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Archdiocese stresses church opposition to death penalty

November ballot initiative seeks to reinstate capital punishment

In late May 2015, the Nebraska Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, an issue that had been the subject of legislative debate for decades.

And the Legislature stayed the course a few days later, overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of the bill. But that wasn’t the end of the death penalty discussion.

A group – funded in part by Ricketts – organized a petition effort to put the question on the ballot. By October of last year, that effort was ruled a success and the question was scheduled for this fall’s general election.

But even that action resulted in court filings on the petition process, challenges of wording and more.

Through all of that activity, though, one thing remained constant – church teaching against the use of the death penalty. In the coming months, Archdiocese of Omaha officials, as well as the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), will be taking that message to voters.

"Efforts already are underway to make sure the voters have the opportunity to get a good understanding of where the church stands on this important issue," said Omar Gutierrez, manager of the archdiocese’s Office of Missions and Justice.

Gutierrez said the church will work with pastors at the parish level, providing a video, as well as bulletin information. And the NCC – representing the state’s three bishops – also will be involved in sharing church teaching through the media and opposing efforts to restore the death penalty.

The NCC also encouraged people to attend presentations this month that included former death row inmates who have been exonerated, relatives of crime victims who have sought to forgive and others directly impacted by capital punishment. The Journey to Hope: From Violence to Healing Tour included stops in Omaha July 17, Columbus July 18, Fremont, Omaha and Millard July 20, Norfolk July 21, Wayne July 22, Dakota City and Omaha July 23 and Omaha July 24.

Church teaching on the death penalty is very clear, Gutierrez said, and Archbishop George J. Lucas has been at the forefront of efforts to explain it in his Catholic Voice column, through his involvement with other faith leaders in the community and in other public statements.

The archbishop outlined the church’s role and teaching in his June 12, 2015, Catholic Voice column, writing that the bishops didn’t desire to be political actors regarding the death penalty issue.

Instead, he wrote, "We are exercising an important part of our responsibility to teach the faith, first to our own people, and then to encourage the faithful to form their conscientious judgments according to church teaching."

He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which allows the use of the death penalty if it "is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."

But, Archbishop Lucas noted, in today’s world, the cases where executing an offender is a necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

The archbishop also cited the teaching of St. John Paul II in "The Gospel of Life," his 1995 encyclical, teaching affirmed by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

Archbishop Lucas ended his column with a reference to Pope Francis’ statement that "the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed." The pope called it "an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person."

The Catholic Voice

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