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Death penalty repeal passes in House, bill now awaits governor’s signature

The Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the death penalty in Colorado Feb. 26, after five previous attempts failed over the last decade.

All that remains is a signature from Colorado Governor Jared Polis, then it is officially law. The governor has stated in the past that he would sign such a repeal.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez have advocated strongly for the abolishment of the death penalty here in Colorado, citing the Church’s teachings regarding the dignity of life.

“The Catholic Church has long taught that every person, whether they are unborn, sick, or sinful, has a God-given dignity that cannot be erased or taken away,” Bishop Rodriguez said in a testimony before the House committee prior to the bill’s passage. “Yes, it can be marred, but it cannot be blotted out in the eyes of God.

“…even those who committed horrible crimes and are in prison are not outside of Christ’s mercy. In fact, he counts them as his ‘least brothers.’”

The bishop noted that while the families of victims may feel that justice is being served in the act of capital punishment, “the reality is that only God can offer true justice in eternity,” he said.

Bishop Rodriguez argued that the use of the death penalty speaks to a deeper problem of the rejection of human dignity, one that can open the floodgates to dangerous implications.

“Besides the fact that it cannot offer healing to victims and their loved ones, the use of the death penalty only adds to the cycle of violence,” he said. “What are we teaching our children? If we as a society accept the idea that it’s possible for someone to lose their human dignity and be executed, then it is only a short step to say that certain classes or types of people belong to this less-than-human group. History has shown that this is not outside the realm of possibility.”

Bishop Stephen J. Berg of the Diocese of Pueblo echoed Bishop Rodriguez in an op-ed penned for the Pueblo Chieftain.

“In my years as a priest, I have gone to visit prisoners in Texas and Colorado. I have seen how despite being hidden by the disfigurement of a life of sin and often suffering, every prisoner’s God-given dignity is waiting to be freed,” Bishop Berg wrote. “Indeed, I have witnessed the return to the faith of the most hardened criminals.

“The death penalty, while it might offer a sense of short-term justice, only adds to the cycle of violence and takes away this opportunity for conversion,” he continued. “Conversion and healing are also possible for the victims and their families. It is tempting to hold on to hatred for those who hurt you so deeply, but it consumes the lives of those who let it remain in their hearts. Instead, when the cycle of violence is interrupted by forgiveness and faith, the opportunity exists for healing and growth in charity for victims and their families. God is able to take a great evil and transform it into an even greater good.”

“Beyond the moral considerations, maintaining the death penalty and all the resources that this requires does not make economic sense. It would be far better if our state government was able to commit these resources to combating the root causes of violence.”

A similar bill was expected to pass during the 2019 legislative session, and had the Church’s and bipartisan support as it does this year, but it failed.

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 Colorado Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1975.

Presently, three men are on death row in Colorado. This repeal would apply to any sentencing after July 1, 2020.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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