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Bishop Calls for Moratorium on Death Penalty

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Bishop Burbidge calls on Council of State to defer decision on execution;
Requests General Assembly to declare a moratorium

On Tuesday, February 6, the Council of State will consider North Carolina's execution protocol. As the Catholic Bishop of Raleigh, I urge the Council to defer this matter to the General Assembly and for the General Assembly to declare a moratorium on the death penalty in this current session. This critical issue needs a careful and thorough investigation.

At issue are two points. First, should capital punishment be permitted in North Carolina? Second, what safeguards must be in place should the State decide to execute someone?

In answer to the first point, I note that since 1980, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taken a strong and principled position against the use of the death penalty. We oppose the use of the death penalty not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but also for how it negatively affects society. Executions fail to reconstruct justice and to bring forth reconciliation. Instead, the use of the death penalty fosters revenge and plants seeds of further violence.

Our late, beloved Pope John Paul II, viewed as a beacon of morality across the religious spectrum, clarified the moral imperative for contemporary society when he said, "Today, given the means at the State's disposal to deal with crime and control those who commit it, without abandoning all hope of their redemption, the cases where it is absolutely necessary to do away with an offender are now very rare, even non-existent practically."

I grieve for the victims of heinous crimes and for the suffering these crimes inflict on the victims' families. As a Catholic, I am also compelled by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to work for the redemption of the criminal, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.

This leads me to my second point. Since North Carolina continues to allow executions as a form of punishment, I urge the General Assembly to declare a moratorium on capital punishment. This would in effect, at least, install better safeguards to prevent those innocent of a capital crime from being falsely convicted. A moratorium would further assist us in considering the rights of those who have not been justly prosecuted because of racial or class bias, mental illness, or other mitigating circumstances.

There is too much killing in our world. We must commit ourselves, not to a culture of death, but to the defense of a culture of life. The increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong as we continue to kill others. It is time to "choose life then, that you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge
Bishop of Raleigh