From the BishopsWhat one bishop has to say about Nebraska's death penalty repeal

Nebraska’s Catholic bishops were proud to support LB268, which definitively repealed our state’s death penalty. For months, we worked with senators from across the state to bring an end to the practice of capital punishment. The passage of LB268 strengthens Nebraska’s culture of life.

My opposition to Nebraska’s death penalty is rooted in my respect for the fundamental dignity of every human life.

Some Nebraskans argued last week that capital criminals surrender their dignity by committing grave crimes. The innocent deserve our protection, they claimed, but the guilty have no right to life. But the truth is that neither rights nor dignity are determined by personal choices or behavior. Our dignity comes from being created by God -- in the very image of divinity. My Catholic faith tells me that life is a gift from God, which should be valued and protected in every community.

Thirty of Nebraska’s senators cast votes last week to end the needless violence of the death penalty. Their votes spoke of a common commitment to the fundamental dignity of human life. I was proud to support those courageous senators.

I encourage Nebraska’s senators to continue their support for human dignity, and for human rights. In 2011, more than 2,000 unborn children were aborted in Nebraska. Nearly that many unborn children are killed each year in our state. Will those who worked so hard to abolish the death penalty consider whether the unborn also deserve the protection of law, and the protection of their lives?

Some Nebraskans contend that the unborn are not really humans -- not yet fully formed, not sentient, not capable of making free choices. It is true that unborn children are only at the beginning of physical and intellectual development. They are not yet capable of making free choices. But from the moment of conception, each unborn child possesses a distinct genetic makeup, and a unique personal identity. Unborn children are just that -- small, developing and vulnerable human beings, not yet born. Compassion requires that communities care for the most vulnerable. And justice requires us to protect them.

Others might argue that the unborn are not yet autonomous -- that because they depend on their mothers to sustain their lives, they have no rights. But all children depend on their parents. In fact, all of us depend on one another; not one of us is truly autonomous. We rely on our parents, our families, our neighbors and our friends. So do the unborn. Dependence does not mitigate the dignity of human existence.

Some say that the Catholic Church cares about children only until they are born. Some argue that we do not care about women and families; that our pro-life position is misogynistic, or controlling. The Catholic Church is the largest private network of social services in Nebraska, and around the world. We provide housing, and health care, and education. We provide counseling and job-training. Catholic families are foster and adoptive parents; Catholic sisters run schools and homes for disabled children. If there is more the Church can do for the poor, we will do it. We care for the poor, at every stage of life, because Jesus Christ himself was poor.

Compassionate and peaceful communities protect all human lives -- especially those of the innocent, the small and the vulnerable. I am proud that Nebraska repealed the death penalty last week. But abortion is the death penalty for the unborn. May we continue promoting human dignity together by ending the injustice of abortion.

This article was originally published elsewhere and has been reposted with permission from the Diocese of Lincoln.

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