Albuquerque, N.M., Aug 23, 2016 / 06:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of New Mexico are speaking up against a proposal to reintroduce capital punishment in the state, saying that respect for human life must be consistent. “We, the Catholic Bishops of New Mexico, in one voice, once again echo the teaching of the Church that life is sacred,” the bishops of Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Gallup said in a joint statement Aug. 18.

“There is one seamless teaching on God’s gift of life that must be protected from birth to natural death,” they said. “It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered. These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital.”

The bishops responded to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez saying that she will push during next year’s legislative session to bring back the death penalty in the state. Martinez had earlier backed such legislation, but ceased actively supporting it after it failed in the legislature several years ago. She is now renewing her push to reinstate the death penalty, telling the Albuquerque Journal, “A society that fails to adequately protect and defend those who protect all of us is a society that will be undone and unsafe.”

Her announcement comes after two high-profile murders in New Mexico: the recent killing of a police officer during a traffic stop, as well as the murder of an 11-year-old Navajo girl in May. A spokesperson for Martinez said the legislation — which has not yet been introduced — would apply at least to those who murder police officers and children.

Capital punishment was previously legal in New Mexico, but only one execution occurred since 1960. Use of the death penalty in the state was repealed by 2009 legislation and replaced with a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. The New Mexico bishops noted that they had “applauded the State Legislature for the progress that was made when we ended the morally untenable practice of the death penalty on March 18, 2009.”

“This repeal of the death penalty was a milestone, moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice, and love,” they said. The bishops cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says, “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

They also pointed to the words of Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Evangelium vitea that “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender today…are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

Pope Francis has called for an end to the death penalty, the New Mexico bishops pointed out, as did Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. Furthermore, they noted that more and more states are ending the death penalty. Five states have ended the use of capital punishment in the last five years, citing its expense, failure to allow for rehabilitation, and the potential for error.  

“The State created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society,” the bishops of New Mexico stressed. “We oppose Governor Susana Martinez’ plan to reinstate the death penalty and call on the Legislature to reject the legislation.”