Washington state bishops support repeal of death penalty

The Catholic bishops of Washington state are expressing support for a senate bill that would repeal the death penalty.

This comes after the state’s Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in October 2018, finding it had been applied in an arbitrary and racially-biased manner.

“Our country’s legal system is far from perfect when it comes to imposing the death penalty,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle wrote in a Feb. 5 joint statement released by the Washington State Catholic Conference.

“Senate Bill 5339 removes the unconstitutional language and moves Washington state towards greater justice and respect for life at all stages.”

The bill would change the sentence for aggravated first degree murder to life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole. The bill’s text states that the goal of the bill is “reducing criminal justice expenses.”

The bishops, in their support for the bill, cited the Catholic Church’s belief that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death.

“The act of murder cries out for an appropriate punishment, but the death penalty merely adds violence to violence, perpetuating an illusion that taking one human life for another can somehow balance the scales of justice,” Sartain said.

The Washington effort to repeal the death penalty is part of a national trend. New Hampshire legislators voted to remove the death penalty from the state last year, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Lawmakers in Colorado have said they are planning to introduce a proposal to repeal the death penalty in the upcoming legislative session. Similar legislation has already been introduced in Nevada and Kentucky this year.

Pope Francis in Aug. 2018 ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The Catechism previously taught the Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

In declaring the death penalty inadmissible, the new text cites “an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” as well as the development of “more effective systems of detention…which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”