Newspaper Archive of
Arkansas Catholic
Litlte Rock, Arkansas
June 24, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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June 24, 1990
 

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PAGE 8 ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JUNE 24, Execution brings strong ponents Several Catholics who traveled to the Cummins Unit of the State Department of Correction outside Pine Bluff shared their response to the fn-st execution in Arkansas in 26 years. .... The experience leaves me feeling as though I've been hit in the stomach," said Sr. Catherine Markey, MHS, Diocesan Di- rector of Jus- tice and Peace. "And then there's the feel- ing that it didn't really happen." Markey was part of a group of about eight Catholics who stood in 100- society," said Rev. Jim Schratz of Little Rock, who stood with the group out- side the prison. "I am responsible, as I believe every person is, for what we allow our society to become, including individuals who go against our social or moral norms. The 'consistent life ethic' requires us to protect all life. I feel the need to champion the lives of those whom society doesn't want. Through the death penalty, we've equated retribution with justice." The Church is a logical place in which to differ- entiate be- tween retribu- tion and jus- tice, and be- tween justice and mercy, if necessary. "I'm pre- pared to go down the line with Ronald Gene Sim- mons," said Rev. Jim Schratz explains the Catholic view of the death penalty. dler's execution, however, 'laelp" could only come in the form of his death. The death penalty supporters clapped The 'consistent life ethic' requires us to protect all life. and yelled when they learned that Swindler was dead. "I think it was like inappropriate laughter, for instance when you're nervous and you laugh, even though something is not funny," said Markey. "The execution won't cut off feelings of anger, " she said. "If that's what they're looking for, they're not going to find it," she said, adding that an exe- cution does provide an episodic sense of closure. The needs of victims can be difficult to meet, depending upon how a par- ticular victim deals with death, said O'Donnell. ' Ne share their pain and are ready to minister to victims and their fatal- For the Church to help or M gr. John heal the perpetrators of O Donnell of North Little crime is not to reject the Rock, referring victims or families. degree-plus weather on the prison grounds in the hours leading to John Edward Swin- dler's death by electrocution. "I went because I'm pro-life," Markey said. "I needed to say that I don't believe the state taking a life is right. I prayed for all the victims - the people he killed, their families, himself and all of us, because we are the state." Markey said that the group accepted the reality that their presence would not change people, but that the group wanted to make a statement. "As a Christian and a member of the Catholic Church, I felt the need to take responsibility for my own part of our tO one of the most feared men on death row who was sentenced to die for a Christmastime rampage killing 14 family members. Simmons is scheduled to die Monday, June 25. "I'm prepared to help him, but he doesn't want any help," O'Donnell said. I went because I'm pro-life. "He's already rejected an offer of help from the bishop." Bishop AndrewJ. McDonald played an active role in helping the victims of the 1987 massacre. For the people who supported Swin- lies," said O'Donnell. "We're concerned about them. For the Church to help or heal the perpetrators of crime is not to reject the victims or families." O'Donnell offered the analogy of the Red Cross during wartime. "For the Red Cross, there's no dis- tinction between 'good' and 'bad' guys," he said. "The Red Cross is just there to heal. The Church is here to heal." Schratz recalled words spoken ear- lier in the week by O'Donnell, that Swindler was a "Christ figure" to the other inmates on death row. "In spite of the fact that Swindler was feared on death row, he brought a sense of liberation and goodness- things which escaped John Edward's life - to the other inmates through hi! continuing litigation for their constitu'` tional rights," Schratz said. "I kept wondering why I was stand" ing there," he said. "The only answa i that came was from John Donne, that: 'no man is an island.., each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved mankind...therefore, do not send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tollS for thee'. To me, that's what made sense about being there. I was there for me, for John Edward Swindler, and for those lost in,,their anger, hatred and pain.I' It s paradoxical and strange," sagt Schratz. "In the confines of his pris0g cell, Swindler struggled to achieve for others what he never experienced his own life. In the 'free world', the prison term for 'the outside', we shackle our own selves with the characteristics of the prisoners we lock behind barS, The paradox is, we seem to alwaYs strive for that which we want or seek to avoid. Therefore, in putting Edward Swindler to death, we John Edward Swindler." To obtain .ii Pastoral Statements: Ministry to the Imprisoned ) Contact: Office of Prison Ministry Diocese of Little Rock P. O. Box 8807 Pine Bluff, AR 71601 (501) 628-3092 opposing Following is a statement from Bishop An- drewJ. Md)onald and the Diocesan Priests' Senate: In our society of increased violence with its flagrant disrespect for human life and dignity, the Catholic Church continues to oppose the death penalty and to call for its abolition. The death penalty does violence to the mystery of life. The renowned Protestant theologian Karl Barth per- haps described the nature of this vio- lence best when he spoke of capital punishment as the %cry usurping of divinity." Accordingly, we raise our voices at this time to seek to point out the moral implications of the death penalty:. * The demonstrated inequities in the death penalty's process and application unjustly victimize the poor and racial penalty minorities. * Punishment which takes a life is itself unjust as it violates the very prin- ciples of retribution designed to create respect for life and dignity. * The death penalty reflects the abandonment of hope for the reforma- tion of a human being. * The Christian call to reconciliation and forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), mercy (Matthew 9:12-13) and healing love (Matthew 5:44) constitutes the overrid- ing thrust and whole message of the Christian Scriptures. We also call attention to the civil implications of the death penalty: * Execution is irrevocable, causing some innocent people to die. * The death penalty has never been proven to be a deterrent to crime. * The death penalty could encour- age the political ambitions of some who recognize the present political climate as highly favorable to capital punish- merit. * The inadequacy of current legal defense systems for the accused poor highfights the practical and institutional immorality of the death penalty. While state prosecutors are adequately funded to prepare their cases, court-appointed defense attorneys for poverty-stricken defendants are inadequately compen- sated for their work. * An extremely high percentage of those on death row are poor and a dispro- portionate number are black. In re-stating our opposition to the death penalty, we also re-affirm our concern for the victims of crime and their families and friends. Indeed, we are called to minister to them, to coun- sel and to pray with them for strength as they endure their deep pain and agony at the terrible and often brutal loss of their loved ones. We strongly encourage that much .h be done by both State and Ch y[ more to reach out comoassionatelv and--Wwl -- " OI a deeo sense of justice to seek ways A assistance and compensataon for th victims of crime We also wish to again stress that Catholic tradition respects the right the State to take a human life ous crimes. However, we believe right should not be exercised of the reasons stated above and of the awful finality of a posed by fallible human beings can sometimes result in the an innocent person. We ask Gov. Clinton to commute death penalty for all those presently c death row. We ask this in the nar e ! the sanctity of human life and dignity. Lastly, we call upon sans to beseech the governor, Arkansas state legislature find all in public political life to hear for the abolition of the death