Monday, March 25, 2013

Catholics should see the movie "Pardon" to remind ourselves that we oppose capital punishment

All Catholics should see the movie Pardon, an independent film that tells the true story of Toni Jo Henry, a Louisiana woman who was tried for murder in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana in 1942 and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Scene from the movie Pardon
In the movie, Henry is portrayed as a young woman who was abused as a child by her parents. She left home and fell into a life of drugs and prostitution. While working in a Shreveport brothel, Toni Jo meets professional boxer named Claude "Cowboy" Henry. The two marry, and Cowboy gets Toni Jo off drugs. Unfortunately, Cowboy is arrested while in Texas; and he is sentenced to life in prison for killing a Texas police officer.

Toni Jo then falls in with one of Cowboy's associates, a bad guy by the name of Finnon "Arkie" Burks. In order to get money to finance her husband's appeal, Toni Jo agrees to be Arkie's accomplice in a bank robbery. Needing a car, they hijack J.P. Calloway, a Texas motorist who picks them up while hitchhiking on Valentine's Day, 1940. One of them shoots and kills Calloway in a Lousiana rice field.

Toni Jo is eventually arrested and tried for murder in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, where the murder occurred. At her trial, Toni Jo admits being Arkie's accomplice, but she denies having pulled the trigger Nevertheless, she is convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Her conviction is overturned on appeal, but she is tried and convicted a second time and again sentenced to die.

While in jail, Toni Jo is befriended by her kindly jailer, who is Catholic. The jailer introduces Toni Jo to Father Richard, a Catholic priest. Father Richard instructs her in the Catholic faith; and before she dies, Toni Jo converts to Catholicism and is baptised.

Toni Jo Henry shortly before her execution
Photo credit:
At the end of the movie, Toni Jo is electrocuted in the basement of the parish jail. (I don't think I am giving anything away here.) She dies at peace. In fact, at the close of the movie, a photo of the real Toni Jo Henry, taken just before her execution, is shown on the screen; and she appears almost radiant.

Pardon is not a blockbuster hit movie. My wife and I saw the movie on the weekend it opened in Baton Rouge, and only one other person was in the audience. Nevertheless, the movie is well worth seeing. Pardon is a moving tale of forgiveness and redemption and it serves as a reminder that Catholics oppose the death penalty in all cases.

All Catholics know the Church's position on abortion, but many are unaware that the Church is unconditionally pro-life in all circumstances. We oppose abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and capital punishment.

Toni Jo Henry and Father Richard
Admittedly, our stand on capital punishment has recently evolved. The 1992 Catechism, for example, stated that capital punishment is acceptable in some situations. But Pope John Paul II made clear in several pronouncements that the Catholic Church opposes capital punishment in all circumstances.

"I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary," John Paul said in a 1999 homily. "Modern society has the means of protecting itself," the Pope pronounced, "without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

Many liberals oppose capital punishment but support abortion on demand. Many conservatives oppose abortion but support capital punishment. But as Catholics we stand four square for the dignity of life in all circumstances. We oppose abortion, we oppose euthanasia, and we oppose the death penalty.


The Death Penalty and the Catholic Church. Accessible at:

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