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

Aaron Lambert

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.

COMING UP: Catholic schools plan to reopen for in-school learning this fall

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Having endured a rather challenging last few months of the school year, parents of Catholic school students can now rest easy with the knowledge that Catholic schools will be open this fall.

In a letter issued May 29, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Denver Catholic Schools Superintendent Elias Moo announced plans to reopen Catholic schools for in-school learning for the 2020-21 school year. At the forefront of these plans is the health and safety of students and faculty.

“We will carry out in-person instruction with increased health protocols and processes to ensure that our schools are going above and beyond to protect the health of every member of our Catholic school community, especially our most high-risk members,” said Archbishop Aquila and Moo in their letter. “We are confident our schools’ protocols and processes will keep our school environments as healthy and as safe as possible for all members of our communities.”

To help ensure healthy school environments are maintained, a task force composed of school leaders, nurse practitioners, doctors and a virologist has been assembled. This group is working with schools to identify the best health measures and policies in preparation for the coming school year.

For those parents who may not feel comfortable sending their children to school for any in-school learning, the archdiocese and Office of Catholic Schools are also formulating a virtual distance-learning option. Families who are interested will still be able to receive instruction in core content areas while remaining connected to their local school community. More details on this option will be available at the end of June.

Recognizing the unique challenges parents have faced over these past few months as schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Aquila and Moo expressed sincere gratitude for their increased efforts in making distance learning a success.

“None of this would have been possible without the incredible efforts made by our parents to play an even bigger role in their children’s education,” they said. “While balancing your own work, caring for your families and other day-to-day responsibilities, you have stepped up to make sure we had a productive finish to the school year.”

Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Aquila and Moo said that Catholic schools will continue to abide by mandated health protocols while working to keep Catholic schools operating for the good of the communities they serve.

“Our Catholic schools are a critical part of the educational ecosystem and fabric of our state, and we remain committed to working in a spirit of cooperation with our local and state officials when possible as we all seek to advance the common good of our communities,” they concluded.

As plans for reopening Denver’s Catholic schools are continually developed, parents are invited to participate in a survey to help school leadership consider the needs of the community so they can open schools in the safest possible manner. The survey can be accessed by visiting denvercatholicschools.com.