Omaha, Neb. — Noting all life is sacred, Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha joined about 15 religious leaders, priests and nuns at a news conference in Omaha May 13 in calling for an end to the death penalty. As the Nebraska Legislature debates the issue, Lucas said he was pleased and privileged "to join friends from other faith communities at this important moment." The archbishop also noted he was representing the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's three Catholic bishops.
Catholic teaching recognizes the state has recourse to the death penalty if it is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life, Lucas said at the Omaha Press Club. But because of improvements in the penal system, such cases are rare, if not practically nonexistent, he said. The death penalty does not provide rehabilitation and there is no clear evidence that executions deter crime, the archbishop said. At the same time, some criminals will never be fit for reintegration into society and just sentences are needed to keep Nebraskans safe, he said.
"Public safety can be assured through other means," the archbishop said. "And justice requires punishment, but it does not require that those who have committed capital crimes be put to death."
Responding to a question about loved ones of victims who may find it difficult to forgive perpetrators, Lucas said they deserve support, love and concern. "Our hearts go out to any individual and families who have suffered from violence," he said. While acknowledging the need for justice, Archbishop Lucas called for a broader understanding, which values the life of every person. "We think that there are other just ways to punish those who are certainly guilty of very serious crimes," he said.
Other religious leaders at the news conference included Bishop Brian Maas of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Rev. Craig Loya, dean and rector at Trinity Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska.
The Rev. Dan Flanagan, superintendent of the Missouri River District of the United Methodist Church, also spoke, as did the Rev. Robert Keefer, stated clerk of the Missouri River Valley Presbytery and senior pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Omaha.
The death penalty bill, introduced Jan. 14, was approved 30-13 in the first of voting. The outcome would be enough to overcome Gov. Pete Ricketts' promised veto, but 33 votes would be needed to cut off a threatened filibuster. A second round of debate on the measure, known as L.B. 268, was taking place May 15.
It was not clear a final vote on the bill will take place before the Legislature, a unicameral body, adjourns its 90-day session.