Below is the prepared testimony that Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo delivered to the House Public Safety Committee of the Washington State Legislature March 25 in Olympia. Bishop Elizondo spoke in support of SB 5339, which would abolish the death penalty, on behalf of the Washington State Catholic Conference.
Representative Goodman and members of the Committee, my name is Eusebio Elizondo. I am an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle and am representing all five of the Catholic Bishops of Washington State. The Catholic Church in Washington includes 1.3 million Catholics. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in support of SB 5339 which would abolish the death penalty in our state.
Catholics believe that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death because we are made in God’s image and likeness. Pope Francis has condemned the death penalty as “an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity.” Saint John Paul II also opposed the death penalty, calling it “both cruel and unnecessary.”
The Catholic Bishops of this state have long been on record as opposing capital punishment. At the same time, we have also made very clear our deep concern for the families and loved ones of victims of violent crimes and our commitment to helping them heal. We believe all citizens have the right to be protected from those who commit the crime of murder.
The act of murder cries out for an appropriate punishment, but the death penalty merely adds violence to violence, and perpetuates the illusion that the taking of one human life for another can somehow balance the scales of justice. In addressing the appropriate level of punishment, we acknowledge that, in some cases, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is an appropriate sentence.
Our country’s legal system is far from perfect when it comes to imposing the death penalty. There can be significant racial bias and innocent people do end up on death row. Since 1973, 164 people sentenced to death have been exonerated.
In addition, there is the simple economic reality that capital punishment costs taxpayers far more than incarcerating convicted murderers for life. A 2015 study found that capital cases cost an average in excess of $1 million more than those aggravated murder cases for which the death penalty is not sought.
Lastly, we want to acknowledge that this is a challenging, emotional issue. Last October, the State Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional under Washington law. It is important that this invalidated law be eliminated from the State’s books. This is an important opportunity for the Legislature.
Thank you for considering the viewpoint of the Catholic Church. We urge you to support passage of SB 5339 and repeal the death penalty in our state.