(Leonard J. Matthews/FlickrCC)

I’ve heard some folks say that Wyoming hasn’t executed anyone since 1992, so it doesn’t make sense for the Diocese of Cheyenne to join other groups seeking to repeal the death penalty here. Similarly, I’ve heard people deny the importance of unborn protection bills because, they claim, there aren’t that many abortions happening in Wyoming.

If we are triaging by numbers, such arguments raise a valid point. After all, there are many other important issues and current laws affecting (for better or worse) the marginalized. The argument could be made that the status of these laws impact a greater number of people and, therefore, all attention should be focused on them.

Moreover, legislative solutions are important, but they are just one part of the picture. There are many other, less controversial, approaches to change that could be taken instead. Doesn’t it make sense to focus solely on those?

Such questions remind me of a story Catholic author Mathew Kelly tells in one of his books: A man is trying to prepare a presentation for work while at home watching his young son. He finds little games to distract his son so that he can focus on his work. At one point, he rips a picture of a map of the world out of a magazine, tears it into puzzle pieces and tells his son if he can put the map back together, he will earn $20 dollars.

The man returns to his project, assured he has bought himself 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. A few minutes later, his son returns with the puzzle completed. Amazed, he asks his son how he finished so quickly. His son says, “I didn’t know what a map of the world looked like. But I noticed on the back of the pieces there was a picture of a person’s face. So I taped the face together, and turned it over.”

I like the story because it reminds us that people are why politics matter. The irony is that the man was focused on the “problem” of not being able to do his work. But, he was missing out on what was most important to him until his son reminded him.

Today, we have many priorities. They include seeing human dignity in the faces of the poor, the immigrant and the elderly; entering into solidarity with our Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone brothers and sisters, many of whom live in abject poverty; educating our children and keeping them safe; ensuring that the uninsured do not die from curable diseases simply because they cannot afford treatment; and recognizing the dignity of those who happen to disagree with us — yes, even politicians.

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I’m not suggesting that if the death penalty were repealed and fetuses were given at least as much protection as an eagle’s eggs that suddenly all of our problems will go away. Politics will not take away the sins of the world. Political solutions are important as part of much broader solutions.

But for any solution to come — political and otherwise — we must recognize that some of our policies are blind to human dignity. Forging necessary and effective change is difficult work. It requires healthy and rigorous debate and even more listening. It takes a collective effort to raise up our responsibility for everyone.

However, if we hope to address the indirect impacts of current laws that degrade human dignity, we cannot ignore laws that directly and intentionally attack human life. We cannot be silent when some of our neighbors dehumanize human fetuses from conception to birth in order to justify the “personal” policy of abortion-on-demand. We cannot be silent about the dehumanization of the elderly when some compare them to cats and dogs waiting to be euthanized. And we cannot sit in silence when some of our government leaders argue for a “right” to kill human prisoners, when doing so is no longer necessary to protect society.

Many will say, “This is a budget session! We don’t have time for ‘social’ issues.” But how do we heighten our shared sense of responsibility for funding important programs that help the marginalized when our current laws enable us to get rid of people some find undesirable or burdensome? People are why politics matter.

Wyoming’s 65th Legislature will bring opportunities to enshrine into our laws the notion that the value of each person cannot be set by those who happen to be more powerful.

As long as one marginalized human being is considered a “problem” to be solved, we will experience division and an absence of peace. Not even our brightest minds know how to put the world back together again. But every single one of us knows what the face of a human looks like. If we get that right, we stand a far better chance of getting other things right as well.

Deacon Mike Leman is the director of Catholic social teaching and a legislative liaison for the Cheyenne Diocese. He is a former military service member who served in the fire service for 13 years before...

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  1. Catholics should be screaming to repeal the death penalty, and Medicaid expansion would be a fact if not for Catholic reps opposing it. Why the eagle slam? Under the administration so beloved by Catholics the EPA and ESA are being dismantled. Just a matter of time. When Catholic men focus on men’s behavior that leads to unwanted pregnancies maybe will get somewhere. Men cause these situations and then blame and shame women while denying decent healthcare and workplace conditions. This is a good start I guess but humans aren’t the be all and end all. Laudato Si. Or Laudato No?


    Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”. “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

    Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52

    John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

    Plato: “Longer life is no boon to the sinner himself in such a case, and that his decease will bring a double blessing to his neighbors; it will be a lesson to them to keep themselves from wrong, and will rid society of an evil man. These are the reasons for which a legislator is bound to ordain the chastisement of death for such desperate villainies, and for them alone”

    William A. Petit, Jr.: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions,” according to philosopher John Rawls. It transcends national borders, races and cultures. The death penalty is the appropriate societal response to the brutal and willful act of capital felony murder. Every murder destroys a portion of society. Those murdered can never grow and contribute to humankind; the realization of their potential will never be achieved. I support the death penalty not as a deterrent or for revenge or closure, but because it is just and because it prevents murderers from ever harming again. By intentionally, unlawfully taking the life of another, a murderer breaks a sacrosanct law of society and forfeits his own right to live. (In a home invasion, Dr. Petit was, severely injured, his wife Jennifer and their 11 year old daughter Michaela were raped and murdered. Both daughters, Michaela and Hayley were burned, alive.)

    John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

    Saint/Pope Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract)

    3300 additional pro death penalty quotes