Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Regional Report

the Inland Register

(From the March 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Archdiocese of Portland

PORTLAND – The Religious whose memoir of ministry on death row became an Oscar-winning film told a Portland audience Feb. 4 that what is true for everyone is true of murderers – they are better than the worst thing they’ve done in their lives.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph from Louisiana, has become the nation’s leading opponent of the death penalty. Her 1993 book, Dead Man Walking, made her a celebrity.

“What is it in us that makes us think we need to mimic the worst behavior in the world, to do just what they did to their victims?” she told the crowd, which had jammed into the chapel at Lewis and Clark College.

Sister Helen said that early in her life as a woman Religious, she focused on following the rules, being a good classroom teacher and doing charity. Then, she says, the Gospel got to her.

“The bent of Christianity is to be on the side of the marginalized – radical inclusivity,” she said.

She realized the difference between her and people who are poor and in jail is not virtue, but her own privileged upbringing as a white southerner in the Jim Crow era.

Sister Helen decided to move into a New Orleans housing project in the early 1980s and then was asked to counsel Catholic death row inmate Patrick Sonnier. He and his younger brother were convicted of double murder and rape in the 1977 slayings of two Louisana teens. Sister Helen’s was the last face Patrick Sonnier saw before being hooded and electrocuted in 1984.

Sister Helen has accompanied six men in executions. Some of them, she is convinced, were wrongly convicted. That’s the basis of her 2006 book, The Death of Innocents. She calls the U.S. criminal justice system “broken,” since defendants who are poor routinely have worse outcomes than those who are rich. She reports she has witnessed police under pressure ask leading questions and do biased work.

– Catholic Sentinel (Oregon Catholic Press)

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