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December 12, 2002 Edition

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Death penalty: Don't bring it back to Wisconsin

The new evangelization, says Pope John Paul II, calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of life in every situation.

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"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil," the Holy Father said on Jan. 27, 1999 during a Mass in St. Louis, Mo.

The pope continued, "Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

Follow pope's teaching. The Holy Father's teaching is clear. He opposes the use of capital punishment and urges society to stop this practice. The U.S. bishops, too, have issued appeals to end the death penalty.

As Catholics, we must follow the pope's and bishops' examples and stand against the death penalty. It should be part and parcel of a truly consistent ethic of life which respects all human life at all stages and opposes violence in any way, shape, or form.

Wisconsin has no death penalty. Wisconsin is one of only 12 states with no death penalty. Aside from a few years following statehood, Wisconsin has been without capital punishment for a century and a half.

But State Senator Alan Lasee (R-DePere), the new president of the State Senate, has announced that he will use his position to push for death penalty legislation. State Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is also considering sponsoring an advisory referendum next year asking Wisconsin citizens for their opinion on the issue of capital punishment.

Some voter surveys show support for the death penalty in our state. A survey by Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert College Survey Center showed 65 percent of Wisconsinites favor the death penalty; 32 percent were opposed; and three percent were unsure.

We all know that opinion polls can be unreliable. So much depends on how a statement is worded and how it is interpreted by the respondent.

Don't base laws on polls. But in any case, should we base our laws on opinion polls? Shouldn't morality and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" outweigh the results of a telephone survey of 500 people?

The Wisconsin Coalition Against the Death Penalty Fund, Inc., is gearing up to oppose any efforts to reintroduce capital punishment in our state. I encourage interested citizens to contact this organization for more information at P.O. Box 44578, Madison, WI 53744-4578 or wcadp@mailbag.com.

We should listen to the words of our Holy Father and bishops and oppose any attempts to bring the death penalty back to Wisconsin.

Mary C. Uhler

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