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Sisters of Providence adopt corporate stance to end the death penalty

Sisters of Providence have adopted a corporate stance to end the death penalty, their first such action taken in Mother Joseph Province. It is a result of “prayer, discernment and dialogue, and will be part of our prayer and action in the future,” said Provincial Superior Judith Desmarais.

One might ask why the Sisters of Providence are taking a stand on this particular issue. The foundation for the corporate stance, approved at the sisters’ Provincial Chapter on August 1, is rooted in the Sisters of Providence Constitutions, No. 26: “Attention to the needs of the poor and to situations of injustice which oppress them arouses in us a concern for the demands of social justice. We therefore consider it a duty to promote human dignity by acts of solidarity with persons and groups, sharing what we have with them even to the point of risking our own security.”

Significantly, in addition to El Salvador, Mother Joseph Province encompasses six states (Alaska, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington), all but one of which, Alaska, have a death penalty law on the books.

A committee of sisters has been actively working on this initiative since the fall of 2011. The committee members are Sisters Joan Campbell, Charlene Hudon, Lenora Donovan, Lois Murray, Georgette Bayless and Charlotte Van Dyke, and Sister Eileen Walsh, OP. Sister Joan Campbell has been a longtime, tireless voice against the death penalty. She is a board member of the Washington Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP), which has adopted a three-step continuum for its advocacy: raising awareness, discussing the issue with others, and leadership. Sister Joan took that third step in 1990 when she raised the issue of the death penalty in a meeting with Pope John Paul II. The pope asked how he could get more practically involved on the issue in the United States and he followed through by contacting governors when death penalty cases became an issue in their states. Sister Joan’s conversation with him provided input as he was writing the encyclical, The Gospel of Life.

Sister Joan says the anti-death penalty stance is part of a consistent ethic of life, from birth to death, that is embraced by a growing number of individuals, organizations and religious leaders around the country, including the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, 141 in all, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, according to Amnesty International. The overwhelming majority of executions have been in five countries, China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States. In this country, 18 states do not have a death penalty and 29 states have not carried out an execution in the last five years. In addition, a total of 142 innocent people have been freed from death row.

Mother Joseph Province’s initiative on the issue began as a statement and evolved into the stronger response of a corporate stance. As the committee of sisters worked through the development of the corporate stance, they offered education about the issue, including the death penalty’s high and inevitable risk of putting the innocent to death, and the unfairness of its application based on race, ethnicity and poverty. They engaged in discussion of the issue, including inviting former Florida death row inmate Juan Melendez-Colon to St. Joseph Residence in Seattle in the fall of 2011. His appearance was one of several sponsored by WCADP. Melendez-Colon had spent 17 years, eight months and one day on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit.

In 2012, Sisters Joan, Lenora and Charlene joined other anti-death-penalty advocates in taking their case to Olympia for a public hearing on SB 6283 and for a Lobby Day to End the Death Penalty. Their message to Washington State legislators was that life without parole is a safe and just alternative to the death penalty.

Sister Judith said the next steps to give life to the corporate stance will include continued educational efforts, endorsing and supporting the work of other groups engaged on this issue, publicizing this public stand in diocesan newspapers, advocacy through letters to the editor and contacts with legislators and governing bodies, and requesting that the topic of the death penalty be included in the next Catholic Advocacy Day in Washington state. Additional means of implementing the corporate stance will be discussed by the sisters in their local communities.

The corporate stance follows:

Mother Joseph Province
Provincial Chapter – August 1, 2013

Resolution 2013 – 01:

Sisters of Providence of Mother Joseph Province Corporate Stance for the End of the Death Penalty

Whereas, we are called to build a “culture of life” which cannot be achieved if we condone a “culture of violence”; and

Whereas, the imposition of the death penalty deprives human beings of their God-given dignity and denies the sacredness of life; and

Whereas, the death penalty has not been proven to be an effective crime deterrent; and

Whereas, the death penalty is an irreversible punishment, has been applied in a discriminatory manner and, in some cases, innocent persons have been executed; and

Whereas, the cost of the death penalty is necessarily prohibitive in contrast to the cost of life in prison; and

Whereas, while the death penalty may provide a sense of justice for some families of victims, we believe that punishment for crime should allow capital offenders the opportunity for reform and repentance for their actions;

Be it resolved the Sisters of Providence of Mother Joseph Province support the end of the death penalty, and advocate for a safe and just sentence for capital offenders; and

Be it further resolved the Sisters of Providence of Mother Joseph Province encourage support of programs that assist families of victims and families of the convicted in finding spiritual, physical and emotional healing and forgiveness for the offender.

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