The end of the death penalty in Nebraska is back up for debate, but the state’s three bishops are reiterating that “justice requires punishment, but it does not require that those who have committed serious crimes be put to death.”
Nebraska’s legislature voted in May to repeal capital punishment over the objection of the state’s governor, Pete Ricketts.
At that time, the bishops had already spoken out with a statement, that said, “The Roman Catholic Church has long called for a culture of life, promoting and supporting the fundamental good of human life in all areas of civil government for the sake of the common good. Catholic teaching allows the use of the death penalty under certain clear and specific conditions. We do not believe that those conditions exist in Nebraska at this time.”
After the May decision in legislature, supporters of the death penalty, funded in part by the governor’s family, set about collecting signatures to force a statewide vote on the issue. They collected enough signatures to halt the death penalty repeal that was set to go into effect on Sunday. A vote on the issue will thus likely be held in November 2016.
The bishops again spoke up with a statement on Thursday, reiterating their opposition.
The Catholic bishops of Nebraska invite all people of goodwill to join them in their continued opposition to the death penalty.
Justice requires punishment, but it does not require that those who have committed serious crimes be put to death. The death penalty does not provide rehabilitation to convicted criminals. There is no clear evidence that executions deter crime. Racial minorities and the poor are disproportionately sentenced to death, often as a consequence of racial bias or inadequate defense due to an inability to pay for better representation. Other means are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life.
For the Catholic community, this issue – like all life issues – involves more than public policy. It involves our faith and the central principle that human life is sacred. Reflection on the God-given dignity of every human person should guide all our decisions about life, including refraining from the use of the death penalty. This is the message Nebraska’s three bishops will take to the state’s 375,000 Catholics in the coming year to encourage support for upholding the prohibition of the death penalty.