Manchester, N.H., May 30, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester welcomed Thursday the New Hampshire legislature’s override of a veto by the governor on capital punishment repeal.
“I welcome the vote by the New Hampshire Senate today that repeals the death penalty. As a citizen of New Hampshire, I offer my deep appreciation and sincere empathy to the members of the Legislature for their deliberate and often very difficult process of debate and decision-making that is so much a part of their office and was especially so in this most serious matter,” Bishop Libasci said May 30.
“As good citizens we must not look upon this vote as a victory, for that would dishonor the grief of those whose lives have been tragically altered by the crimes committed against their loved ones and society in general. Instead, we need to stand together as a citizenry and live by what we said when we spoke of human dignity, incarceration that rehabilitates, especially in cases of life without possibility of parole.”
The bishop added: “Being part of a society that is committed to dealing with the ills that lead to the decomposition of personhood and the evil crime of murder is the work of a noble people who uphold the sacredness of human life. Now is the opportune time to recommit ourselves to participating in this responsible movement forward.”
The vote makes New Hampshire the 21st state to abolish capital punishment.
The New Hampshire legislature voted to repeal the death penalty this spring, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu earlier this month.
The Senate voted 16-8 to override Sununu’s veto May 30. The House voted last week to override.
Sen. David Starr had initially voted to repeal capital punishment, but did not vote to override the governor on Thursday, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
Bishop Libasci had submitted written testimony in favor of the repeal.
Those convicted of capital murder in New Hampshire will now face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The repeal applies to convictions from today onward.
Currently on New Hampshire’s death row is Michael Addison, who in 2006 murdered a Manchester policeman, Michael Briggs.
“I have consistently stood with law enforcement, families of crime victims, and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty because it is the right thing to do,” Sununu said May 30. “I am incredibly disappointed that the Senate chose to override my veto.”
Patrick Cheetham, a police captain and a former president of the New Hampshire Police Association, said the death penalty repeal “doesn’t make New Hampshire safer; it doesn’t make it safer for New Hampshire police officers and it’s extremely disappointing. The death penalty has been used sparingly, judiciously and appropriately at a time when New Hampshire’s police officers are confronted with greater and greater violence.”
The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty, in cases of “absolute necessity,” though with the qualification that the Church considered such situations to be extremely rare.
Both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice of capital punishment in the West.
St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”
And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the catechism’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.
Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.
Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”
“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.