New Hampshire bishop supports state bill to repeal death penalty

by Catholic News Service, originally published in The Pilot.

CONCORD, N.H. (CNS) — Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester declared his support of a bill in the state Legislature that would repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire.

“What we must call for in a civilized society is not retribution but restitution,” Bishop Libasci said at an Oct. 24 press conference in Concord, the state capital.

A new effort is underway to repeal the death penalty in the Granite State, at least the third attempt to do so dating back to 2006.

“Debate surrounding the death penalty is so serious and so highly charged emotionally precisely because everyone concerned believes in the sanctity, the sacredness of human life,” Bishop Libasci said.

“The crime of murder is outrageous, unthinkable, and horrifying, precisely because it violates this most basic principle of the sacredness of human life. It is an attack directly on the individual victim and indirectly on the victim’s grieving loved ones and, indeed, civilized society itself. Such an offense against humanity demands a response.”

Bishop Libasci added, “The victim’s grieving survivors will often say to the alleged perpetrator, ‘I want you to know what you have done. I want you to understand what you did!’ The human act of recognition by the perpetrator of the gravity and horror — that is what we hope for when we say, ‘I want you to know what you’ve done!’

“But the death penalty neither deters others, nor brings this perpetrator to understanding, but instead, in the worst of ironies, publicly validates the very act of taking a human life. The death penalty does not help the criminal to understand the magnitude of what he or she has done; it reinforces, instead, the terrifying notion that there is, ultimately, no sacrilege in the taking of human life.

Catholic teachings, Bishop Libasci said, “recognize that the imposition of the death penalty signals neither a firm commitment to the sacredness of human life itself nor the desire for the betterment of society, but signals a collapse into defeat by a society that tries to make itself believe falsely that we can defend life by taking life.”

The New Hampshire Council of Churches, of which the Catholic Church is a member, declared in 2010 its opposition to capital punishment: “Because each human being is created in the image of God and therefore enjoys the gift and possibility of redemption, the use of capital punishment is unacceptable; its use and expansion should be condemned.”

The state Legislature earlier formed a commission to explore the morality of the death penalty. Two members of that commission, James M. Reams and Charles T. Putnam, writing in the summer 2011 issue of the New Hampshire Bar Journal, took issue with the “morality” argument posed by death penalty opponents.

“Is it wrong for individuals to have deeply held moral views, to use those views to guide their policy decisions or to urge others to share those views? Of course not. We deeply respect the moral views of those who would abolish the death penalty,” they said.

“What we reject is the conclusion that the only correct view of what is ‘decent’ requires the repeal of the New Hampshire death penalty statutes in their entirety, to the exclusion of all other possible conclusions.”

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