SHARE

The Forum has gotten early word that Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and outspoken activist against the death penalty, is scheduled to speak at the Athenaeum this coming January. Given the divisiveness of the issue and her extensive experience on the matter, Sister Helen’s visit to CMC is likely to be both informative and incendiary.

Dead Man Walking chronicles Sister Helen’s role as a spiritual advisor to various prisoners on death row in Louisiana and offers insight into the corruption and bureaucracy surrounding capital punishment. In 1982, Sister Helen began corresponding with a prisoner on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary named Elmo Patrick Sonnier, and after several letters became his spiritual advisor. This relationship enabled Sister Helen to closely examine the injustices of the capital punishment system and led her to conclude that race and class serve to seal prisoners’ fates. Though she only describes two executions in her book, Sister Helen has witnessed five executions in Louisiana.

Since her first encounter with the death penalty Sister Helen has worked to raise awareness for her cause, and she continues to advocate for death row prisoners’ rights through lectures, rallies, and her books. Currently, Sister Helen is working on a third book entitled River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey to Death Row.

Both the book Dead Man Walking and the similarly titled film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn are available to be checked out at Honnold Mudd Library.

12 COMMENTS

  1. This article seems to agree with Sister Helen’s position even though it is labeled as “news.”

    It posits that “corruption” necessarily exists in the capital punishment system and that the act itself is unjust.

    I am personally against capital punishment, but a “news” article should be more clear in presenting those phrases as her own views and not some absolute truth.

    It is refreshing to see a religious perspective on something other than abortion and gay rights, though.

  2. This article seems to agree with Sister Helen’s position even though it is labeled as “news.”

    It posits that “corruption” necessarily exists in the capital punishment system and that the act itself is unjust.

    I am personally against capital punishment, but a “news” article should be more clear in presenting those phrases as her own views and not some absolute truth.

    It is refreshing to see a religious perspective on something other than abortion and gay rights, though.

  3. It is by no means clear that Catholicism is opposed to the death penalty. As the Catechism of Trent puts it,

    “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.”

    • Although a situation where a Catholic could support the death penalty and stay true to Church teaching is philosophically conceivable, it is near impossible in modern states with police, justice, and prison systems such as ours:

      From the Catechism:

      “Capital Punishment

      2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67

      2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
      “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.
      “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.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]”

      (copy/pasted from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P7Z.HTM)

  4. It is by no means clear that Catholicism is opposed to the death penalty. As the Catechism of Trent puts it,

    “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.”

    • Although a situation where a Catholic could support the death penalty and stay true to Church teaching is philosophically conceivable, it is near impossible in modern states with police, justice, and prison systems such as ours:

      From the Catechism:

      “Capital Punishment

      2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67

      2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
      “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.
      “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.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]”

      (copy/pasted from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P7Z.HTM)

  5. Right, but the key, which the Pope and others have acknowledged is the use of that phrase “practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

    With the recidivism rates we see of violent offenders in prison, it’s no surpise that many Catholics continue to support the death penalty and are justified in religious teachings.

  6. Right, but the key, which the Pope and others have acknowledged is the use of that phrase “practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

    With the recidivism rates we see of violent offenders in prison, it’s no surpise that many Catholics continue to support the death penalty and are justified in religious teachings.

  7. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has quite unequivocally stated that the death penalty is unjust in America today. Any Catholic who disagrees with that is a cafeteria Catholic.

  8. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has quite unequivocally stated that the death penalty is unjust in America today. Any Catholic who disagrees with that is a cafeteria Catholic.

  9. Also, “A Catholic” (a controversial handle, no?), why then are recidivism rates higher in states with the death penalty? I suggest you consult Clarence Darrow’s argument against the death penalty.

    To be frank, most pro-death penalty “Catholics” use such twisted argument to justify swallowing the Republican agenda hook, line, and sinker.

    Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone.

  10. Also, “A Catholic” (a controversial handle, no?), why then are recidivism rates higher in states with the death penalty? I suggest you consult Clarence Darrow’s argument against the death penalty.

    To be frank, most pro-death penalty “Catholics” use such twisted argument to justify swallowing the Republican agenda hook, line, and sinker.

    Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone.

Comments are closed.