During his nearly two years in office, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr has trampled on the time-honored “rule of law” in his efforts to protect President Trump’s long list of corruption; has been personally responsible for the execution of five men so far this year with two more who will be executed this month; has ordered the use of military and federal law enforcement resources to stifle peaceful Black Lives Matter protests; has intervened to let U.S. Justice Department resources be utilized to protect President Trump from a credible rape allegation; and has used the power of the Justice Department to protect the president’s friends from legal accountability while targeting the president’s perceived enemies for federal investigation.


That is not what any reasonable person would consider to be Christ-like actions. The Catholic church, and in particular Pope Francis, vigorously oppose the death penalty and supports peaceful protests demanding social justice. 


AG Barr Receives Award for Defense of Vulnerable


Thus, it came as a shock to many when the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (“NCPB”) announced that it was bestowing its 2020 Christifideles Laici Award upon the Attorney General. 


In its statement announcing the award, the NCPB said that “Barr’s long history of dedicated public service and his commitment to the defense of the vulnerable and religious liberty make him a perfect person to receive the award.”


Millions of Americans who oppose the death penalty, support protests for social justice, and believe that unprecedented corruption by the nation’s Presidency and Justice Department has virtually destroyed the traditional notions of the “rule of law” vehemently oppose the NCPB actions. Longtime death penalty opponent and social justice activist Sister Helen Prejean lent a voice of outrage for these people with the following post on her Facebook and Twitter pages:


“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 invitation and I urge anyone reading this to join me.


“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. It has been solely at the direct command of A.G. Barr that five human lives have already been snuffed out, and two other persons—William LeCroy and Christopher Vialva—await almost certain death in a couple of weeks.


“What is so grievously scandalous about bestowing a ‘Catholic’ award on this man, so keen to kill criminals under his jurisdiction, is that his attitude and behavior so flagrantly contradicts Catholic teaching. The church vigorously opposes government killing without exception. Pope Francis recently updated Catholic teaching on the death penalty, stating that, in light of the teachings of Christ, this deliberate taking of life is ‘an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the human person.’


“I’m deeply convinced that Jesus himself, the ‘Christ” in whose name the award is to be bestowed, who taught us to go beyond ‘an eye for an eye’ and to love and forgive our enemies rather than kill them, has my back on this one. I urge anyone reading this, Catholic or not, churchgoer or not, to oppose this use of religious symbolism—and award for ‘Christlikeness’—which will only serve to legitimize government cruelty and killing.”


Awarding AG Barr Legitimizes Cruelty and Killing


We have read Sister Helen’s outrage, and we join her in condemning the giving of a Christlike award to a man who has not only defied but defiled the teachings of Christ. We challenge the NCPB to list just one instance where Attorney General Barr has defended the “vulnerable” in our society. 


The Attorney General has a history of assaulting the needs and rights of the most vulnerable among us. For example, he opposes LBGTQ equality; supports the “Muslim ban” and the forced separation of immigrant children from their parents; opposes reproductive freedoms and women’s rights; supports curtailment of voting rights for minorities; supports the use of overwhelming military force to quell civil unrest; and endorses levels of presidential corruption more than any attorney general in the history of this nation.


Bestowing the Christifideles Laici Award on Attorney General Barr is not only shameful but “scandalous,” as Sister Helen says.