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Nebraska governor holding firm on death penalty despite change in Catholic stance
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Nebraska governor holding firm on death penalty despite change in Catholic stance

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Religious Liberty

Sharla K. Behan (from left), Gov. Pete Ricketts, Archbishop George J. Lucas, Elder Donald D. Deshler and Bishop James D. Conley join in singing "God Bless America" during a religious liberty gathering at the state Capitol in 2015.

Nebraska Catholic bishops have joined Pope Francis in calling for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect, and are pushing to stop the scheduled execution this month of condemned prisoner Carey Dean Moore.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is Catholic, says the execution will go forward. 

“While I respect the Pope’s perspective, capital punishment remains the will of the people and the law of the State of Nebraska," Ricketts said in a statement. "It is an important tool to protect our corrections officers and public safety. The state continues to carry out the sentences ordered by the court.”

Moore, who killed two Omaha cab drivers in 1979, is scheduled to die Aug. 14 at 10 a.m.

Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island called Thursday on "all people of good will" to contact state officials to stop Moore's scheduled execution.

The bishops' written statement followed Thursday's announcement of changes in the church's teaching on the death penalty.

The Catholic Catechism upholds the inviolability of the human person, whose life is worthy of protection from the moment of conception to natural death, the bishops said, and ought to be treated with respect and dignity. 

"The Holy Father’s declaration that the death penalty is no longer admissible under any circumstances is an answer to our prayers and welcome news, especially for those of us living in Nebraska," they said.

Prior to Pope Francis' and the church's change in stance, politicians and others of Catholic faith said their support of the death penalty was acceptable to the church if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives and protect public safety.

The Pope is now saying capital punishment is not necessary to protect public safety from "an unjust aggressor."

"In particular, as we have publicly expressed on numerous occasions over the last two decades, Nebraska is fortunate to have a competent judicial system, modern correctional facilities and decades of law enforcement advances," the bishops said. "Simply put, the death penalty is no longer needed or morally justified in Nebraska."

They also asked people of the state to join them in prayer for "victims of serious crime, for those currently on death row and for the elimination of the death penalty in Nebraska."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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