Bridging the Gap: Referenda
As the Nov. 7 state election approaches
Transcript of audio message from Bp. Zubik regarding the fall 2006 referenda
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
On Nov. 7, we will have a unique opportunity to express our faith publicly. That's because the November ballot in Wisconsin will include two referenda - one relates to the death penalty, and the other is about marriage. While neither the Church nor I can or should suggest candidates for whom you vote, the Church does have both the right and the responsibility to speak out on issues central to our Catholic tradition and the common good. In light of this fact, I urge you to vote "no" to the referendum on the death penalty and "yes" to the amendment on marriage. Here's why.
We are a Church about life. As Church, we oppose the death penalty because we value human life, even when that life might seem unworthy to us. For Catholics, being "pro-life" means protecting life at all stages, from conception to natural death. A selective approach that values human life only in certain circumstances is inconsistent with who we are as a people of faith.
Equally important is how the death penalty does not serve crime victims or their loved ones. No one can tolerate the death of innocent people and the suffering of those who mourn them and not be moved to anger, if not outrage. However, killing the criminal neither restores life to the dead nor heals the living. We honor the dead more fully by rejecting the barbarism that caused their deaths. We honor those who have suffered at the hands of violence by ministering to them.
Significantly, the Wisconsin Legislature made such a judgment in 1853 when it abolished the death penalty after the construction of our first state prison. Our state has not executed anyone in over 150 years, the longest any state has gone without doing so. During that time, the crime rate in Wisconsin has remained consistently below the national average. Moreover, Wisconsin has strengthened its sentencing practices. For first-degree intentional homicide, life means life.
The Church also has the responsibility to safeguard the common good through our support of and belief in the absolute dignity of human life. It is true that, in the past, the Church accepted the death penalty. But such use of lethal force by the state was strictly conditioned and limited. The Catechism of the Catholic Church now states that if "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" (#2267).
Instead of extending the "culture of death," I urge you to embrace the words of Jesus, who instructed a follower to return his sword to its sheath. Please join me in voting for life by voting "no" to the death penalty advisory referendum.
The other referendum proposes that our state constitution be amended to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Church supports this amendment, and I hope you will, too.
This is not a uniquely Catholic view of marriage. People of other religions and those who profess no religion at all have long held the same view. Laws in many countries favor or grant special status to unions between one man and one woman. This reflects a widely shared understanding, grounded in the natural law, that marriage and family life are fundamental to the moral and social well-being of the community.
Holy Scripture and our Catholic tradition teach that marriage, as instituted by God, is between one man and one woman. It is in the well-known passage from Genesis where we hear: "a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one" (Gn 2:24). It is within this unique bond of mutual marital love that a man and a woman become one. Through their physical, emotional and spiritual union, they create, raise and love children. Long experience tells us that families in which a mother and father complement each other provide a uniquely helpful environment for nurturing children to adulthood.
Although Wisconsin law already defines marriage in a way consistent with our Catholic tradition, supporting this amendment is the prudent thing to do in light of judicial and legislative actions in other states.
It is also imperative to highlight that support for this amendment does not imply or justify animosity toward any individual or group. Support of this amendment has as its only
motive the strengthening and defense of marriage and should not be interpreted as hostility to any individual or any group.
When you go to the polls on Nov. 7, I urge you to vote "no" on the referendum on the death penalty, and I urge you to vote "yes" on the proposed amendment which secures the definition
of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Remember that we as Church are about persuasion and not coercion. We claim no right to force society to heed our position on the death penalty or our teachings on marriage. Nevertheless, the Church does claim the same right due any citizen in making our views known in the public forum. Help affirm our values in our public policy by voting with courage, compassion and civility.