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Support SB 276: Repeal the Death Penalty

By Archbishop William E. Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (Feb 14, 2013) and House Judiciary Committee (Feb 14, 2013)

I am honored to join other faith partners in offering this testimony in support of repealing the death penalty. I do so as the new Archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, and speak on behalf of the Catholic bishops in Maryland serving more than one million Catholics from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

This is my first opportunity to testify personally at a legislative hearing in Annapolis, and it is my hope that my presence today conveys to you a sense of how important this issue is to the Catholic Church.

As you well know, the positions of the Church on many of the major issues we address in the public square don’t fall neatly into conservative or liberal categories. Nor are our positions formed by considering popular opinion or polls.

And yet, at the core of all of our public witness is an evident consistency that reflects our reasoned belief that every human life is sacred and to be protected, because every life comes from God, and is destined to return to God as our final judge. It is that belief that inspires our advocacy for laws that protect each person from the moment of natural conception until natural death. It inspires the work of Catholic Charities and the outreach of our parishes and schools.

And it is that belief that brings me here to advocate for a definitive end to state-sanctioned executions in Maryland.

There are many worthy arguments against the death penalty regarding bias in its application, its ineffectiveness as a deterrent, its costliness, and the emotional toll of death penalty proceedings on victims. As a faith community, however, our perspective goes beyond these issues. While those who have done terrible harm to others deserve punishment, we urge a response that meets evil with a justice worthy of our best nature as human beings, enlightened by faith in the possibility of redemption and forgiveness.

As the bishops of the United States have consistently 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.

I wish also to offer a special word of respect and compassion to the families and loved ones of murder victims, and my heartfelt prayers for their final peace. They have a special claim on our prayers, a special need for our embrace, a special need for our encouragement to seek solace, understanding and ultimate judgment in a loving God. I urge our lawmakers to ensure that our government devotes more resources to helping them, by directing some of the savings the state would realize through repeal into greater services for victims' families.

As the former bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, it was my great pleasure to witness the recent repeal of the death penalty in the state of Connecticut. It is my hope and fervent prayer we will soon be the next in line to say no to capital punishment, once and for all. I urge you to support Senate Bill 276, and to repeal the death penalty – without exception – in the state of Maryland.

Thank you for your consideration.