Dear Members of the Delaware Legislature:
This week a Bill was introduced which proposes the repeal of the death penalty in the State of Delaware. I write to support this Bill’s passage.
Use of the death penalty by the State has in recent years been the focus of much debate. The issue is a morally complex one because of the apparent conflicting demands of justice and the preservation of human life. Many crimes are so heinous they seem to cry out for the ultimate punishment of death. We need only to think of the recent mass killings of innocent people, by ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Boston Marathon bombing. And yet the gospel message is forever one of forgiveness, reconciliation, rehabilitation , and charity to all, never with exception. We live, unfortunately, in a culture of death, death by wanton violence, war, murder, hatred, euthanasia, and abortion. There are many threats to human life and at times life is treated cheaply. However, life, every life, is a gift from God, and God alone is the master of both life and death.
Last October, Pope Francis called for a worldwide abolition of the death penalty and noted that “It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor.” Christian belief and Christian teaching has always espoused reconciliation, reform, and rehabilitation. Today imprisonment is effective in removing the serious offender from society and thus removes the danger to innocent life. Imprisonment allows time for repentance, reformation, and a change of heart.
We are taught by Christ to visit the imprisoned, to minister to them, and to encourage them to change because in spite of their crimes they remain children of God. We never lose sight of our foundational belief that even the worst of offenders are our brothers and sisters who are offered through Christ forgiveness and eternal life.
We have always believed in the right of self defense and of society’s right to defend itself from aggressors such as murderers, serial killers, terrorists, and the like. The question, however, is whether the death penalty is a just and necessary method. The ultimate challenge to any society is the preservation and sanctity of life, all life, each life.
We may think the death penalty eliminates a problem. However, a person, not a problem, is destroyed when the death penalty is employed. The deeper problem to be dealt with is what has gone wrong with society when violent crime is so widespread. The deeper problem is complex and does not admit of an easy solution. I do not think that the death penalty is part of that solution.
We know that there are many challenges in our sometimes dysfunctional society, and that society helps to breed criminals because of poverty, discrimination , family breakdown, injustice, lack of hope and opportunity. Those problems are not corrected by the death penalty. Sadly in the past the innocent have mistakenly been executed for the crimes of others. Many continue to be exonerated by new evidence.
There is a growing consciousness in our modern society that there is something wrong in using the death penalty to discourage crime and violence. The belief that life is precious, every life, and that life is an inalienable right is something that must be encouraged, especially by the State.
I strongly urge you to support a repeal of the death penalty in our State.
Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly Bishop of Wilmington