Ten years ago on Good Friday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement and call to action: "On this Good Friday, a day when we recall our Savior's own execution, we appeal to all people of goodwill, and especially Catholics, to work to end the death penalty." Today, we are able to celebrate recent victories in triumph over the "culture of death" and victories for the "gospel of life."
Just a few weeks ago, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed into law a bill that repealed the death penalty for his state. He said, "Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe." New Mexico joined a slowly growing number of states without the death penalty.
Then, just a week later, Maryland took a step closer to that point as well. The legislature passed and the governor signed a bill creating tight restrictions and high standards for death penalty cases. Both critics and opponents have said the same thing about the bill; the standards for a death penalty case will be so high that it will be nearly impossible to secure a death sentence.
In New Hampshire, a bill to abolish the death penalty has passed the house and supporters are hoping to overcome a promised Gubernatorial veto if necessary. Other states including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana all have significant opportunities to abolish the death penalty and have been winning new allies by making the moral argument along with an economic one. Advocates have shown that cases in which the death penalty is sought can be five times more expensive and cost more overall than cases pursuing life imprisonment.
There is a growing energy, across political boundaries and especially among people of faith, to have a new national conversation on the death penalty. Watch this space for more on that movement as it unfolds.
These words of Pope John Paul II in 1999 speak louder today than ever before:
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. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.
May this hope that he felt continue to grow in our hearts as we remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ on this Easter weekend. Praise God for answered prayers and strength to continue in the work that is still to be done.