Congress session: The Death of Innocents (Sr. Helen Prejean)

This was a session I had been looking forward to from the moment I filled out my registration form.  For those who the name doesn’t ring a bell, Sr. Prejean (pronounced pra-jawn) is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking and oversaw the making of the film with the same title.  She’s written a more recent book about the number of executed prisoners who are innocent called “The Death of Innocents”.

Sr. Prejean mostly walked through her journey as a nun finding herself involuntarily called to serve those who are have been sentenced to death.  It was heartening to see God working in her life as I have seen God leading me in directions I did not want to go.  We all are being walked on a Journey by God.

There was so much she said that is worthy of commenting on but I’m going to keep it to one point: the victim’s families.

One of the things I hate most about the death penalty activists in our country is how much time they spend lying about how good of a person the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is.  They bring up all kinds of stuff trying to improve the perception of the criminal.  This bugs me to my core because it has nothing to do with the REAL reason to oppose the death penalty: the sanctity of life.  It also bugs me because frequently they are lying about people who have done truly horrible things.  The activist do this because it is expedient.  It’s going to be pretty hard to prevent the execution of a particular person by stating “the death penalty is wrong” because it is not relevant to the specific case at hand. (See the end of my previous post in which I comment on expediency).  But Sr. Prejean would have none of this.  She was very clear that she thought the majority of crimes which we execute for are barbaric and grievous.  She showed great sympathy for the victim’s families.

She went on to say, that the victim’s families are being sold a false bill of goods by society.  We tell the families that only the execution of the perpetrators of the crime will bring them peace.  That killing the criminal will “make it right”.  Sr. Prejean points out that nothing in this world will ever make right the loss of a loved one.  That person’s death will not be un-done by executing the killer.

The result of this false bill of goods is that we are instead trapping these families in decades of hatred and grief.  The can not forgive, and this is the only path to peace, because they are told that only through the death of the killer will justice be done.

So I resolved to pray more often for the families who are faced with a capital case from the death of a loved one.  That they can find the only true path to peace: Jesus Christ.  That they can see that justice comes from God and that God is the path to forgiveness and peace.  May God’s will be done.

3 Responses to “Congress session: The Death of Innocents (Sr. Helen Prejean)”

  1. Wynette Sills Says:

    Ken, I agree with so much of your writings and it sounds like you are in the Sacramento area. As a member of our Parish Respect Life Ministry at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lincoln, we are trying to embrace the “seamless garment” consistent ethic of life concept in our efforts, but have struggled with including opposition to the Death Penalty. Are you active in your Parish Respect Life efforts and if so, what have you experienced, as a group, when challenged to embrace the breadth of life issues? Wynette (aka “Katelyn’s Mom”)

  2. Ken Crawford Says:

    Hi Wynette, glad to hear from you. Yes, I’m in the Sacramento area. Roseville to be exact. I’m a parishioner to SS. Peter and Paul in Rocklin.

    I don’t think SS Peter and Paul has a Respect Life ministry, although I wish it did. From my experience of talking to various people in the parish, I’ve found very similar results as you have. From my viewpoint, people are more swayed by their political loyalties than their religious loyalties. Our parish has a fairly liberal bent to it and you won’t hear much talk about abortion here. However, there are those sub-groups in the parish that are fairly conservative and they’ll be pretty averse to respecting the Church’s teachings on the Death Penalty.

    It’s pretty sad to me that the Pope’s message is less important than Howard Dean’s or Karl Rove’s (take your pick) for the average Catholic.

  3. Wynette Sills Says:

    Ken, I don’t know what your work schedule is, but would you are anyone else in your Parish be interested in joining other Catholics in prayer and ministry at the abortion clinics in Roseville (PP on Sunrise) or Sacramento (29th and B St)? Email me at if you or any of your readers are interested in coming on Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday mornings. Also, our Respect Life Ministry meets in Lincoln on the 3rd Friday of the month, right after Mass at 9:15. Anyone from neighboring parishes are invited to join us. Abortion is our primary focus, but we are also opposing Physician Assisted Suicide legislation at the capitol this week and have done educational efforts on embryonic stem cell research. The Death Penalty has been our most controversial topic, at least amongst our pro-life committee. Wynette