Speaking Out Against the Death Penalty

Lisa Montgomery

A Kansas woman was executed Wednesday, the first time in nearly seven decades that the U.S. government has put to death a female inmate.

Lisa Montgomery, 52, was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was the 11th prisoner to receive a lethal injection there since July when President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, resumed federal executions following 17 years without one.

In 2015, Pope Francis addressed the International Commission against the Death Penalty, stating that: “Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.” Francis argued that the death penalty is no longer justifiable by society’s need to defend itself, and the death penalty has lost all legitimacy due to the possibility of judicial error. He stated that capital punishment is an offense “against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society” and “does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance”.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace have adopted a corporate stance against the death penalty, and we publish this statement from Lisa Montgomery’s attorney in protest of her unjust execution.


The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame. No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking. No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery’s longstanding debilitating mental disease – diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons’ own doctors. Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way.

The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. After we, her attorneys, contracted COVID-19 during our travels to visit her after her execution was scheduled, the government fought tooth and nail against any delay to allow us to recover so we could represent her effectively. Then they violated the law in multiple ways in rescheduling her execution for the final days of the Trump Administration. As courts agreed Lisa’s case presented important legal issues warranting serious consideration – including whether she was competent to execute – the government hammered onward with appeals.

By insisting on an execution during a pandemic, this administration demonstrated its reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens. Executions are super-spreader events. The government knows this. Yet, they put the lives of every single person who must participate in these “events” as well as every one of those persons’ friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and who knows how many other people. Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose Life over Death, they put the lives and health of US citizens in grave danger. In the midst of all this litigation, Lisa’s request for clemency remained before President Trump. It was supported by thousands of organizations and individuals – faith leaders, anti-violence advocates, conservative leaders, international organizations, and many more. But the President did nothing. He had not even the decency to formally deny – or even acknowledge – Lisa’s clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one.

Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice. She should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime. And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution. Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her.

Lisa was a loving mother, grandmother, and sister who adored her family. She was a devout Christian who loved Christmas and created beautiful angels for those lucky enough to receive her gifts. Lisa often became trapped in the prison of her mind, losing touch with reality for periods of time. But when not gripped by psychosis, she was a gentle and caring person whom I was honored to know and to represent.

Lisa Nouri, Amy Harwell and I represented Mrs. Montgomery for eight years. We loved her very much and she loved us. She honored us with her truth and trusted us to share it in a way that not only told her story, but that could help other women.

Even though President Trump could not be the hero we asked him to be, we are here to say to every woman and girl who has been the victim of violence and degradation: You matter. Your pain matters. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor. Do not let anyone humiliate or shame you. You deserve to be loved.

In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa.

We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.

-Kelley Henry, attorney for Lisa Montgomery

-January 13, 2021

Posted in Peace & Justice Weekly Updates

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

This phrase from “O Little town of Bethlehem” has stayed with me through the Advent-Christmas season, and was “writ large” you might say, in the violence at the Capitol on January 6.   The phrase “are met in thee tonight” in the context of the Christmas carol doesn’t suggest violence, a crashing together of hopes and fears from all sides, but has always had a sort of poignance, a tribute to human suffering and human dreams, and God’s answer to our disparate, desperate, dissonant ways of life, hopes and dreams for peace and happiness.

“How still we see thee lie….”A classic Christmas card: dark blue velvet sky, the twinkling of stars, and a ray of light shining down on the silhouette of a rough structure with a father and mother and baby under its roof.

Perhaps you and I are beyond the “sweet baby Jesus” approach to Christmas. We aren’t so much taken with the birth as such, we’re not visitors at the stable, we are farther along in the story, watching and  listening for  the Christ in history, the meaning of our nearer past and present.

Tragedy is too much with us, and with the vast unfiltered instancy of the internet we know more than our hearts can take, and fear is not so much of the unknown as the partially known. We have  seen unprecedented joblessness and hunger, fires and floods. We have argued over true and and alternative facts and who and what can really be trusted. The pillars of democracy are shaking, our proud view of our nation as defender of freedom in the world has taken a pounding. Assumptions of patriotic unity and Christian values, the guarantee of success as the product of hard work, the potential for good through more sophisticated technology cannot be counted on. The hopes and fears of all the years have taken on considerably more weight  and peril.

The Christmas season is spent, and we’re taking down ornaments and lights, wreaths and creches, and have begun Ordinary Time.  But these times are far from ordinary. This new year has already brought rates of pandemic that are exhausting our resources and our health providers.    A mob assault on the Capitol shakes our national stability, stokes fears of democracy coming apart at the seams.  We don’t see an end to these perils, only more contagion.

In our liturgical year, there is always a return to the beginnings, and the assurance of God’s dynamic presence as we remember and are made present again to the mystery of salvation.

So we begin again. The birth, the epiphany, the flight, the return, the baptism and revelation of God’s naming: Beloved.  This man, this curiously ordinary Beloved comes and bids us follow.,  a step at a time, day at a time, a short parable, a quiet cure, a believer here and a resister there, a fear quenched, a boundary crossed, a sin forgiven, a meal with followers. None of it shouts “Miracle! Spotlight!”   And then comes betrayal and death.  The hopes and fears of all the years swallowed in darkness. But Jesus is the Christ, and more than a promise—a Presence in the breath of the Spirit,  Word made flesh and with us always.

The Mystery of Incarnation  is manifest yet hidden, present and absent, moments of heightened appearance followed by a fading into everydayness.  Emmanuel is the name of divine creativity woven into our flesh; loving accompaniment through it all, despite our fears, failures and inattention, our casual cruelties to each other and the earth our home.

T.S. Eliot wrote of hints and guesses. “The hint half guessed, the gift half-understood, is Incarnation.”* The rocks and stones are singing and the Spirit groaning with us in one great act of giving birth that encompasses Bethlehem and Galilee and Jerusalem and Calvary and the Garden, that crosses every border, speaks every language and holds all the hopes and fears of all the years and our constant plea: O come to us, abide with us, our God, Emmanuel.

*The Dry Salvages

Posted in Weekly Word

Dominican Sister of Peace Sister Philomena Cook

Dominican Sister of Peace Philomena Cook

Dominican Sister of Peace Sister Philomena Cook, 85, died on November 23, 2020, at Akron General Cleveland Clinic.

Sister Philomena was born Frances Lucille to Elizabeth Marconi and Fred Cook of Alliance, OH. She attended and graduated from our founded school, Our Lady of the Elms High School. She entered the Congregation in 1952, made first profession in 1954, and took her final vows in 1960.

Her early ministry was at her own alma mater, Our Lady of the Elms, where she served at the Preschool, made altar breads and helped in the Motherhouse Infirmary.

She was called to serve as a caretaker and graduated from Saint Joseph Practical School of Nursing in Akron in 1959, earned a certificate in Pod geriatrics from Saint Vincent Hospital and Medical Center in Toledo, studied Rehabilitation at Marquette University, and took courses at Akron University for Long Term Care and Psychiatric Nursing in the Elderly.

Sister Philomena was one of the first nurses at St. Edward Home in Fairlawn. She ministered at Allen Memorial Nursing Home in Mobile, AL, then returned to her hometown to serve as Congregational Health Care Coordinator, Infirmary Administrator, and liaison for Regina Health Center at the Akron Motherhouse. She also served as Program Assistant at Manor Care and Program Consultant at Sunrise Assisted Living in Montrose, OH, which later became Brookdale Senior Living.

Sister Philomena put her enormous creativity to work for both her patients and her community.   She researched, developed, and implemented many programs that focused on enhancing her patient’s sense of self-esteem and dignity. After she retired, she volunteered at the Country Clothing Center and Soup Kitchen and helped with community projects, including assisting with the creation of educational projects for children who were missing school due to COVID-19. She also recycled used greeting cards into new and more beautiful cards for use by her community – Sisters from all over the country sent cards to help her with this work.

Sister Philomena is survived by her brother, Alfred; sister, Claudia Rowley both of Alliance; niece, Lisa Danford, nephew, and grandniece.

Private burial services were conducted at Holy Cross Cemetery in Akron, OH, on December 2, 2020. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

To donate in Sr. Philomena’s memory, please click here.

To view and download a PDF of Sr. Philomena’s memorial, please click here.

Posted in Obituaries

Peace and Justice Updates 1.13.2021

National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

The Economy of Slavery 

As shameful as it sounds, there is actually a significant portion of our economy that depends on the profits of human slavery. Click here for an analysis from the anti-trafficking organization Talitha Kum.  For more resources regarding human trafficking, click here. 

Events

There are a number of virtual events that you can attend to learn more about human trafficking and how it can be prevented. For the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking calendar, please click here.

From the Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking 

CCOAHT’s members have developed a National Human Trafficking Prevention Month toolkit. You can also join the Become a SHEPHERD community and incorporate anti-trafficking into your ministries and activities.

Additional Resources:

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Weekly Updates

Recovering Democracy

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”

Catherine of Siena

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Now would not be a good time for anyone in the United States to take a stress test.  Having experienced the deadliest pandemic in 100 years, witnessed racist violence in cities across the country, and endured deep political divisions that have made movement on urgent social issues impossible to address in Congress, we face an unimaginable crisis.  The mind-numbing attack on the US Capitol on January 6 left most of us reeling and trying to comprehend what was happening.

As I attempt to process the reality of a coup, and insurrection of thousands of “proud boys,” neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists, I come to the realization that truth has been missing in action for the last four years.  Social media has provided a platform for lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories gone mad.  Finally, Facebook and Twitter have halted President Trump from using the platforms indefinitely, but this action comes much too late.  The power of anyone occupying the presidency and using social media or standing in front of a camera can sway millions, make it impossible to pass legislation, and bring fear to those who just want to be reelected.

Conspiracy theorists have written a script of lies that they dressed up as truth. “The election was rigged,” a mantra promoted by the president, continuously fed through social media, and promoted even before the election. The seeds for a violent coup attempt were planted early.  The consequences were obvious: the lives of governors and secretaries of state, the speaker of the house, and the vice president were threatened. Five people died… another Capitol officer committed suicide days after the attack.

By Tyler Merbler from USA – DSC09523-2, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98637510

Lies led to the storming of the Capitol by domestic terrorists armed with military-style assault weapons, explosives, tear gas, guns, knives, confederate battle flags, waving racist hand signals. They wore shirts that mocked the Holocaust and carried flags that said, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.”

This white mob was on a mission to take prisoners and demand the election be overturned.  They were fed Gospel-like lies of the deep state taking over lives and Trump was the savior of the country.

The property that was destroyed – windows broken, doors torn down, computers stolen, can be replaced.  Can the human spirit be revived?  Can trust in the government be restored?  Can political parties do the hard work of promoting the common good, and put partisanship aside?  The biggest challenge: can lies be addressed vigorously and immediately?

We have had a leadership vacuum in our political world for years.  Sins against truth continue to be found in all of our institutions, including our own Church.  Truth has taken a beating in social media and in many avenues of communication.  Our “better angels” need to demand that truth permeate all platforms, or simply wait for the next coup.  What is more important than resuscitating truth and restoring a democracy?  Maybe then someone will write volume 2 of PROFILES IN COURAGE.

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog