Bishop testifies against death penalty

by Joe Bollig

TOPEKA — The Catholic Church added its voice to others seeking to repeal capital punishment in Kansas during a three-day hearing Jan. 19 to 21 at the state Capitol.

On Jan. 19, Bishop Michael O. Jackels of the Diocese of Wichita gave testimony of the church’s teaching about the death penalty before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In his testimony, Bishop Jackels — speaking for the Kansas Catholic Conference — said that the Catholic Church recognizes the duty of the state to protect citizens.

“The church also teaches that the death penalty should not be imposed if there are other ways to guarantee public order and the safety of citizens,” he said.

There were attempts to repeal the state’s death penalty law in 2009. Although a bill went to the full Senate, it wasn’t voted upon because of questions regarding consequences if it became law, said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

This year, the Senate is taking the lead with Senate Bill 375, which was scheduled for a vote on Friday, Jan. 29, on whether to send it out of committee to the Senate floor for a vote.

“As far as its chances are, it’s hard to say,” said Schuttloffel. “Last year, we never had a final vote in the Senate, where people had to go on the record up or down, so we really don’t know.”

“It’s a very challenging issue for people,” he continued. “There are a lot of people really on the fence who are genuinely conflicted — Catholic legislators who are really torn. So, it’s difficult to know [the legislation’s prospects]. No one has a solid head count.”

The bill’s prospects will be especially challenging this year, because it is also an election year.

“This is one of those issues that can try a politician’s courage in an election year, because it’s easy to demagogue the issue,” said Schuttloffel. “It’s easy to get hit over the head [with this] during an election year. And last year just getting it out of committee was by the skin of our teeth — one vote.”

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, becoming the 35th state to have capital punishment on the books. The state has not executed anyone since June 22, 1965.

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