August 2, 2019

Sisters of Providence respond to federal death penalty decision

(The following statement from the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-the-Woods was released on July 30 following the announcement by the Justice Department that it is reinstating the federal death penalty for the first time in 16 years. Related story: Clergy, religious in central and southern Indiana feel called to minister on death row in Terre Haute)

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment. Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”—Pope Francis, 2014

“We, the Sisters of Providence, believe we are to forgive one another, not to seek retribution with vengeance and further violence. We reaffirm our opposition to capital punishment in all cases and ask that all sentences of death row inmates be commuted to life without parole. We urge our federal government to abolish the death penalty once and for all.

“In the last 30 years, only three federal prisoners have been executed. However, a recent decision handed down by the United States Attorney General asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to ‘adopt an updated execution protocol,’ resulting in five persons being scheduled for execution in the very near future.

“We, the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., believe in the sacredness and dignity of all life. We believe we are to love our neighbor and not to kill.

“As a nation, we must face the deep flaws in our criminal justice system. The system is inherently racist, and thus cannot be relied upon to be fair. Since 1977, for example, more than 160 persons have been exonerated while serving time on death row. And evidence shows that more than 40 percent of death-row inmates are African-American while the general population of the United States is approximately 14 percent African-American.

“No person at the federal level has been executed for 16 years. In fact, the federal government has executed only three people since 1988. Many states are abolishing the death penalty, including six since 2010. Other states have set moratoriums on the death penalty, or indefinitely stayed executions in recent years.

“We also know that support for executing persons in our name is on the decline across the country. A Gallup poll conducted in October 2018 found that for the first time in our history, fewer than 50 percent of respondents believed that the death penalty was being applied fairly.

“Only five miles away from our motherhouse sits the nation’s only federal execution chamber at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, which was first used in 2001.

“During any day of execution of an inmate in any state across our country, we remember in our community prayer the person being executed and their families, in addition to the victims and their families. We have also partnered with the Indiana Abolition Coalition to abolish the death penalty in Indiana.

“We support the life and respect the dignity of all persons and will continue in prayer for death-row inmates and their families, for all victims and their families, and for legislators who weigh the decision of life or death for these inmates.

“We are committed to working closely with the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the Indiana Abolition Coalition and other organizations working to rid our nation of this violent practice. We invite you to pray with us the closing section of our Litany of Non-Violence:

“God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart. Amen.”

Members of the General Council of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods:

  • Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, General Superior
  • Sister Lisa Stallings, Vicar and General Councilor
  • Sisters Mary Beth Klingel, Jeanne Hagelskamp and Jenny Howard, General Councilors

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