Bishop John F. Kinney, Bishop of St. Cloud
December 7, 1995 - St. John's, Collegeville
Mr. Chairman and members of the Judiciary Committee, I am John F. Kinney, Roman Catholic Bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese. I speak in opposition to House Files 166 and 1980 on the Death Penalty which you are considering today.
At the outset I must say that I have the greatest respect for those sponsors of this piece of legislation. I believe they are seeking a way to respond to the concerns of the people of our state who are experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety with the rise of crime. As a society we have come face-to-face with the fact that no nation, except those engaged in war at this moment, has as much violent behavior as we do. While I disagree with the solution proposed here, I appreciate the fact that they have put the issue before the public.
My opposition to the death penalty comes from the belief that each human is created in the image of God. We believe this value does not depend on any human quality or any accomplishment of our own; it is, in fact, a gift of overwhelming love of God for each of us. I believe that the death penalty does not promote respect for human life, it rather threatens and devalues that life. It denies the sovereignty of God over life and escalates violence in our society rather than deterring it.
Society's concern for the protection and security of all its members requires the restoration of the order of justice which the perpetrator of the crime has violated. This violation justifies holding the offender accountable for his or her actions. We believe that proper punishment exists only to the extent that it serves to preserve the public order and safety, redress the disorder caused by the offense, and, as far as possible, contribute to the correction of the offender. Only when these three conditions are present can we hope to preserve and enhance the common good, the fundamental purpose of all punishment. When the state chooses the death penalty as a solution to a social problem it gives official sanction to a climate of violence. It says that the only way to defend and protect human life is to resort to similar violence.
There may have been a time in history when out of absolute necessity to protect society, an offender had to be executed. This is not the case today. Steady improvements in the penal system have (virtually) eliminated the need for the death penalty.
It would not be out of place to speculate on how Jesus would deal with capital crime. In the case of the woman accused of adultery (John, 8), a capital crime at that time, he invited those without sin to cast the first stone. And when the death penalty was applied to him, Jesus responded by praying: "Father forgive them..." (Luke 23:34). In a joint statement to Christians, the Catholic and Protestant church leaders of Florida presented a thought provoking scenario when they wrote: "Jesus was not casual about iniquity, nor soft on crime." What He did was to shift the focus of judgment in these matters to a higher court; a court where there is absolute knowledge of the evidence, of good deeds and of evil, of faith, and of the works of faith, of things private and things public—a court in which there is both wrath and tenderness, both law and grace."
I want to assure the relatives and friends of the victims of the crime of murder that we are sympathetic to their pain and mourn with them. Our position is not to negate their suffering, but rather to let them see that their grief will not be made less by more violence, experience has shown that the families of victims who wait for years for the death of the perpetrator find themselves trapped in a commitment to wrathful vengeance that compounds and extends the horror of the initial violent act, leaving them empty and unhealed.
I leave the statistical arguments and questions about the effects of the flaws in the judicial system to others. My intention is to bring to this body the message that the common good can never be served unless all human life, even those lives that some consider worthless. is respected and preserved. The test of every public policy is whether it enhances or threatens human life and dignity. I urge you to give House Files 166 and 1980 a "Do Not Pass."