Bishop Conley asks for prayers as Nebraska legislators vote on death penalty (Updated)

Bishop Conley asks for prayers as Nebraska legislators vote on death penalty (Updated)

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln gives Confirmation to a prisoner during a Mass said at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, March 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Southern Nebraska Register.
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln gives Confirmation to a prisoner during a Mass said at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, March 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Southern Nebraska Register.

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Updated at 4:04 p.m. MT: Nebraska's Catholic bishops commended the state legislature on the vote, adding: "We recognize many men and women of good will on both sides of this debate. May all Nebraskans continue working together for peace, justice, safety, and the common good. We encourage all people to pray for our civic leaders, for police officers and first responders, for the victims of violent crimes and their families, and for the incarcerated. May the peace of Jesus Christ reign in our hearts, our communities, and in our state."

Updated at 3:36 p.m. MT: The Nebraska Legislature overrode the governor's veto by a 30 to 19 vote earlier this afternoon, abolishing the death penalty in the state.

As the Nebraska Legislature considers overriding the state governor's veto of a bill that would repeal the death penalty, the Bishop of Lincoln has requested a prayerful response to the situation.

“The Church teaches that the death penalty is permissible in certain circumstances, especially when it is required for public safety. We do not believe that the death penalty is necessary in Nebraska, and we hope it will be repealed here,” Bishop Conley told CNA May 27.

“We’ll be praying that the Legislature overturns the veto, and we hope that others will do the same.”

The bishop continued, saying, “We also have real compassion for the victims of violent crimes, and for their families. We pray especially for them. But we do not believe that the death penalty brings healing. Jesus Christ brings comfort to those who mourn, and hope to those who grieve. Above all, we need to work together to proclaim Christ to every single human heart.”

On May 26, Governor Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed the bill, which would replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole.

“Nebraska's Catholic bishops disagree with Governor Ricketts’ decision. We remain convinced that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it make Nebraska safer or promote the common good in our state,” the state's three bishops stated.

“We encourage Catholics to contact their state legislators, encouraging them to vote to override the Governor’s veto.”

The bill was passed 32-15 by Nebraska's unicameral legislature May 20. Thirty votes are needed to override Ricketts' veto.

The legislature is scheduled to begin debate on the override vote today at 1:30 p.m. Central.

“We got 32 votes to end the death penalty and if they follow their conscience, we should have no trouble with an override,” Senator Ernie Chambers, sponsor of the bill, told the Los Angeles Times.

Senator Jerry Johnson of Wahoo voted in favor of the bill throughout three rounds of voting, but said Tuesday he would support the veto after being pressured by pro-death penalty constituents, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Chambers told the New York Times: “I expect those people who voted for the bill three times, during the three stages of debate, I would expect them to do the same thing. But you never know. We'll just see how it turns out.”

Senators John Murante of Gretna and Robert Hilkemann of Omaha “said they remain undecided on how they will vote on the override,” the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Nebraska legislators opposed to the death penalty have voiced various objections, including religious reasons, the cost to taxpayers of executions and legal appeals, and whether government can be trusted to administer the death penalty.

Nebraska's bishops have collectively made the judgement that the state's circumstances do not require the death penalty to protect public safety; their support for the bill, they have said, “reflects the teaching of our faith and our prudential judgment that the death penalty cannot be justified in Nebraska at this time.”

After vetoing the bill, Ricketts called the issue “a matter of public safety” and said a vote “to repeal the death penalty ... sends the message to criminals that Nebraska will be soft on crime.”

The last U.S. state to end the death penalty was Connecticut, doing so in 2013. Capital punishment is barred in 18 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

Nebraska last executed a prisoner in 1997, and there are currently 10 men on death row in the state.

Tags: Diocese of Lincoln, Capital Punishment, Bishop Conley, Go Big Red