As the shepherd of Utah’s roughly 330,000 Catholics, I am called to raise my voice in the public square to protect the sanctity and dignity every human life, including those who some may think are undeserving.
As our state Legislature considers the repeal and replacement of Utah’s capital punishment statute, I remind our public servants that every life has value and urge our senators and representatives to end the cruel and inhumane practice of taking life through state-sanctioned executions.
Upholding the value of every human life does not mean we ignore the harm caused by the crime of murder, or any other crime. It means we seek a victim-centered response to all crimes, including the most heinous. Centering our search for justice on the victims and their families means seeking to restore their dignity.
Taking the life of the perpetrator does nothing toward the restoration of the dignity of the victim but gives the victim’s family a false promise of justice that is little more than vengeance. The promised “justice” is also highly unlikely to be achieved given the decades that elapse between a verdict and an execution, and the far greater likelihood that the perpetrator will never be executed but will live on in infamy.
True justice requires meaningful opportunities for victims to be heard throughout the criminal process and providing for their physical, emotional, material, social and spiritual needs, to the greatest extent possible. It should offer survivors safe passage from disempowerment, despair, disconnection and trauma to a renewed voice, connection, meaning and faith.
Justice also means encouraging those who committed the crime to acknowledge their offenses, atone for their criminal acts, and make amends. To achieve these goals, offenders need to be spiritually, mentally and emotionally well enough to fulfill their obligations to others. Reaching this point of wellness requires that offenders heal the trauma and break destructive cycles of violence that so often exist before someone becomes a violent offender.
Crime and violence do not exist in isolation. Rather, they are fueled by the woundedness of individuals and the brokenness of communities and social systems. To build safe communities, we must be willing to address the trauma, and tackle issues of poverty and systemic racism. Likewise, we must acknowledge the experiences of those marginalized by victimization, incarceration and systemic oppression that are so often the root causes of violence.
Transforming communities requires collaboration, the willingness to be honest about systemic biases and to listen, to accompany and to learn from each other. Until we rebuild just relationships across our communities, we will never achieve true justice.
The death penalty repays suffering with suffering. It does not provide justice, does not restore dignity, does not make us safer as a society. Anytime we allow the intentional destruction of life, we destroy respect for all life.
Repealing the death penalty in Utah is a critical step to building a deeper culture of life across our state, one that recognizes Christ in every human being at every age and stage of life and is therefore able to recognize that true justice does not take life, it restores it.
Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.