• Rhode Island Senate OKs Ban on Death-In-Prison Sentences for Children

    Vote Reflects Nationwide Trend toward More Merciful Sentencing for Youth

    (PROVIDENCE, RI) – In a 28-8 vote, the state Senate yesterday approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist.6, Providence) to enable those serving lengthy sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles to be eligible for parole after serving 15 years, effectively eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders and ensuring the state complies with recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

    The Holy Father Pope Francis has called life imprisonment “a hidden death penalty” and to not have mercy on these youth is to literally turn our backs on the very people about whom Jesus said, “let them come to me.”

    “As a Catholic priest, I understand what is lost when someone takes a life,” said Very Reverend Bernard Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference. “It sends pain ripping through families who’ve lost a loved one, and robs the entire community of its innocence. Yet, my faith compels me to insist not only on accountability and justice for those who cause such grave harm, but to also work for mercy and forgiveness. I am most grateful to Senator Harold Metts (D-Providence) for sponsoring this bill and for the Senate leadership for their support. I hope that the House of Representatives will soon take up the bill and pass it this session,” said Father Healey.

    Despite recent U.S. Supreme Court cases that require youth under 18 to be treated differently than adults for the purposes of criminal sentencing, under current Rhode Island law, there is no distinction between adults over 18 and those juveniles under 18 convicted in adult court. This bill (2017-S 0237A), which now goes to the House, is aimed at creating more nuanced parole laws that better reflect the differences between juvenile and adult offenders.

    “Justice is not one-size-fits all. The Supreme Court has recognized that those who commit crimes as juveniles are not the same as adult offenders. Their minds are still developing, and yes, they can be rehabilitated,” said Senator Metts in a statement from his office. “This isn’t going to open the prison doors and set anyone free. It’s going to give our duly appointed and highly qualified Parole Board a chance to look at individual cases and determine whether someone who committed a serious crime as a child should still be in jail, or, whether he or she has truly rehabilitated and is deserving of a chance to be a part of society for the first time in their adult life.”

    Major religious denominations around the country have called for an end to these death-in-prison sentences for children, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Jesuit Conference, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the Bahais of the United States.

    This bill strikes a balance between creating hope and the possibility for redemption for children serving lengthy sentences while not guaranteeing them freedom. They still must convince the Parole Board that they have been rehabilitated. It also would not prohibit life sentences in the future for youth who commit serious crimes, but does allow them the chance to have parole hearings.

    The bill was influenced by four U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the last 17 years grounded in adolescent development research, holding that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to the country’s harshest penalties. In the past five years, the number of states that ban life-without-parole sentences for children has nearly quadrupled to a total of 19 and the District of Columbia, including Texas, West Virginia and Arkansas.

    Research by the Sentencing Project has also shown that most children who are serving life-without-parole sentences have suffered extreme trauma and abuse. More than 80 percent of kids serving life witnessed violence in their homes and neighborhoods on a regular basis. More than 50 percent of boys and 80 percent of girls were physically abused; more than 20 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls were sexually abused.

    Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) is sponsoring companion legislation (2017-H 5183) in the House.

  • In the News

  • USCCB ACTION ALERT: The Conscience Protection Act

    Now is the time to contact Congress and advocate for the protection of life and freedom of conscience. The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644) has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and in the Senate (S. 301) by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). This much-needed, common-sense legislation will clarify federal law and ensure that those who provide health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children. Please take a moment to let your representatives in Congress know that we expect them to protect our most cherished liberties.

    Take action today!

  • U.S. Bishops’ Chair on Migration Responds to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision

    WASHINGTON—On February 9, 2017, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous decision upholding a lower court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the implementation of several key provisions of Executive Order 13769. More.

  • Solidarity at the Service of All People in the Middle East

    WASHINGTON—The chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committees on Migration, Religious Liberty and International Justice and Peace, along with the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) issued a joint statement expressing solidarity with Christians and all those who suffer in the Middle East. More.

  • Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori to Congress: Support the Conscience Protection Act of 2017

    WASHINGTON—Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to both Houses of the United States Congress on February 8, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644, S. 301). More.

  • Bishop Tobin: President Trump’s order not a compassionate step toward immigration reform

    By Rick Snizek, Editor, RI Catholic

    PROVIDENCE — Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has joined a growing chorus of U.S. bishops who continue to express their reactions to President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order which severely suspends the full U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and bans the entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries for a 90-day period. More.


  • Rhode Island Catholic Conference response to proposed legislation on Smith Hill which looks to continue abortion rights

    Statement of RI Catholic Conference – Proposed Legislation on Abortion

    Civilized societies are distinguished by the protections they afford their weakest and most vulnerable members, and our government acts its noblest when it speaks for those who have no voice. The Church’s opposition to abortion is found in the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration.

    Recently the immoral and unethical practices of Planned Parenthood have been exposed in various news outlets. Their alleged trafficking in fetal body parts for profit remains under investigation in the U.S. Congress. Abby Johnson, the author of Unplanned states: “Planned Parenthood has been misleading Congress and American taxpayers for many years. I know — I was part of the deception. For eight years I worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, and for two of those years I was the clinic’s director.”

    In 2013, America saw the face in the abortion industry during the trial of former Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of numerous crimes, including murdering three infants born alive during attempted abortion procedures. The grand jury report on Gosnell states that “he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy, and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.” Thankfully, Kermit Gosnell is serving a sentence of life imprisonment and no longer endangers women and infants.

    This proposed legislation is a radical attempt to remove all state regulation from the unethical and questionable practices of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood and the Kermit Gosnells of the Ocean State. Removing this regulation by the state disregards the health and safety of thousands of women and children in Rhode Island.

    Further, this proposed legislation codifies in RI State Law the violent attack upon the life and dignity of every unborn child. Such a grave moral evil must always be rejected by people of good will especially by the elected leaders of our state.

    The RI Catholic Conference stands opposed to the proposed legislation that radically changes RI State Law to allow for unregulated and unrestricted abortion on demand. This extremist legislation is a direct attack upon defenseless and innocent human life and allows the abortion industry to be left unregulated and unrestricted. Human life must be protected and respected in the law at every stage, most especially from the moment of conception.

    We remind the members of the RI General Assembly of the wisdom of Pope Francis who states: “It is necessary to reaffirm our solid opposition to any direct offense against life, especially when innocent and defenseless, and the unborn child in its mother’s womb is the quintessence of innocence. Let us remember the words of Vatican Council II: ‘Therefore from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.'” (April 11, 2014, Pope Francis Speech to the Italian Movement for Life.) We urge the members of the RI General Assembly to reject this legislation and this attack upon innocent human life.

    The Very Rev. Bernard A. Healey

    LEARN MORE – Tell Your State Rep “NO’” on House Bill No 5343

  • USCCB Chairmen Respond with Concern to Decision to Retain Deeply Flawed Executive Order

    WASHINGTON—The bishop-chairmen of two USCCB committees expressed concern and disappointment with President Donald Trump’s decision to retain President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13672 of July 21, 2014, which prohibits federal government contractors from undefined “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination, and forbids “gender identity” discrimination in the employment of federal employees. More.

  • USCCB Chairmen Express Solidarity with Muslim Community, Deep Concern over Religious Freedom Issues, in Response to Executive Order on Refugees

    WASHINGTON—On January 27, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order that, among other things: suspends issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days; indefinitely suspends resettlement of refugees from Syria, which is also predominantly Muslim, subject to a possible exception for those who are “religious minorities” in their home countries and facing religious persecution; and suspends virtually the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, also subject to a possible exception for such “religious minorities.” More.