Colorado Governor expected to sign bill abolishing death penalty

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A bill banning capital punishment in the State of Colorado is expected to pass in early 2019, an effort that Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has supported, and that Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he would sign should the legislature present it to him.

In his speech during the March for Life Jan. 12, Archbishop Aquila assured that disagreements with politicians on life issues would not prevent him from collaborating with them on the abolishment of this measure.

“During this legislative session, we hope to see an effort to repeal the death penalty in Colorado, a measure that the Church has long advocated for, since our prison system can ensure these criminals pose no danger to the public once they are incarcerated. We also know that men who have been condemned to death have converted and have changed. They have opened their hearts to the one who can give them light.

“All life has dignity and worth, even the lives of those who have killed others. The State should not participate in the cycle of violence by taking life but should instead strive to protect it.”

In an interview with 9NEWS in November 2018, Governor Polis said he would sign a bill repealing the death penalty and expressed his opposition to the current measures.

Colorado has executed a total of 101 people in its history, all of them males found guilty of murder. Yet, the state has only executed one person — in 1997 — since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1975.

The State of Colorado can still impose the death penalty in class 1 felony cases, which involve certain murders, kidnapping or treason. These may include the death of law enforcement officers, of children under 12, the usage of explosive devices, extreme indifference to human life or extremely cruel conduct.

The Church has traditionally held that the dignity of a person is not lost even after having committed a grave crime.

Nonetheless, as the Catechism states, it has also traditionally taught that “it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life,” which means that “someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his transgressor a lethal blow.”

In the case of those who hold a position of authority and are responsible for many lives, “legitimate defense cannot only be a right but a grave duty… The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.”

The Catechism continues: “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person” (CCC 2263-2267, prior to May 11, 2018).

In a recent change to this section of the Catechism, Pope Francis called for the repeal of capital punishment worldwide, a measure that Archbishop Aquila assures can already be implemented in Colorado.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated the wrong year of the most recent execution in Colorado. The most recent execution in Colorado took place in 1997. We apologize for the error.

COMING UP: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

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In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?