Death penalty debate fractures society

Religious sister to talk in Denver on need to abolish

The murder of his 23-year-old son sent Bob Autobee’s soul into an abyss of darkness.

For years he faced depression and denial after corrections officer Eric Autobee was slain by convicted killer Edward Montour in a Limon prison.

Autobee turned his back on his faith. All he could see was red.

“I was so full of hate, I couldn’t see straight,” he said. “I was a raging bull.”

He wanted Montour to die.

The death penalty has risen to public debate as families of victims and state legislators grapple with questions on justice. A repeal of the state’s death penalty—supported by the Denver Archdiocese—was considered in the last legislative session after another convicted killer, Nathan Dunlap, faced execution.

Autobee and his family were among the death penalty advocates when Montour pled guilty in 2003 and was put on death row. It was later overturned, and legal snafus delayed Montour’s new trial until this month.

At the time, hate begat hate and Autobee said he faced problems with his family, job and house in Pueblo.

“I put myself in this deep, dark hole. I woke up one day and I couldn’t pray. I lost my faith,” said 58-year-old Autobee.

After a dying friend’s urging, he started to read the Bible.

“It was like this weight was lifted from me and all the hate went out,” he said. “I started to see things clearly, and I went completely against the death penalty.”

Autobee and he and his family found truth in the abolition of the death penalty.

“I’d like to see (Montour) account for his actions but the death penalty is not the answer,” he said. He sees killing one man for another a savage response, one that’s not right in a civilized society.

“I can’t say I’ve forgiven him, but don’t feel he should die for it. Our Lord doesn’t want us killing people.”

Justice debated

The issue of the death penalty has been hotly debated across the nation and among faith communities. In Colorado, Catholics and other faiths spoke in support of an abolition of the death penalty as Dunlap’s execution neared.

“My support for the death penalty’s repeal is rooted in my respect for the dignity of all human life,” Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in a statement in May. “Every human being has a fundamental right to life. It is wrong to take life needlessly, either through execution, or abortion or criminal acts of violence.”

Past and present popes have spoken about the death penalty, some speaking in support and more recent ones advocating its abolishment.

Modern justice and legal systems no longer necessitate  capital punishment, said Jenny Kraska, attorney and director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, the state lobbying arm of the Church.

“The fact is Church teaching seems to be more and more clear that in societies such as ours that are organized and have legal systems, there isn’t a need for the death penalty,” she said.

The conference invited Sister Ilaria Buonriposi, C.M.S., of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to speak in Colorado about Church teaching on the issue. She will present in English at Holy Family Parish in Denver Oct. 8 and in  panish at St. Thérèse Parish in Aurora Oct. 6. She will also speak in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

Sister Buonriposi, who ministered for 17 years in Peru after earning a degree in social work, said the death penalty is essentially a question about the dignity of life. Sister Ilaria Buonriposi, C.M.S., of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

“It is an issue for Catholics because … it’s a pro-life issue,” she said. “The Vatican said that we have to protect life from conception to natural death.

It is possible to protect society without killing people.” She added that God doesn’t stop loving sinners. Even murderers have dignity and should have a chance to repent. Furthermore, killing one for another “doesn’t give back to the victim and families the person they lost. It creates more pain.”

Sister Buonriposi said her talks include the point that there is little room in Church teaching for the death penalty. She will also participate in a Denver press conference Oct. 10, World Day against the Death Penalty, along with a diverse group of advocates for its repeal.

Autobee said he has come to agree with Church teaching and will fight for an abolishment of the death penalty. He testified for the abolition of the penalty bill during the state’s last legislative session.

“I’m not going away and I won’t stop fighting,” he said. “I owe it to my son because he was a good man and he would be against this. They would dishonor my son by letting Montour get killed.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash