This past Sunday a front-page article regarding the accused murderer of Father Rene Roberts appeared in both the Time Union and the Saint Augustine Record. The article is many pages long and warrants a good read.
Throughout the text, a few things become clear: First, the accused (Steven Murray) does not deny that he did indeed kill Father Rene. He also acknowledged that Father Rene had been a person who helped him numerous times throughout this latest part of his troubled life. Thirdly, Murray’s life was a troubled life indeed, riddled with domestic violence, alcohol and drugs, sexual abuse and many other horrendous factors since his childhood.
As we read this article there are a few things we can keep in mind:
— Murray is, clearly by his own testimony, a person proven to be capable of great violence and as such is a danger to society and the common good. Society has the right to protect itself against violence perpetrated by his hands.
— As such, a penal system is needed to protect society from such acts.
— Murray himself is also a victim of atrocious acts committed against him throughout his youth. Please keep this in mind as you assess the facts within this article.
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Over the past twenty-plus years, the Catholic Church has looked at its teaching regarding capital punishment and has further developed it . A few statements from our body of teaching:
First, if Catholics are called to be ‘pro-life’ then we must be pro-life in all situations.
Regarding this, Pope Saint John Paul II stated “The New Evangelization Calls For Followers Of Christ Who Are Unconditionally Pro-Life: Who Will Proclaim, Celebrate And Serve The Gospel Of Life In Every Situation. A Sign Of Hope Is The Increasing Recognition That The Dignity Of Human Life Must Never Be Taken Away, Even In The Case Of Someone Who Has Done Great Evil. . . . I Renew The Appeal I Made . . . For A Consensus To End The Death Penalty, Which Is Both Cruel And Unnecessary.” (—Pope John Paul II Papal Mass, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999).
Second, the US Catholic Bishops have taken up the same call: “Twenty-five years ago, our Conference of bishops first called for an end to the death penalty. We renew this call to seize a new moment and new momentum. This is a time to teach clearly, encourage reflection, and call for common action in the Catholic community to bring about an end to the use of the death penalty in our land.” (—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death)
Third, and this can indeed be very hard,: “Each of us is called to respect the life and dignity of every human being. Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity.” (—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death).
Fourth, we DO have the right to protect ourselves from violence. Capital Punishment is NOT the only way to do so: “In Catholic teaching, the state has the recourse to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life. However, this right should not be exercised when other ways are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life.” (—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death).
The above statements challenge us: Father Rene made it very clear in legal documents revealed after his death that he did not want anyone who brought him harm to suffer capital punishment — ‘even if he was tortured and murdered’, he states.
Yes! This is for varied persons hard to ingest. It has certainly been hard for varied members of his family too. And yet, they are growing to understand why Father Rene took this position even in regard to the loss of his own life. “For many left behind, a death sentence offers the illusion of closure and vindication. No act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death.”(—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death)
The death penalty clearly arouses deep passion, God bless us as a Church and also individually as we strive to find our way addressing violence, its causes, and manner to address it.
Be at Peace!
Life is a precious and fragile gift from God.
Might we respond with gratitude.
G. Francis Noonan, M.B.A., S.T.D.
La vie est un don de Dieu, don precieux et fragile
Puissions nous y repondre avec gratitude !