“Today there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes... Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” the pope said.
In spring 2019 the Democrat-controlled Senate was set to debate a bill to repeal the death penalty, but backers appeared to lack enough votes and asked the bill to be withdrawn.
Previously, state legislators have tried to repeal the death penalty five times since 2000. There has not been an execution under Colorado law since 1997.
Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver, speaking for the Colorado Catholic Conference, testified in favor of the repeal at a Jan. 27 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The Catholic Church, many other Christians and many other people of faith believe that human life is sacred from conception until natural death,” he said. “We believe that, because God made us in his image and likeness, it is not possible to lose the dignity that confers to our lives. We are, as Jesus said, his brothers and sisters, even if we have committed great crimes or sins.”
Rodriguez told the Senate committee the death penalty “only adds to the cycle of violence.”
“If we as a society accept the idea that it’s possible for someone to lose their human dignity and be executed, then it is only a short step to say that certain classes or types of people belong to this less-than-human group,” he said. “History has shown that this is not outside the realm of possibility.”
Rodriguez cited the Christian imperative to visit those who are in prison, adding: “even those who committed horrible crimes and are in prison are not outside of Christ’s mercy.”
The inmates now on Colorado’s death row are Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people at a children’s restaurant, and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both had been involved in the murder of a young engaged couple, Javan Marshall Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Fields was set to testify against Ray in court on charges Ray was an accomplice in a murder case.
The murders of Fields and Wolfe helped inspire Fields’ mother, Aurora Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, to become active in public life. Fields was one of the strongest critics of the bill in 2019, objecting to the speed with which it passed through committee consideration.
She was again critical in Jan. 30 debate on the bill.
(Story continues below)
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“What side of history do you want to be on? Who are you serving? Who are you protecting?” she said. Fields detailed her son’s murder and the court case that followed, the Denver Post reports.
“My son was innocent!” she said.
“Either we’re for public safety, or we’re not,” she added.
Rodriguez and Berg both discussed crime victims and their families.
“It is understandable that the family of a victim might feel like justice is being served by the murderer being executed, but the reality is that only God can offer true justice in eternity,” Rodriguez said.
Berg said victims and their families also can have “conversion and healing.”