Today, Bishop Michael Burbidge (Arlington) and Bishop Barry Knestout (Richmond) issued the following joint statement on the abolition of the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia:
“We welcome today’s vote by the Virginia House of Delegates to abolish the death penalty, as well as the vote by the Virginia Senate to do so earlier this week.
“We offer – and affirm the utmost need for – prayerful support for the families of victims of horrific crimes. We also affirm, with clarity and conviction, the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘[T]he death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’ (no. 2267).
“The same paragraph of the Catechism also notes, ‘[T]here is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.’ We see this increasing awareness at work in the many voices that joined together to advocate for this legislation, and ultimately in the votes by the Senate and House in favor of ending the death penalty in Virginia, which has executed more people than any other state.
“In the words of Pope Francis, ‘Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice’ (Remarks to 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty, June 2016). As Pope Francis, his predecessors and the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently noted, we have other ways to provide punishment and protect society, without resorting to executions. We too have been consistently clear in our stand on the abolition legislation this year and on similar legislation in years past, and in our direct interventions before executions occurred in Virginia and at the federal level.”
The first reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews carries an oft quoted verse: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) All cultures have their own sense and operation of hospitality. I think most of us grew up is homes wherein hospitality was rarely taught but always on display. So, it is an interesting experience to live in a culture where the dynamics of hospitality are different. Such was my experience while living in Kenya.
Many folks and friends have told me over the years that they “started to read the Bible… beginning with Genesis.” I always want to ask what happened when they reached the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Scriptures following after Genesis and Exodus. These first two books are largely narratives with protagonists, antagonists, plots, crises, and resolutions. They are forms of writing quite familiar to us. But Leviticus? It is described as “The book mainly treats cultic matters (i.e., sacrifices and offerings, purity and holiness, the priesthood, the operation of the sanctuary, and feast days) but is also interested in various behavioral, ethical, and economic issues (e.g., sexual practices, idolatrous worship, treatment of others, the sale of land, slavery). The goal of the laws is not merely legislative.” Not exactly a page turner. It is a tough read.