Death penalty Cathedral events

Friday, 21 October 2016

Mark your calendars once again for some upcoming events. Each diocesan cathedral will be hosting an event entitled “Catholic Voices against the Death Penalty.” St. Cecilia’s Cathedral (Omaha) will host Monday, Oct. 24. St. Mary’s Cathedral (Grand Island) will host Tuesday, Oct. 25. Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln) will host Wednesday, Oct. 26. Each event runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Each event will consist of four speakers. Between the four speakers, Catholics will learn about our faith’s tradition and teaching on the death penalty and hear moving testimonies which shed light on problematic aspects of the death penalty.

Testimonies will be shared by Joe D’Ambrosio and Father Neil Kookoothe, Vicki Schieber, and Marietta Jaeger-Lane.

Joe D’Ambrosio is the 140th death row inmate to be exonerated after serving more than 20 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. With the help of his prison chaplain and friend, Father Neil Kookoothe, who, prior to being ordained a priest was a trained nurse and attorney, helped successfully plea for his exoneration.

Vicki Schieber’s daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered in Philadelphia in 1998. Vicki and her husband, Syl, publically opposed the death penalty for Shannon’s murderer and have worked for decades to end capital punishment. Vicki is a co-founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and a regular speaker and volunteer for Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Marietta Jaeger-Lane advocates for the abolition of the death penalty despite the kidnapping and murder of her seven-year old daughter, Susie. Marietta asked that the mentally ill man who murdered her daughter be given a life sentence instead of the death penalty. It was only then that the man would confess to Susie’s murders, as well as other murders.

These cathedral events provide another opportunity for Catholics to wrestle with the death penalty issue as Nov. 8 approaches. While we invite anybody to attend, I would extend a special invitation to those who are still struggling to determine their position on the issue.

Though the traditional teaching of our Catholic faith does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, Pope Saint John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church propose an opportunity for society to broaden its understanding of the gospel of life and the dignity of the human person.

In his revered encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II exhorted that the state “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” He believed that improvements in the penal system made such cases of absolute necessity “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means[.]” Such bloodless means, the Catechism continues, are “more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.”

These statements form the basis for making a judgment about whether our society has the capability to “defend[] human lives against the unjust aggressor” without recourse to the death penalty. The Bishops and the Nebraska Catholic Conference firmly believe that improvements in our penal system allow society to protect human lives (including those within our prison systems) from even the most heinous criminals.

This reasoning and conclusion lies at the crux of the Bishops’ and Nebraska Catholic Conference’s advocacy to encourage all Catholics and people of good will across the state of Nebraska to vote RETAIN on Referendum 426 on Nov. 8 .

The powerful and compelling stories of the participating speakers at the various cathedral events will help form additional, supporting experiences and arguments that reveal problematic aspects of the death penalty. Such concerns are worthy of consideration as we determine our capacity to properly execute the death penalty.

I hope you join us for these cathedral events and use them as an opportunity to dig deeper into this important issue—while you are at it, invite a family member or friend (or two) to join.