A bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado passed in the Senate Jan. 31, making a passing vote in the House the final hurdle to a repeal being signed into law by the governor.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez have advocated strongly for the abolishment of the death penalty here in Colorado. They, along with the other bishops of the Colorado Catholic Conference, lauded the decision.
“The Catholic Bishops of Colorado commend the Colorado Senate for passing SB20-100 and taking an important step to repealing the death penalty in our state,” the Colorado Catholic Conference said in a statement. “We wish to thank bill sponsors Sen. Julie Gonzales and Sen. Jack Tate, Senate President Leroy Garcia, and all the other senators who supported this important legislation. The Colorado Bishops have been active in their support for this bill.”
Prior to the Senate vote, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee voted Jan. 27 to advance a bill to the Senate in a 3-2 decision. Among the many who testified in the six-hour debate was Bishop Rodriguez, who reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teachings on the dignity of life and Christ’s mercy.
“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 told the committee. “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 combatting the root causes of violence.”
A similar bill was expected to pass during last year’s 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.