Legislative update: Initiative 120 may still need more signatures, death penalty repealed

Over the last several months, the Colorado pro-life community has been asked to help change abortion laws in Colorado by signing ballot initiative 120, which would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks through birth. The deadline was reached and over 137,000 signatures were delivered to the Colorado Secretary of State Office on March 4. However, more signatures may be needed to get this initiative on the November ballot.

Initiative 120 would restrict abortions after 22 weeks in pregnancy in the state of Colorado, with the only exception being if the mother’s life is at risk. Under Initiative 120, a person conducting the abortion could be subject to having a medical license suspended and would be subjected to a fine, but it wouldn’t impose a penalty on the woman receiving the abortion.

What happens now?

The turned in signatures are currently being reviewed by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office to determine how many of them are valid. They did an initial review of five percent of the turned in signatures, which predicted the total would fall about 3,000 signatures short of the required 124,632. Because the prediction was so close to the required amount, they are now doing a line-by-line review of all signatures to determine the total number of valid signatures.

The Secretary of State is expected to announce the final results in early April, and if the number falls short of the required total, a 15-day “cure period” would begin that allows for an attempt to collect the necessary remaining signatures.

Once the Secretary of State declares the exact number of insufficient signatures, a 15-day “cure period” begins, which means that during this time the issue committee may circulate to gather enough signatures to reach the required number of valid signatures.

As far as what supporters can do at this time, Deacon Geoff Bennett, Vice President of Parish and Community Relations at Catholic Charities of Denver, asked for prayers in a statement to the Denver Catholic. Learn more at respectlifedenver.org

“Pray first, particularly since Initiative 120 faces the same uncertainties as other aspects of civic life given the Coronavirus pandemic and the state of emergency,” Deacon Bennett said. “Then we must continue taking action. Talk to family, friends and neighbors about Initiative 120 to help raise awareness.”

Additionally, Due Date Too Late, the entity that initiated the petition drive, is raising money to fund efforts that include gaining additional petition signatures, if needed.

For more information and make donations, which are not tax deductible, visit duedatetoolate.com

Death penalty repeal signed into law

On March 23, Colorado Governor Jared Polis officially signed into law SB20-100, making Colorado the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. The Colorado Catholic Conference – which represents the state’s four bishops and three dioceses – actively supported this legislation.

“We thank Gov. Jared Polis for signing this historic piece of legislation, and we commend the many state senators and representatives who worked hard to make this important change to our state law,” the bishops said in a statement. “We believe that human life is sacred from conception until natural death. We believe that, because God made us in his image and likeness, it is not possible to lose the dignity that confers to our lives. We are, as Jesus said, his brothers and sisters, even if we have committed great crimes or sins.”

However, the bishops added, “While today we applaud the repeal of the death penalty, we must never forget about the victims of these horrendous crimes, and as a community we must continue to support their families and loved ones. May they find comfort, healing and forgiveness in the love of Jesus Christ.”

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.