Memorial Mass for Father Louis Franz, CM

Published: September 5, 2018

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily in Morris Hall Chapel at St. John Catholic Center in Little Rock on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018.

Bishop Taylor

We are gathered here today to remember and to pray; to remember Father Lou Franz, a priest who was a courageous advocate for inmates and to pray for him now that he has returned to the Lord after a long life of faithful service.

I regret that I never met him — he served here in Arkansas from 1985 to 1993, so I missed him by about 15 years, but his influence can still be felt even today.

Father Lou had been pastor of Lincoln and Cleveland counties, residing at St. Justin Church in Star City, but his most inspiring work was what he did as the diocesan co-director of prison ministry and his work with Arkansas Churches for Life, which focused on helping the poor, mentally ill and minorities secure proper representation in court.

I regret that I never met him — he served here in Arkansas from 1985 to 1993, so I missed him by about 15 years, but his influence can still be felt even today.

This organization also works for prison and sentencing reform, and works in particular to abolish the death penalty and life without parole, two issues that are close to the heart of Pope Francis as they are also to me and I am sure many of you. And I am sure that recent developments in Church teaching on these topics would have pleased Father Lou very much.

For those who may not know, on Aug. 1 of this year, Pope Francis approved a new revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which removed the loophole in Church teaching that allowed the death penalty in “very rare, if practically nonexistent” circumstances. The new text of this paragraph now says that recourse to “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and definitively deprives “the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Lou, the Church has finally caught up with you!

But there was something further that didn’t make it into the catechism, but is nevertheless the clear teaching of Pope Francis, namely that life without parole is inadmissible as well, and thus is not a moral alternative to the death penalty.

Once again he is on the same page as Father Lou, who said the following in an interview in the Arkansas Catholic regarding life without parole back in 2017: “People don’t know much about the prison system and the sentencing system ... it’s in-prison execution; that’s what life without parole is.”

Pope Francis is even more concise, he called it “a death penalty in disguise.” Giving an imprisoned person the possibility of parole does not guarantee eventual freedom, but it does offer them a glimmer of hope for redemption, and it is inhuman to deny people this hope.

There is more I could talk about, for instance the inhumanity of solitary confinement when not absolutely necessary, but instead I would like to provide an opportunity for those who actually knew Father Lou to share some memories of him with us.

And so I would like to start with Sister Joan who I also find to be a very inspiring person. Like Father Lou, Sister Joan has also spent a lifetime serving the poor and advocating for the rights of those on the margin of society, including of course those on death row and those living with a sentence of life without parole.