What a life!
By Father Willie Todd
The following is a summary Statement of the Louisiana Catholic Bishops on the repeal of the death penalty dated April 18, 2017.
Although the bill fell short by one vote, their message affirming life is still worth reading.
In 1722 Louisiana perfomed its first recorded legal execution. Since then we have dealt with this stain of the death penalty carried out by our state in the names of its citizens. This current legislative session allows us to move beyond this dark reality of our state’s history and toward a state that affirms life without exception. Therefore the Louisiana Catholic Bishops unequivocally supports both Senator Claitor’s SB 142 and Representatives Landry and Pylant’s HB 101.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), discussed the distinction between a culture of life and a culture of death. Our culture often mirrors a culture of death rather than one of life. The use of the death penalty does not serve as an instrument to address the deep-rooted issues that are the cause of widespread violent crime within our society. It is a “solution” that seduces us into believing that the taking of a life solved a problem, when in fact it forces us further into a culture of death.
Pope John Paul II proclaims “that not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, as God himself pledges to guarantee this. Consequently whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself” (Evangelium Vitae, #9). The Pope reminds us of our call to uphold the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, a human dignity that does not discriminate between the innocent and guilty. Given that we value life beyond all else, we must advocate for an alternative to the death penalty.
In a 2015 letter to the President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis stated that the death penalty “is an offense against the inviolability of life and dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society. It does not render justice to victims, but fosters vengeance. The death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. Killing a human being can never establish justice.” What we fear, violence itself, has forced us to become proponents of violence. Just as the pursuit of justice should never be perverted by vengeance, fear should never darken the ever-shining light of life.
We remain deeply aware of the pain and grief that victims suffer, especially those who have lost a loved one through the crimes of murder or violence. We pledge to deepen our commitment to persons who have suffered such violence, anguish and pain. We do not intend our opposition to the death penalty to diminish what the victims and their families have suffered. The stark reality is that capital punishment fails to bring back a lost life.
It does not provide healing, reconciliation, or even peace to those affected. Our merciful heavenly Father does provide such things to us when we turn to God and ask for his healing love.
We recognize the balance that must exist between a state that needs to protect its citizenry and the appropriateness of the punishment it uses to do so. We believe that in Louisiana, a just alternative to the death penalty already exists. In 1979, Louisiana adopted a statute requiring all persons convicted of first degree murder to serve a life sentence without benefit of parole if they were not executed. Life imprisonment is the appropriate alternative given that it reflects a culture of life by valuing life itself.
The Louisiana Catholic Bishops asks all people of good faith, especially those members of the Louisiana legislature, to search their heart to seek mercy and love to support the repeal of the death penalty and aid in building a culture of life. The time is upon us to affirm life without exception here within our great state of Louisiana.