Brite speaker to discuss the death penalty in the Catholic faith

Catholic tradition regarding people on death row and their family members will be the topic of conversation today when a representative from the Roman Catholic Church speaks on campus, a Brite Divinity School professor said.

According to her Web site, Sister Helen Prejean of the Congregation of St. Joseph in New Orleans supports death penalty abolition and has worked alongside six criminals facing capital punishment since 1981.

Toni Craven, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite, said Prejean’s firsthand experience with inmates will bring a new perspective to the topic.

“I expect to hear her talk about the death penalty and those who do not agree with her position…she accompanies people who are executed in the name of ‘We the People,'” Craven said. “She’s going to share her story of accompanying men and women on death row and the pain surrounding this controversial issue from all sides.”

Craven, who administers the Roman Catholic Lectureship at Brite, said she and her host committee decided to bring Prejean to campus because she has worked to be a voice for the victims of capital punishments.

Prejean, in her most recent book, “The Death of Innocents,” sharply criticizes the United States justice system. “It was the intellectual framework that lulled us into thinking that we had a reliable process, that gave us – or, at least, many among us – hope that we could have systematic, fair, reasonably predictable guidelines to help juries decide when their fellow citizens deserved to die,” Prejean wrote in a Feb. 17 blog post about the book.

Jack Hill, a religion professor who teaches a class in Christian ethics, wrote in an e-mail that he thinks Americans fail to see death row inmates as human beings.

“One thing I am looking for is to see if Sister Prejean can help us shift our mindsets or reframe our conventional ways of regarding death row prisoners, with an emphasis on their essential humanity,” Hill wrote. “It is not so much ‘we good people’ versus ‘those bad people’ but that the situation is actually a good deal more complex.”

Those who look down on death row prisoners have not had to face the situations those prisoners face on a regular basis, Hill wrote.

“True, most of us have never committed a heinous crime, such as a murder, brutal mugging or a rape, but most of us have also had the benefit, the advantage, the privilege, of being raised in homes and communities that enabled us to feel like somebody, to receive some love or caring affirmation and to develop something like a moral conscience, even by the time we were 4 or 5 years old,” he wrote.

Christians should not support the death penalty because Jesus Christ never said anything in the Bible about permitting capital punishment, Hill wrote. Rather, Jesus preached love with statements such as “forgive your enemy” and “bless those who persecute you,” he wrote.

“This whole Christian ethical teaching of forgiveness and redemption is impossible if we willfully take the life of another, except in cases of self-defense,” Hill wrote. “Christianity teaches the good news of love, not the hatred of vengeance. I hope folks come away with those sorts of messages.”

Brite Divinity School’s Fifth Roman Catholic Lecture with Sister Helen Prejean

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Ed Landreth Auditorium