Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Thomas Whisenhant is scheduled to be executed on 5-27 as a result of his conviction of rape and murder of Cheryl Payton. He was found guilty more than 30 years ago.

There will be a prayer vigil in front of the Cathedral in Mobile at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon because of this execution. I will be there (as I usually am, when executions occur in our State).

At the vigil we pray, sing and share. First and foremost we pray for the families both of victim and criminal. We do not pretend that those who are executed are somehow all innocent and are being railroaded; we know most are in fact guilty of the fact of the crime, even if (as Mr Whisenhant’s lawyers argued) he was legally insane at the time.

I am sorry that Ms Payton’s family members have experienced such suffering for the last 30 years. But I want to offer a couple of observations on executions in general.

First of all, when families think there can be no “closure” until the murderer is executed, what happens when the crime’s punishment is determined to be “life imprisonment without hope of parole”? Does this mean there can never be “closure”? I also know (anecdotally) that families sometimes do not have peace even after an execution ends the life of one who ended the life of someone they loved. And the additional tragedy is that, regardless, the life of the victim will not be able to be restored.

If family and friends of a victim could let go of their anger and forgive (this does NOT mean excusing the criminal or saying anything that justifies an evil action), they could find peace and “closure” far earlier. The anger is what eats at them, and it makes them bitter. They need healing, too; they do not deserve to live in the grip of outrage and hatred. Forgiveness
is the only way of dealing with these overwhelming emotions. The “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa taught us this, after apartheid was finally ended in that country. The United Nations’ “Nelson Mandela International Day” will mark this leader’s 92nd birthday—18 July. Why wait? Why not ask for the grace to begin the process of forgiveness and healing now?

Executions are unworthy of us as a civilization. Opposing capital punishment does not mean some people have not committed great evil; it means that taking another life does not solve the problem and only makes us the more callous and vengeful. This may be a meaningful legal response, but it is not the Christian response. “An eye for an eye” was a good law in times when the lust for revenge was out of control. Can we not move forward a little, as a society, toward the Sermon on the Mount? It’s time… --isn't it?


  1. Capital punishment... it's not about revenge or even justice. It's about accountability. Some crimes are so horrible nothing else is enough. We are Christians who live in a society, and society has to have boundaries.

  2. A Catholic does not hold to the view that "nothing else is enough." The Catechism (quoting Pope John Paul II) states that capital punishment is appropriate only if/when no other possibility of guaranteeing the safety of society is possible, "[a]ssuming that the guilty party's identity and responisibility have been fully determined," and then adds that "...the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'" (Catechism, #2267)

  3. Dear Anonymous -- The day of the execution, in fact around the time of this event, I said a prayer for all involved that each individual would experience what the Lord wanted them to experience. I, aso have been mulling over this business of capital punishment and know that emotionally it takes its toll either with or without execution, but I know deep down that forgiveness on all sides has as its 'reward' healing. Like all other difficulties we, as Catholics, experience in trying to become more 'Christlike', it is a hard road we travel, but it is the only one we should try to travel.

  4. Dear Newer Pathways -- Thanks for your encouraging words. I am of course 'a work in progress' and hopefully I simply have not evolved far enough. I understand and totally agree with the catechism and certainly the words of our Great John Paul II. Nevertheless,
    "rare and practically non-existent" is not 'never or completely non-existent'. I will pray and fast in the hopes that the Lord will soften my heart and open my mind so I can be the Christian I'm supposed to be.