Nebraska Catholic bishops said Friday they opposed the setting of an execution date for condemned prisoner Carey Dean Moore.
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Thursday set a date of Aug. 14 for carrying out the death penalty for Moore by lethal injection. If he is executed, it will be the first time the death penalty has been used in the state since 1997.
Moore, 60, has been on death row for 38 years. He was sentenced on two counts of first-degree murder in Douglas County in the 1979 deaths of two Omaha cab drivers, Reuel Van Ness Jr. and Maynard Helgeland.
"As the Catholic Bishops of Nebraska, we recognize that our society has a pervasive culture of violence and death which can only be transformed by a counter-culture of justice and mercy," said Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island in a written statement.
They said each time the state considers applying capital punishment, Nebraska has an opportunity to respond to an act of violence with an act of mercy that does not endanger public safety or compromise the demands of justice.
"There is no doubt the state has the responsibility to administer just punishment," the bishops said. "However, given our modern prison system, the execution of Carey Dean Moore is not necessary to fulfill justice and, for that reason, would undermine respect for human life."
They said they continue to offer their sincerest prayers for all victims and those affected by the heinous crimes of Moore, and for his "conversion of heart."
The Nebraska Catholic Conference has long opposed the death penalty and opposed a referendum on the 2016 ballot to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska.
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Pope Francis said in a major talk in October that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel,” and that "however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”
Several Catholic news services reported the pope said there had been a development of doctrine in the church and a change in the consciousness of the Christian people on the question of the death penalty. He seemed to suggest a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church could be forthcoming to reflect the new development in the church’s understanding.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is Catholic, supports the death penalty. When the Legislature repealed capital punishment in 2015 he vetoed the repeal, which the Legislature then voted to override. Ricketts then contributed money toward the referendum to ensure the state kept the death penalty, which a majority of Nebraskans voted to do.
In his 2015 veto letter, he said retaining the death penalty was important to the integrity of criminal prosecutions and to good prison management.
"This fact cannot be overlooked given the recent prison disturbance in the Tecumseh facility, during which two inmates were intentionally killed by another inmate or inmates," he said at the time.
Without the death penalty, Ricketts said, an inmate is fearless of more serious sanctions.
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