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Value of life demands end of death penalty

Because of the value of life. Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase from pro-life folks stating their case against abortion. Maybe someone advocating against euthanasia shared that view. And – related to the current election – those calling for the end of the death penalty might have used that phrase or something similar.

But there’s more. That phrase also is being used by those who support the death penalty for people convicted of murders meeting certain criteria.

The death penalty advocates, of course, are using that phrase in discussing the value of the life lost … the person murdered. And that value can’t be overstated. That value should never be forgotten, and no one is suggesting that.

But then, those using this argument seem to abandon those very words about valuing life. Because one life has been taken in a murder, they advocate taking another life – the life of the person convicted of that murder.

That life, it seems, must not have value.

And that’s where this argument – as used by death penalty supporters – turns on itself.

That life – the life of the convicted murderer – does have value … a value that we might not want to admit, a value that’s perhaps beyond our understanding, a value that only God can see.

And that value is at the heart of the church’s stand on the death penalty. Pope Francis, during his visit to the United States last year, made clear his position against the death penalty and called on U.S. leaders and governments around the world to bring an end to that punishment. His two predecessors – St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI – also advocated ending the use of capital punishment. And each of them referred to the value of life in their statements.

Bishops around the world have followed their lead. The U.S. bishops are on record against the death penalty. Nebraska’s three bishops joined together in a statement supporting the repeal of the death penalty here in Nebraska and replacing it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. And they worked hard to make that happen through the Nebraska Legislature – including lawmakers’ override of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto – in 2015. Archbishop Lucas also has shared his views advocating repeal of the death penalty with Catholic Voice readers and in other forums.

Arguments against the death penalty come from a variety of perspectives – the possibility of executing people who later are found to be innocent, the disproportionate number of racial minorities and the poor being sentenced to death, the years – even decades – of appeals, and the costs, including the extended litigation and death row housing.

Those supporting the death penalty, as might be expected, challenge all of those arguments and also refer to getting justice – a life for a life – in stating their case. They are especially vocal in questioning the cost argument, but Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, countered those claims at a news conference last month.

"Even if the exact amount may be disputed, whether the cost is millions or mere cents, there can be no real price placed on the value of human life," he said.

And that takes us back where we started … the short phrase that says so much – "because of the value of life" – a phrase guiding the church’s stand against the death penalty, a phrase that on Nov. 8 should lead Nebraskans to vote to retain the repeal of the death penalty.

 

Deacon Randy Grosse is editor and general manager of the Catholic Voice. Contact him at ragrosse@archomaha.org.

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