The New Jersey Catholic bishops on Dec. 17 released a statement on the 10th anniversary of the elimination of the death penalty in New Jersey.
“The death penalty diminishes us as a society. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life,” say the bishops, who played a major role in the long and difficult campaign to eliminate capital punishment in the state.
They emphasize that they are “not blind” to the pain caused by violent crime, and they acknowledge the state’s duty to punish criminals. “However,” they add, “we believe that society has effective ways to protect itself and to redress injustice without resorting to the use of the death penalty.”
The full statement follows. It is signed by Cardinal Joseph A. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archdiocese of Newark; Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M., Bishop, Diocese of Trenton; Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, Bishop, Diocese of Camden; Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop, Diocese of Paterson; Most Reverend James F. Checchio, Bishop, Diocese of Metuchen; Most Reverend Kurt Burnette, Bishop, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic; Most Reverend Yousif B. Habash, Bishop, Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese; and Most Reverend Manuel A. Cruz, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Newark.
Statement of the N.J. bishops
Over many decades, the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey consistently called for the abolishment of the death penalty. Thank God, on December 17, 2007, New Jersey became the first state in forty years to enact a law to eliminate the death penalty. Groups across the globe hailed the enactment of New Jersey’s law as a victory for the dignity of life. On December 19, 2007, the Colosseum in Rome glowed in New Jersey’s honor with the words “No Justice without Life.”
Our message is simple — every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, who alone is the absolute Lord of life from its beginning until its end (Genesis 1:26-28). The death penalty diminishes us as a society. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life.
We are not blind to the pain caused by crime. We acknowledge that all murders are violent and shocking; stirring emotions of revulsion and anger. We grieve for the victims. We are committed to comforting, assisting and praying for the families and friends of victims.
We affirm the state’s duty to punish criminals, to prevent crime, and to assist victims. We recognize the need to improve our criminal justice system and to forge a greater societal commitment to justice. However, we believe that society has effective ways to protect itself and to redress injustice without resorting to the use of the death penalty.
Today, on the 10th Anniversary of the elimination of the death penalty in New Jersey, we pray for an end to capital punishment in the 31 states that still have some form of capital punishment.