerous shock troops, in the midst of the faithful, and their virtues both struck the pagans with astonishment and excited the admiration of honest souls, even those most prejudiced against Christianity by their principles, their traditions, and their social background. Conversions were the result, even in circles to which no priest had access.” (p. 163)
This is clearly true in the area of criminal justice, where the organized American Catholic hierarchical leadership has made costly blunders through the uninformed expression of opinions and policy suggestions whose adoption can present a great danger to the innocent.
Such is the case with this latest foray into criminal justice politics, as reported by California Catholic Daily.
“A group of about 50 people gathered at the headquarters of the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento yesterday morning and then marched to the state capitol, where others joined them in a vigil to support of a bill that would allow judges to reconsider life without parole sentences meted out to juvenile criminals.
“The bill in question, SB 9, by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would allow judges to review the cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after they have served 15 years of their sentence. Judges would be permitted to re-sentence such juveniles to a new sentence of 25 years to life, which would mean they could be considered for parole and perhaps not spend the rest of their lives in prison.
“According to Yee, his bill requires that juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole show remorse and progress toward rehabilitation before being allowed to submit a petition for consideration of the new sentence.
“The bill has the strong backing of the California Catholic Conference, the political action arm of the state’s bishops.
“Sentencing a teenager to prison with no opportunity for parole completely eliminates any possibility of rehabilitation,” the bishops said in a statement on SB 9. “Young people should have a chance to turn their lives around.”
“The bill, already approved by the state Senate, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 17, and is scheduled for a vote in the state Assembly this week. If it passes, it would then go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
“There is no question that youth who commit crimes should be held accountable -- but in a way that reflects their age and their capacity for rehabilitation,” said the Catholic Legislative Network in an Aug. 22 email. “SB 9 recognizes that young people have the capacity to change and should have access to the rehabilitative tools to do so.” (The Catholic Legislative Network operates under the auspices of the California Catholic Conference.)”
Fortunately, this effort failed, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
“A bill that would have allowed juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole the chance to pursue freedom after a quarter-century in prison narrowly failed to pass the state Assembly Thursday.
“In an hourlong floor debate, Republicans seemed to sway wavering Democrats by recounting details of vicious rapes and brutal killings.
“Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, argued that the bill was about much more than "whether we're going to give people a chance at redemption." He said it's about teens like Scott Dyleski, convicted of "slaughtering" his Lafayette neighbor in 2005, so he could steal her credit cards and buy marijuana. Right after the vicious crime, Donnelly noted, the 16-year-old had sex with his girlfriend.
“Senate Bill 9 "is sending a signal we don't actually value life," Donnelly added. "If you take a life, then the least we can do is say you have to give up yours, whether it's life in prison, or the death penalty."
“The bill by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was backed by human rights advocates and child psychiatrists. It was approved by the full Senate and supported by all but a handful of key Assembly Democrats.
“In a dramatic twist, although Yee counted 40 votes late in the day -- one shy of passage -- his failure to convince enough Democrats ultimately doomed the bill in a 36-36 vote, with eight members abstaining when the final roll was called.”