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July 31, 2003 Edition

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No death penalty:
A Wisconsin tradition we should preserve

Wisconsin abolished the death penalty in 1853. Today, we are the state with the longest unbroken tradition of rejecting capital punishment. This is a Wisconsin tradition we should preserve.

In nearly every legislative session, it seems as if some state lawmakers try to break this tradition. Usually Senator Alan Lasee (R-De Pere) is leading the charge. This year, he introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty for first degree intentional homicide if the victim is under the age of 16 or an unborn child.

Help bring closure. The murder of a child is a terrible tragedy. Supporters of the death penalty say it will help bring closure to the families' pain and suffering.

This is a compelling argument for capital punishment, admits Barbara Sella of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC). She talked at a session on the death penalty at the WCC legislative conference held in Madison this year.

But experience has shown that the death penalty does not take away the pain. On the contrary, families of murder victims say reconciliation and forgiveness - not capital punishment - bring about healing.

Proportionate justice. Another argument for capital punishment is "proportionate justice." This means that heinous crimes should be punishable by death, not by life imprisonment without parole.

However, proportionate justice presupposes a just penal system. "There are so many flaws in our justice system," Sella charged. Eye witnesses aren't always credible. Defense attorneys don't do their job. There are more convictions for people of color. And trials involve highly charged emotional situations.

All these can lead to a wrong conviction. When we have the opportunity for life in prison, why risk putting an innocent person to death? And why not give people a chance to repent for their crimes?

D.A. opposes death penalty. Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann has seen plenty of violent crimes in his long career. This includes slain police officers and gruesome murders such as those by Jeffrey Dahmer.

But at the conference, McCann also voiced his opposition to the death penalty. As a Catholic, he comes at this position from a moral perspective. But he said 56 percent of the state's district attorneys agree with him. As one D.A. put it, "'I'm not going to become a killer to punish a killer,'" said McCann. Most of the "civilized world" is opposed to capital punishment, he noted. "They think it's barbaric."

The district attorney believes that no one is beyond redemption, even Jeffrey Dahmer. A religious sister who visited him reported that Dahmer had a conversion of heart. "I wouldn't doubt he is in heaven," said McCann.

Disrespect for life. Pope John Paul II and the U.S. Catholic bishops have spoken out against the death penalty. In a statement issued in 1999, the bishops lamented that "increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life."

In Wisconsin, we have had 150 years without capital punishment. Let's keep it that way by resisting any efforts to restore the death penalty in our state.

Mary C. Uhler, editor

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No mention of God, faith in column
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We reserve the right to edit or reject letters. Limit letters to 200 words or less. All letters must be signed.

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Madison, WI 53744-4985

Fax: 608-821-3071
E-mail: info@madisoncatholicherald.org

To the editor:

I was very surprised to read the column on patriotism by Therese Borchard printed in our Catholic Herald [print edition only]. In Ms. Borchard's column there is no mention of God, faith, or prayers. Our Catholic values were completely replaced with chest thumping praise for America. I would like to respond to three points in Borchard's column.

First, Borchard cites that young people are not embarrassed to support those fighting in a war in Iraq. A Catholic, universal Church looks at all people as children of God and is saddened by war. Instead of singing patriotic songs at war time, Pope John Paul would encourage young people to recognize brothers and sisters around the world. Patriotism gives license for "us and them" thinking.

Secondly, Borchard refers to young Americans who love their country because they are "king and absolute ruler of our own destiny." There is no response to the Pope's critique of a culture of death or critique of our consumer society. Individualism is championed, but there is no mention of care for our neighbor who may be without health insurance. Diversity is honored without asking why people of color are on the bottom of the U.S. economic ladder.

As absolute rulers of our destiny, Americans are free to abort one million babies a year. Our country spends one half of its discretionary budget on weapons and one tenth of one percent on foreign development aid to assist those created in God's image.

Thirdly, Borchard seems to laud young people for having "no memory of the horrors of war"; she states that, "young people eagerly rally to defend liberty, equality, justice, and democracy here and abroad. Liberty should allow us the freedom to serve God first. Equality should make Americans very uncomfortable with our wealth amidst most of the world's poverty. Biblical justice has a stern message for those who depend on military might. Democracy would allow the world's poor, sick, hungry, and homeless population a real voice to proclaim, "God loves us too!"

If young people are eager to defend liberty, equality, justice, and democracy, then prayer would be a fitting response that would lead to building global relationships that would build love for a single human family. The kind of patriotism Borchard portrays, on the other hand, creates divisive borders that only divide the human family.

What would I have Catholics reflect on over Independence Day? Many people came to the new world for religious freedom. If we were to be loyal followers of our founders, we too would be dreamers. We would dream of sharing medicine, job safety standards, and pollution control techniques. Communication advances could be employed to create a genuine family. Our number one joy would be the freedom to serve God and to serve others.

Fr. Jim Murphy, Platteville

Ethical sources for stem cells

To the editor:

Some research laboratories would have us believe that the only sources of stem cells are from the bodies of aborted human babies or from destroyed cloned human embryos. Other reputable research laboratories insist there are many other sources for stem cells that do not involve the harming or destruction of human life.

These other sources are blood from the umbilical cords of newborn human babies, adult bone marrow, adult skin and hair follicles, and children's baby teeth. Some scientists have hope that stem cells could be extracted from human cadavers.

As pro-life Catholics we should support research on the extraction of stem cells from sources other than aborted human babies or from destroyed cloned human embryos. Promoters of obtaining stem cells from aborted human babies or from destroyed cloned human embryos seem to be beholden to pro-abortion organizations.

Charles J. Sippel, Waterloo

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