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: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.