Bishop Nevares takes part in death penalty summit

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares takes part in Sept. 13 legislative summit on the death penalty (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares takes part in Sept. 13 legislative summit on the death penalty (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Members of a group known as Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona helped organize a legislative summit Sept. 13 at the Arizona State Senate.  Eight speakers — including Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares — addressed a crowded hearing room regarding both the costs and the justice of the death penalty.

Arizona is one of 32 states nationwide that performs executions.

The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” but the Catechism says such cases “are rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Dan Peitzmeyer, president of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, said three bills dealing with the death penalty were introduced to the Arizona Legislature last year.  “All three died in committee,” Peitzmeyer said. “The purpose [of the death penalty summit] is to start a dialogue in the community.”

Sen. Ed Ableser, who ran the discussion, stated his opposition to the death penalty and noted that Arizona is second in the nation with respect to the number of executions carried out.

“Since 1973 we haven’t had a true conversation” about the death penalty, Ableser said. “Does it save money? Is it ethical?”

Bishop Nevares explained his opposition to the death penalty in spiritual terms.

“It is a constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all human life is sacred from the very first moment of conception through natural death,” Bishop Nevares said. “We believe that all life is from God and it’s only God who gives life and it’s only God who can take life.”

When man decides to take a life, Bishop Nevares said, “that is when so many disastrous consequences happen.”

Professor emeritus John Johnson distributed information to those in attendance about the costs associated with exercising the death penalty.

“It costs more to execute someone than to keep them in prison at the highest level of security for 40 years,” Johnson said. He cited a study that showed the State of California had spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978.

Montgomery acknowledged Johnson’s figures but said there was “the other half of the ledger” to consider. “What is the cost of justice for surviving family members of homicide victims? How do you measure the value of a life?” Montgomery asked.

“I would not characterize any dollar spent for public safety as misspent,” he said. Pre-trial litigation costs had gone up, he said, because prosecutors want to avoid having to retry cases due to issues at the appellate court level.

Four students from Brophy College Preparatory attended the summit with Megan McDonald of the religious studies department.

Jake Derito, a junior at Brophy, said he was opposed to the death penalty. “Just because someone did something bad doesn’t mean we should kill them,” Derito said. “The Bible says we shouldn’t kill. It doesn’t say ‘unless you do something really bad.’”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, 1,344 individuals have been executed in the United States since 1976. The Arizona Department of Corrections website states that Arizona currently has 122 inmates on death row.



  1. …from Conception to Natural death.


    “Conception” by the Divine law is very natural.

    “Execution” doesn’t sound ‘natural’ to me.

    Remember Calvary.

  2. One of many problems with the Catechism is this:

    “are rare, if not practically non-existent.”

    Any effort at fact checking would show that such cases are far from rare but, in fact, are all too common when unjust aggressors harm, again and again, in prison, after escape or after improper release.

  3. The authority over life certainly begins and ends with God. However, both Scripture and Tradition clearly indicate that God does delegate authority for capital punishment to legitimate governments. Does anyone question God’s prerogative for such delegation? If God has so charged governments with this task, they may not divest themselves of it nor of the tools needed to carry out such functions.

  4. Jake:

    No one is suggesting that we execute folks for just doing bad things, such as cussing or cheating on a final exam.

    More so, we are speaking of such evils as the rape/torture/murder of children.

    The biblical foundation for the death penalty is found in Genesis 9:5-6 and is based, specifically, upon “shedding blood”.

    2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

    2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. the law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

    “An ‘innocent’ person.”

    2258 “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”

    “An ‘innocent’ human being”

    Always and everywhere there is the prescribed sanction of “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”, which, is confirmed in the Council of Trent, that execution represents paramount obedience to that commandment.

    “paramount obedience”

    2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

    The type of killing being discussed, here, is the illegitimate type, meaning with anger or hatred, killing innocents, as well as many others, not the just prescription of death for murder. We also have the distinction between personal obligations, as opposed to the obligation of the state to defend their citizens.

    A more full review: : “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (from CCC, Article 5, THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT, MT 5:21-22)

    Jesus was actually raising the bar in the Sermon On The Mount, teaching that having hatred in out hearts provided the proper punishment of eternity in hell, obviously a much more severe sanction than an earthly execution for murder, which may offer the blessing of expiation of our sins, as detailed below.

    As with “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” Matthew 5:22 NAB

    With 2263, it is clear that both defense of individuals and the state are described and that both refer to the common good requirement of rendering the unjust aggressor incapable of doing harm, which can only be accomplished by death.


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