Bishop James Conley of Lincoln has called on the group "Nebraskans for the Death Penalty" to retract social media advertisements which distort his words to promote a capital punishment initiative in the state.  

The advertisements use heavily redacted quotes, taken out of context, from one of Bishop Conley's interviews regarding Referendum 426, a state ballot measure attempting to maintain the death penalty after legislators voted to abolish it.

On October 26th, Bishop Conley conducted a 12-minute radio interview with Coby Mach, host of KLIN's Drive Time Lincoln. The bishop explained the Catholic Church's theological and pastoral positions on the death penalty.  

While the Church allows for the death penalty in principle, he said, it holds that in contemporary times, "the circumstances where that would be an option are practically non-existent… we can protect people without recourse to the death penalty."

Bishop Conley noted that the bishops of Nebraska encourage Catholics to retain the death penalty's repeal because "the death penalty is a way that we resort to a violent act to try to solve problems."

The state's bishops have said that while Catholics are not formally required to support the bishops' judgment on this issue, they are required to evaluate the Nebraska's death penalty in light of the Church's moral framework: especially the requirement that the death penalty be used only when it is absolutely necessary for public safety.  

Bishop Conley also called for prison reform across Nebraska, encouraging state officials to make prison safety a serious priority. "Violence to deal with violence," the bishop said, "is not the answer."  

Days later, however, the death-penalty advocacy group "Nebraskans for the Death Penalty" used an edited version of the bishop's remarks, without providing context, in paid social media advertising.  

JD Flynn, spokesman for the Diocese of Lincoln, said that the advertisements "unfairly cherry-picked portions of Bishop Conley's comments, from one radio interview, to misrepresent the central message of our bishops: that executing people solves no problems in our state, there is clearly no need for it, and no convincing justification for it."

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On Thursday, November 3rd, Bishop Conley asked that the advertisements be retracted.   According to the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the advertisements were still being used on Facebook on Saturday, November 5th.  

Flynn explained that "Bishop Conley has asked civilly and politely that his words and images not be used, disingenuously, to promote the death penalty. But 'Nebraskans for the Death Penalty' has been unwilling to respond with civility. These ads are intended to confuse Catholics about what Nebraska's bishops believe."

"Bishop Conley certainly has encouraged Catholics to pray about the death penalty, and to seriously study the Church's teaching on this matter. But using Bishop Conley's image, and selectively misrepresenting his words, to promote the death penalty is disingenuous, unfair and disrespectful," Flynn said. 

"I hope 'Nebraskans for the Death Penalty' will retract these ads, and I hope their major donors and supporters will call on the group to do so."

Among the prominent supporters of "Nebraskans for the Death Penalty" is Nebraska's Catholic governor, Peter Ricketts. According to media reports, Ricketts has personally donated $300,000 to the death penalty group, making him one of the campaign's largest personal donors.  

"Governor Ricketts is a man of integrity, a great Catholic, and a friend to the Church," Flynn said. "I don't think he'd appreciate the disrespect and duplicity of 'Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.' I'm sure that as he becomes aware of the situation, he'll encourage the group to stop using the face of Bishop Conley, a consistent opponent of the death penalty, in order to confuse Catholics before the election."  

"I also hope," Flynn said, "that Nebraska's Catholics will choose to build a culture of life, by keeping the needless violence of execution out of our state. We don't need the death penalty.  I hope they'll vote to 'Retain the Repeal' of the death penalty."

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