Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of the Catholic Church in Maryland, and to join with so many other faith leaders in urging for the repeal of the death penalty in our state.
As a member of the Commission on Capital Punishment, I listened personally to hours of testimony – pro and con – on the practice of capital punishment in the state of Maryland. I wholeheartedly agree with my fellow commission members who, after lengthy, careful, and honest deliberations, recommended that the death penalty in Maryland be repealed.
The arguments put forth by the Commission are very compelling. But in our view as a faith community, arguments against the death penalty do not rest simply on questions regarding bias, deterrence, cost-effectiveness, and the possibility of error. Our Church’s long-standing advocacy for death penalty repeal in Maryland rests upon our consistent advocacy for laws that respect all human life – even that of the convicted criminal.
As our U.S. Bishops have said, “We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for what it does to all of us as a society. … We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.”
The teachings of our Church tell us that when other punishment options are available to government that sufficiently protect the public’s safety, we should not resort to the death penalty, not even in the case of one who takes the life of another human being. Since 1987, those means have been available in Maryland in the form of life-without-parole sentences.
It is also important to remember that Maryland was one of the first states to prohibit the execution of minors and the execution of those with intellectual disabilities. Those laws helped paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that such executions violated the U.S. Constitution. We come before you today with fresh hope: that our lawmakers will now lead Maryland into the vanguard of states that make the logical next move, by abolishing capital punishment in our state.
We urge our lawmakers to act not simply out of political, practical, and legal considerations. We urge them, as women and men charged with the duty of enshrining in our laws the principles of justice and the common good, to listen truthfully to the voice of their moral conscience. We urge them to rule with judgment that is informed by the light of reason, and yes, by the foundational beliefs that each of our faith communities contributes to the public square.