BALTIMORE — Speaking at a legislative hearing in Maryland, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore supported efforts to end the death penalty in the state, calling for punishments that respect human life.
"While those who have done terrible harm to others deserve punishment," he acknowledged, "we urge a response that meets evil with a justice worthy of our best nature as human beings, enlightened by faith in the possibility of redemption and forgiveness."
Archbishop Lori testified in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 14 before the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. The hearings marked the first time that the archbishop, who chairs the Maryland Catholic Conference, has appeared before the Maryland General Assembly.
His testimony voiced support for a bill that would remove the death penalty from Maryland’s capital murder statute, leaving life without the possibility of parole as the most severe sentence convicted criminals would be able to receive.
The legislation would also provide state funds to aid the family members of homicide victims.
The bill has the support of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, as well as Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland resident and Catholic convert who was the first deat- row inmate to be exonerated and released through the use of DNA evidence.
O’Malley has tried to repeal the death penalty twice before, citing the high incidence of false convictions among death row inmates, its cost and its ineffectiveness as a crime deterrent.
In his testimony, Archbishop Lori alluded to the practical and prudential concerns surrounding the use of the death penalty, but focused his speech on the moral questions surrounding the practice.
Catholic opposition to the death penalty is founded upon the idea that "every human life is sacred and to be protected," the archbishop stated, stressing the protection of life and the human person "from the moment of natural conception until natural death."
He added that Catholics hold the "reasoned belief" that "every life comes from God and is destined to return to God as our final judge" and that this teaching drives the protection of all life, as well as other aspects of Catholic outreach.
The archbishop quoted the bishops of the United States in expressing concern not only for "those guilty of horrible crimes," but also for the negative effects that capital punishment has upon society.
"We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals," Archbishop Lori quoted, "nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders."
"The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life," he said.
The archbishop also explained that the existence of safe prisons and punishments such as "life-without-parole sentences" render the death penalty unnecessary.
Catholic teaching tells us, he said, that "when other punishment options are available to government that sufficiently protect the public’s safety, we should not resort to the death penalty, not even in the case of one who takes the life of another human being."
Archbishop Lori also offered "a special word of respect and compassion to the families and loved ones of murder victims and my heartfelt prayers for their final peace." He praised aspects of the legislation that grant support to the families of homicide victims.
"They have a special claim on our prayers, a special need for our embrace," he said, along with "a special need for our encouragement to seek solace, understanding and ultimate judgment in a loving God."