Catholic leaders in Nebraska spoke out in favor of a vote to maintain a ban on the death penalty, calling it unnecessary and “unjustified.”
“The Catholic Church and Nebraska bishops oppose the death penalty
because it is not necessary to protect society,” Tom Venzor, executive
director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said at a Sept. 29 press
“We urge Catholics and all people of good will to vote to retain the repeal of the death penalty on Referendum 426.”
This November, voters can decide whether to approve or reject the
Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Veto Referendum, Referendum 426. The
referendum would repeal the Nebraska legislature’s May 2015 vote to ban
the death penalty. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill, but the
legislature overrode it.
The Catholic conference is hosting speaking events about the referendum at each cathedral parish and other parishes and venues.
Venzor said Nebraska’s bishops and the Catholic conference will
engage in “significant efforts” to ensure Catholics understand Catholic
teaching on the death penalty and are encouraged to vote to retain the
legislature’s death penalty repeal.
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha spoke in favor of retaining the ban in an Oct. 3 video.
“In our particular circumstance, the death penalty is unnecessary and
therefore unjustified. This principled Catholic response is shaped by
our commitment to the life and dignity of every human person and the
common good,” he said.
He cited Catholic teaching that the state may impose the death
penalty if it is “the only available means to protect society.” The
option should not be exercised when “other non-lethal means that are
more respectful of human life are available.”
Father Douglas Dietrich also backed a vote to retain the ban. He is
pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lincoln, not far from the
Human lives are “unrepeatable, intrinsically valuable gifts that we
must not deprive others of,” he told the Sept. 29 press conference.
“Along with my brother priests we are taking a principled pro-life
stance in proclaiming we do not need the death penalty in Nebraska,” he
said adding “what human life God creates, we must not destroy.”
About 49 percent of Americans support the death penalty for convicted
murderers, down from 80 percent in 1995. In 1995 only about 16 percent
of Americans opposed the death penalty. That figure has risen to 42
Since 1936, opposition to the death penalty peaked in the mid-1960s
when 47 percent of Americans opposed it and only 42 percent supported
it, according to the Pew Research Center.
Death penalty opposition is the highest since 1972.
About 72 percent of Republicans support the death penalty, compared
to 44 percent of unaffiliated voters and 34 percent of Democrats. 43
percent of Catholics support the death penalty, while 46 percent oppose
it. White Catholics are somewhat more likely to support the death
Fr. Dietrich said alternatives to the death penalty offer the convict the chance at rehabilitation and conversion.
He cited St. John Paul II’s words during his 1999 visit to the United
States: “A sign of hope is the Increasing recognition that the dignity
of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who
has done great evil.”
Sister Jean O’Rourke, a Sister of Mercy from Omaha, Neb., said that
women religious have advocated for the abolition of the death penalty
She said the death penalty is an “ineffective and unfair” policy,
given the risk of executing innocent people, the costs of appeal, and
the personal effects of the lengthy appeals process on victims’
“It promises closure, but all too often brings prolonged agony,” Sister O’Rourke said.
“The Death penalty is not merciful, because it views a person as not
deserving God’s gift of life,” she said. “When the state kills, in our
name, we have blood on our hands.”
The Nebraska Catholic Conference has a webpage about the death penalty measure at http://www.necatholic.org/deathpenalty