It Just Got Real: The Federal Department of Justice has been instructed to re-institute the Death Penalty
There was nothing in the news to prompt me to write last week’s bulletin article about how the Church’s teaching about the Death Penalty and developed to now say that the Death Penalty is never admissible. Two days later, President Donald Trump’s Administration instructed the Department of Justice to re-institute the Federal Death Penalty. The timing of the article was fortunate.
The five men who are to be executed are guilty of horrific murders. Why would the Church oppose their execution? The issue is this: these five men who will be executed are sacred. They are created by God and in the image and likeness of God. No sin, no matter how horrible, can erase their sacredness; nor does any sin justify permanently removing their opportunity for redemption and salvation. (see my article in last week’s bulletin – The Death Penalty is now inadmissible under all conditions, 21 July 2019 – on our website).
Still, you may be reluctant to accept this teaching. Let me tell you the story of a friend of mine, Sr. Karen Klimczak, a Sister of St. Joseph in Buffalo. Sr. Karen devoted her life to peace and non-violence. She put her faith into action by serving ex-offenders as they were released from prison. She lived and worked at a halfway home where these men could find the help they needed as they rejoined society.
On Good Friday 2006, after attending an evening service, Sr. Karen returned home to find a man, a parolee named Craig, stealing her cell phone. According to his confession he was hoping to sell it in order to buy crack. When she came in, Craig grabbed her from behind and killed her. He later disposed of her body in a shallow grave.
In her journal, 16 years prior, Sr. Karen wrote that she was aware of the danger of her ministry. She knew that one day she may meet a violent death at the hands of one of the people she was striving to help. In that journal entry she also wrote a letter to her killer. The letter was read to Craig as he was about to be sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison:
“Dear Brother, I don't know what the circumstances are that will lead you to hurt me or destroy my physical body, No, I don't want it to happen, I would much rather enjoy the beauties of this earth, experience the laughter, the fears and the tears of those I love so deeply! Now my life has changed and you, my brother, were the instrument of that change. I forgive you for what you have done, and I will always watch over you, help you in whatever way I can. Continue living always mindful of His Presence, His Love and His Joy as sources of life itself -- then my life will have been worth being changed through you."
Sr. Karen, just like St. Francis (if you recall a story I told in a recent homily) was “made stronger than herself” and by the grace of God was able to express unimaginable forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is often a super-human act. Our hard hearts may make us reluctant to even consider forgiveness for such people.
So, if you are struggling with the Church’s teaching on the death penalty, pray for the grace of God that will make you stronger than yourself and enable you to overcome that reluctance. It is the mercy we receive in the Eucharist that can make us merciful. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ that can open our eyes to the sacredness of each of God’s beloved. It is this mercy and love that can allow us to stand in unity with the teachings of the Church in opposition to the Death Penalty.