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Bishop: Jesus' Nonviolence Should Be Guide on Executions
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, May 18, 2010
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MANCHESTER, N.H. (CNS)—As a commission studies whether New Hampshire should keep or abolish the death penalty, Manchester Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian said in a hearing May 14 that Jesus' model of "reconciliation and rejection of all forms of violence" holds the key to the discussion.

He said the response of Jesus as "a consistent witness to nonviolence, unlimited forgiveness and absolute respect for all human beings, friend and foe alike" is a powerful witness to the intrinsic value of every person.

The testimony was to a state-appointed panel that has until December to report on its study of capital punishment in New Hampshire.

Bishop Christian said the state flirts with great moral peril by resorting to capital punishment in an era when society can appropriately punish truly dangerous criminals and protect itself by other means. Pursuing executions in this context "contradicts and destroys the truth of the intrinsic value of every person," he said.

In a written version of his testimony released by the diocese, Bishop Christian made a play on the state's motto, noting that "'Live Free or Die,' succinctly asserts that living with freedom to do what is morally good trumps the mere preservation of physical existence. 'Live Free or Die' should never become 'Live Free or Kill.' We should never accept this second motto because it means that killing others is sometimes necessary to preserve our freedom and safety."

He continued, saying that when the state kills even the most heinous criminals, "the executed offender actually succeeds in killing yet another victim—the state's own moral goodness, which is always enhanced by its refusal to execute anyone because of its absolute respect for the intrinsic value of the human person. To put it another way, the state that unnecessarily uses—or even legalizes—capital punishment unwittingly adopts the moral calculus of the killer, who regards killing as an acceptable, even necessary, means to an end."

After a bill to abolish the state's death penalty passed the House in 2009, it failed to move on to the governor, who had vowed to veto the bill. Instead, the Legislature established a 22-member commission to study the death penalty.

After a series of hearings, the commission is to report its findings by Dec. 1. Its members include several legislators, police officers, the father of a murdered police officer, a member of a group of murder victims' family members who oppose capital punishment, and defense and prosecuting attorneys.

New Hampshire previously executed someone in 1939 and has just one person on death row. Michael Addison was convicted and sentenced to death in 2008 in the murder of Manchester police officer Michael L. Briggs.

In his testimony, Bishop Christian said the Catholic Church's position on the death penalty has evolved from days when the punishment was mandated for certain crimes, "some of which would not be regarded as capital crimes in our society."

But Christians regard Jesus -- rather than even biblical texts that are sometimes used to justify the death penalty -- "as the basic, binding and ultimate moral norm," he said.

He noted that he, Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack and the bishops of the United States have called for an end to the use of the death penalty, saying that it is unnecessary to protect society; that "state-sanctioned killing in our names diminishes all of us"; that its application is deeply flawed and prone to errors and that there are other ways to punish criminals and protect society.

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