Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Catholic faith and the urgency of criminal justice reform

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, May 26, 2018. (Corey Torpie / Courtesy of the Ocasio-Cortez Campaign)

Christ came to me emblazoned on the upper arm of my beloved cousin Marc. The blue-black ink danced between the bullet scars and stretch marks that graced my cousin’s upper body. Atop this crown-of-thorns depiction was a tattooed banner with the phrase “Only God Can Judge Me.”

I have never known Marc as a criminal. I have only known him as the largest and funniest member of my family. As a child, I saw this tattooed arm over and over again. It appeared at family cookouts turning a lechón (roasted pig) in its fifth hour, it held me steady on Marc’s broad lap, and it was revealed during the wintertime, when our pipes would hiss until the relentless heat would force us all to roll our sleeves as far up as they would go.

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I remember reading his tattoo each time I saw it, trying to understand what it meant: Only God Can Judge Me. Innocence, in its mercy, partly excuses us from having to fully reckon with the spiritual gifts of forgiveness, grace and redemption at the heart of the Catechism: I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Marc—like several men in my family—had been caught in the webbed threads of poverty, geography and lack of opportunity during the fever pitch of 1990s mass incarceration. Baggy-pant boys like him fit the descriptions of “super-predators” and “thugs” that dominated our national discourse at the time. Marc served his time, and has been out of the system ever since—a miraculous feat, given that over 75 percent of released state prisoners in the United States are rearrested within five years. Today he is a union worker and a happily married father of three successful children.

Innocence, in its mercy, partly excuses us from having to fully reckon with the spiritual gifts of forgiveness, grace and redemption at the heart of the Catechism: I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

The still imprisoned are not so lucky. By virtually every measure, the United States incarcerates more of its people than any other nation in the world. When we look at the fuller picture of who we imprison, for how long and why, it may not be a stretch to conclude that our criminal justice system could very well benefit from a rite of penance of its own. There is overwhelming evidence that mass incarceration evolved as an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws, which itself was a system rooted in the subjugation of former slaves. According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, there are more African-Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850—that is, before the Civil War.

When it comes to Latinos, the numbers are more confusing. While 40 states track race in their arrest records, only 15 states in the nation track ethnicity. This means that most states have little to no data on Latinos in the criminal justice system. We must also look at what imprisonment entails. Criminal justice reform must take into consideration factors including increasingly punitive Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations and the black-box detainment of immigrants and separated families; the ethics of solitary confinement; parole and probation; protecting due process; and the effects of incarceration on motherhood and mental health.

What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

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William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

It is automatic excommunication for all those taking part in one...ask your pastor.

Crystal Watson
1 year 1 month ago

Priests who sexually abuse children get a slap on the wrist from the church, but a woman who is raped and takes a morning-after pill gets auto-anathama. This is non-biblical bs. Jesus saved his most hair-on-fire threats for those who hurt children, but he never said a word about abortion.

William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

Not just the woman..the doctor and any male nurses and the male partner who encouraged her. All are excommunicated latae sententiae....automatically....not to hurt them but to give them salutary fear of eternal loss and pain....loss in the soul...pain in the body.

Crystal Watson
1 year 1 month ago

The church doesn't have the power to send people to hell.

William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

But part of her job is to warn what actions merit hell materially....now whether a given person is guilty before God formally is dependent on whether they are mentally sane in God’s eyes or does He alone know whether they have compulsions rather than free will etc. I always hope that suicides are often very imperfect actions which reduce them to venial rather than mortal.
Kate Spade e.g. was devastated that her husband wanted a divorce....if in God’s eyes she passed into a very compulsive choice by her reason being overcome by a tidal wave of sorrow, God understands that this is not a full human act but a compulsion....however God was strict about the suicide of Judas and Christ said he perished, that it were better for him had he never been born, that he was a son of perdition. Modernity excuses everything...Christ did not in Judas’ case....and others in the Jewish leadership.

Crystal Watson
1 year 1 month ago

It's stuff like this that makes people leave the church. Job well done.

William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

Oh...so they’re ok then...lol. People left Christ in droves. He fed thousands at a time...cured many of grave illnesses....blindness, paralysis, death in the case of Jairus’ daughter. At his cross was a very very very small group...same goes for how many checked his burial place.

Crystal Watson
1 year 1 month ago

And yet he never said a word about abortion. My point is that the church has created a doctrine on abortion that has no biblical backup and I see no reason to respect it or believe it.

William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

When you’re off line, make a list of actions that Christ made no comment on...porn, torture, identity theft.....etc.etc.etc. You can probably get to 50 of them. Does that mean right after death, you’ll fly into heaven based on having done things He never mentioned?

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

Alas, he did make at least one remark on torture, and it can be read as divine approval of torture. Fundamentalists will batten on that.

alan macdonald
1 year 1 month ago

I have read too many of your unorthodox posts and wonder what keeps you here.

Anne Danielson
1 year 1 month ago

As The Guardian Of The Deposit of Faith, The Catholic Church is entrusted with “The Divinely Means of Salvation”, The Seven Sacraments of Salvational Love, through God’s Gift of Grace And Mercy,

Crystal Watson
1 year 1 month ago

That sounds nice but if we care at all about what Jesus actually said and did and what that might mean for us, then the truth matters, including that Jesus never instituted seven sacraments.

Christopher Lochner
1 year 1 month ago

"America" didn't waste any time on pushing the politics and giving a blessing on this candidate did they? Yet again, we have someone who views Christ and The Crucifix as a means to gain earthly power because, why the h*** not! And so very many on this site are quite OK with it. We certainly live in a post-christian, post-catholic society. SJWs for sainthood is the cry of the people. Love the buzzwords "cisgender" etc. , this is why she was voted to continue. And just like those who would NEVER vote for a candidate who was of color, we are expected to vote for someone due to religious affiliation and cheer them on. Yes, prejudice is prejudice but only when it's bad, no? We're definitely in the age of "Christ the Politician". I wonder if future saints will be required to have a "Jesus" tattoo.

Christopher Lochner
1 year 1 month ago

Seriously, Christ coming as a tattoo sounds like an "Onion" parody...but it's not.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 1 month ago

Who is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez?
"a former organizer for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and a onetime staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, ran on an unalloyed leftist progressive platform, calling for a "political revolution" that includes Medicare and higher education for all, gun control measures, an end to private prisons and the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency......"
"It was part of a trend, she said, of viewing and treating immigrants as criminals."
If not criminals what are those who illegally enter the USA?
A staunch believer of socialism, Ocasio-Cortez told Vogue magazine that socialism, to her, means "democratic participation in our economic dignity, and our economic, social and racial dignity."
What she thinks it means is not borne out by the reality, ie the utter failure of of socialist states
such as Venezuela, Cuba today and the National Socialist German Workers' Party NAZI, for short,
and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics, Russia, in the past. She shows amazing ignorance of what real socialism is and why it always fails.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

Her platform is just what the US needs.

Andie Clifford
1 year 1 month ago

America Magazine, proving once again that it will waste no opportunity to support an avowed socialist (when economic policy is left open to the prudential judgment by each individual Catholic) who supports abortion (which is NOT subject to prudential judgment and is always and everywhere verboten for Catholics). Disgraceful, but expected.

Asparagus Tip
1 year 1 month ago

She's 100% pro-abortion.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

most Catholic women are

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

that is false.

Stanley Kopacz
1 year 1 month ago

I'm just happy there's a candidate that won't be in the pocket of the moneyed interests. Somebody who will push back. Of how many politicians can that be said? The first problem to be addressed is that politicians Republican and Democratic are trained pets for concentrated economic power.

John Placette
1 year 1 month ago

You don't think she'll take a campaign donation from a Planned Parenthood PAC? If that isn't a big money interest, I don't know what is!

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 1 month ago

Would Bloomberg. Soros who are donating tens of millions of dollars to democratic Senate and House candidates and unions be considered "moneyed interests"

Stephanie Hampton
1 year 1 month ago

For far too long, Progressives have ceded Faith to villains who would wield it to harm persons of color, women, children, and the stranger among us. Thank God, we have such candidates who can win despite being female, progressive and Catholic. I remember the anti-Catholic rhetoric when JFK ran for President. It was then our father told us how the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the family lawn when he was five in South Dakota because they were Catholic. That hatred is still very much alive.
In two exhortations now, his Holiness Pope Francis has pointed out that the right to life of the unborn was not the only right to life in the Catholic social justice doctrine. Villains have used that single-issue to elicit votes only to indulge in the worst corruption and heartlessness we have ever seen our nation commit. Know them by their fruits.

John Mack
1 year 1 month ago

The Catgholic church wil go all out to destroy her.

John Mack
1 year 1 month ago

Unfortunately, her Catholic Church will go all out to destroy her because she is pro-choice.

J Cosgrove
1 year 1 month ago

In case I missed it. Isn't the Pope a Jesuit and isn't this a Jesuit publication that is extolling her and giving her a forum?

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

As they absolutely should. This lady is not a Catholic but a heretic. I would never support a candidate who supports the murder of innocent babies just because the mother is inconvenienced. Thou shalt not kill. America magazine is a joke and does not at all represent the Catholic church to true Catholics.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

Abortion is not a matter of heresy. No one likes abortion, but most women realize that the issue is not as black and white as Catholic men like to think.

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

Heresy as defined by the Cathechism of the Catholic Church is:

2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; ..."

The Sixth commandment of God is "Thou shalt not kill."

You are clearly not a Catholic so I suggest you not speak for the Church. Also, if you are going to speak for Catholics please be a bit more educated before making such cavalier comments. The majority of people I know who are pro-life are Catholic women.

William Bannon
1 year 1 month ago

Actually it is clear infallible doctrine ( susceptable of heresy) after Evangelium Vitae which formalized the condemnation of it in the polling of all Bishops under the Pope and used language reminiscent of the IC....here:
EV section 62
“ Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. 72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
1 year 1 month ago

Alexandria, que pena me da tu caso. Tienes poca veguenza en pidiendo tanto de otros, haciendote la victima, creyendo que otros te deben tanto. El ejemplo de los Latinos, como los Santos, es luchar, trabajar, sacrificar, familia, comunidad, humildad, compartir y seguir a Dios. El socialismo no es compatible con Dios. El aborto, la destruccion de vida, es del Diablo. Tu no eres Catolica y menos una luz hacia Dios. Eres una atrevida, sin verguenza, usando la miseria de otros para tu poder, orgullo y avaricio.

El socialismo, como Venezuela nos enseña, es malo.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

Below, you will see some of the most socialistic nations in the world today:

China
Denmark
Finland
Netherlands
Canada
Sweden
Norway
Ireland
New Zealand
Belgium

J Cosgrove
1 year 1 month ago

Only China is mainly socialist. The others are free market capitalist countries.

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

Thank you Wilfreda! This is exactly what the Latino community needs. True representation of the Catholic church and true saints of God. Let's pray for Alexandria, but as long as she is supporting abortion and socialism, we know that she does not represent God's kingdom (let alone the RCC) in any way.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 1 month ago

"Only God Can Judge Me"
A more thorough reading and understanding of the Gospels would reveal the falsity of these words.
As Jesus told his apostles:
"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." John 20-23
Just as the apostles were to carry Christ’s message to the whole world, so they were to carry his forgiveness or not, in other words to be judges.

Jesus also said, "Matthew 22:21 "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." In this case Government immigration laws and judicial decisions are the equivalent of Caesar's things. Or he might reference Romans 13:1 "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God."

Michael Slavitch
1 year 1 month ago

I've not experienced such joyous energy and faith from a politician and activist in a very long time. Welcome Alexandria. May your enthusiasm and joy live long.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

She shows that not all Americans are brainwashed anti-Commie grouches. She is a joyful human being, full of goodness and common sense.

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

Yes. Communism which accounts for the deaths of hundreds of millions and the oppression of millions today = joyful, full of goodness and common sense. Please tell that to North Korea. Thanks.

Lisa Weber
1 year 1 month ago

Ocasio-Cortez has a powerful voice and I am glad to have a chance to hear it.

Joseph O'Leary
1 year 1 month ago

Obsessive fundamentlism about abortion among Catholic men must stop. In Ireland we listened to the women for the first time, and lo! we began to realize that the issue is much greyer than we'd arrogantly presumed. Meanwhile, I am thrilled at Alexandria's profound common sense and integral Catholic vision. Let's hope she's the future.

J Cosgrove
1 year 1 month ago

She's an ex bar tender who grew up in upper middle class suburbs who has found a niche. I'm not sure it's profound common sense or Catholic vision but gullible constitutes. Her political party condoned the killing of over 200 million in the 20th century.

John Hess
1 year 1 month ago

J Cosgrove, I detect either some class distain or some grumpy-old-guyness. What's wrong with starting out as a bartender? I too came from a middle class suburb. Like you, I''ve done well in this life, raised children who are solid adults, yet I started out as a laborer and taxi driver. Starting at the bottom is not a reflection of character.

Franklin Cho
1 year 1 month ago

Fundamentalism?? How about God's commands buddy. We didn't make this stuff up. God did and as a Catholic the only thing that truly matters to myself and others within Christ's body is to be a saint and serve God. If you support abortion you are in disobedience to God and Christ's Church. There's nothing Catholic about Alexandria Oscasio Cortez. She's as Catholic as Hugo Chavez or Fidel. There's absolutely nothing Catholic about revolutionary socialism. I suggest real Catholics stop thinking that its okay to ever support abortion and the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent babies. If this were such a grey area than how exactly can you explain this: http://www.numberofabortions.com/

Why then did one of the founders of NARAL/abortion doctor like Bernard Nathanson disavow his pro-choice position and spend the remainder of his life vehemently against abortion? Why did Jane Roe (Norma McCovey) of Roe v. Wade fame disown her pro-choice stance?

I'll pray for you, but please do a bit more research before making very broad statements like 'greyer than we'd arrogantly presumed' or speak for the Church when your views are at odds.

Doug Kelchner
1 year 1 month ago

Last year Tom Perez (DNC Chair) announced there is no room in the Democrat Party for Pro-Lifers. In 2012 the DNC voted three times to remove a reference to God in their party platform. Democrats are lining up in attempt to block any Supreme Court nominee who espouses a respect for the sanctity of life. Now the Democrats embrace a young Socialist with a desire to have government redistribute wealth and I am supposed to be in awe because a social justice warrior pens an article about perceived injustices in the court systems while cherry-picking Bible verses. What is Ms. Ocasio-Cortez doing to bring people to Christ and pave the way for eternal salvation? Does she hold true to the precepts of the Catholic Faith? Does she defend the unborn's right to life? Did she support the ACA and the persecution of Catholic organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor? These are the questions I would like answered. The glaring omissions in this piece by America Magazine is essentially a warning to devout Catholics... danger, danger, danger, immortal soul at risk.

J Cosgrove
1 year 1 month ago

Occasio-Cortez's reputation is going from sainted defender of the poor to one who has distorted her background and motives for personal political power. She has had a makeover by her handlers. She grew up in a upper middle class area in a wealthy suburban New York City county and was an entrepreneur and advocate of tax breaks for her new business that failed. In between her business failures and her political emergence she was mainly a bartender at a trendy New York City restaurant.

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