As one who has long opposed the death penalty, I appreciate guest columnist and Roman Catholic Bishop Shelton Fabre’s eloquent arguments to repeal the law that allows our Louisiana government to kill people.
For the repeal to be successful, however, much more must be said about supporting families of victims. It is indeed especially noteworthy, as Bishop Fabre states, that many such families do not believe that “more killing would help with their healing or honor their loved one’s memory.”
Those of us who agree with Fabre must make definite plans on just how we can support those families. At the legislative hearing on March 12, proponents of the death penalty brought in many family members who still suffer, sometimes for decades, after one of their loved ones was murdered. Their testimony rang true; their ongoing suffering was hard to hear.
For the proposed bipartisan legislation to pass, people of faith, all people of good will, must, I believe, show just how with our Easter love we can and will support such families, as I have tried to do in my Episcopal ministry, especially after reading Sr. Helen Prejean’s 1993 book, "Dead Man Walking," learning how she has reached out to both those facing execution and to the families of their victims.
We need to explore with the families if the execution of those who killed their loved ones would actually bring healing. I can understand why appropriate sentencing of those who are guilty does bring some healing, but it is hard for me to believe that killing the perpetrator brings any healing at all.
I speak from personal experience. In 1999, our lovely 29-year-old daughter, Abigail Barnwell, died from some lethal combination of cocaine and heroin that a drug dealer tricked her into taking. He was sent to prison, but I can promise all proponents of the death penalty that killing him would have brought absolutely no healing to our grieving family.
What did bring our family healing was the undying love and support so many of Abby’s friends and our family members and friends gave us. The healing began at her memorial service at Trinity Episcopal in Boston, our church at the time. Nearly a hundred of Abby’s friends showed up to offer their thanks for the love that Abigail had given to them and shown to those Jesus called “the least of these” our sisters and brothers.
I hope that when the Legislature meets to consider repealing the death penalty, we who testify to repeal will invite the families of the victims to talk about what has brought them some measure of healing since those days of unimaginable suffering.