Friday, February 5, 2010

A Compelling Message

Just heard from MVFHR's Board Chair Vicki Schieber, who has been doing some public interviews and meeting with legislators in Kansas in anticipation of next week's Senate debate on the death penalty abolition bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday.

Meanwhile, this Catholic News Service editorial, published yesterday, is a direct result of VIcki's recent work in Kentucky:

Vicki Schieber’s message about the death penalty — given recently at three Catholic high schools and one parish in the Archdiocese of Louisville — is a compelling one for Catholics to ponder. It’s a message about living, in personally difficult circumstances, our Catholic teaching about respect for human life and forgiveness.

Vicki Schieber’s 23-year-old daughter Shannon was raped and murdered in her Philadelphia apartment in 1998 by a serial rapist. Shannon was an intelligent young woman with a promising life ahead of her. She had graduated from Duke University and was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

“You can’t imagine what this (murder) does to a family,” Vicki Schieber told students at St. Xavier High School. “The anger. We wanted to see vengeance.”

These are understandable feelings following such a horrible crime. But Vicki Schieber and her husband did not let these feelings take hold of their lives. Instead, as a result of their deep Catholic faith, they struggled with prosecutors and the district attorney, asking them not to seek the death penalty after their daughter’s killer was apprehended.

And they prevailed. The man who killed Shannon and who also pled guilty to 13 other sexual assaults was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Why did Vicki Schieber and her husband oppose the death penalty ?

“We believe in the sanctity of human life and forgiveness,” Vicki Schieber told St. X students. “You can’t let that vengeance overwhelm you and take over your life,” she said, adding that the desire for vengeance is “the antithesis of our beliefs” as Catholics.

When asked how she found the courage to fight for the life of her daughter’s killer, Schieber replied: “My solid Catholic formation. ... I believe I lived my Catholic faith, and I got the grace of God to do it.”

Schieber, who is chair of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, also related her story to students at Presentation and Sacred Heart academies and to parishioners at Church of the Epiphany. She was in Louisville for the Jan. 14-17 National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference.

Schieber also has taken her message about the death penalty to other forums, including the U.S. Congress. In testimony to a Senate subcommittee in 2006, she said: “I have come to believe that the death penalty is not what will help me heal (from her daughter’s death). Responding to one killing with another does not honor my daughter, nor does it help create the kind of society I want to live in, where human life and human rights are valued.”

She added: “My husband and I were both raised in homes with a deep-seated religious faith. We were both raised in households where hatred was never condoned and where the ultimate form of hate was thought to be the deliberate taking of another person’s life. ... We cannot in good conscience support the killing of anyone, even the murderer of our own daughter, if such a person could be imprisoned without parole and thereby no longer a danger to society.”

And she asked these questions: “What kind of message do we convey to young people when we tell them that killing another human being is wrong but then impose the death penalty on someone with whom they have some direct or indirect relationship? Isn’t there a possibility that the imposition of the death penalty sends a conflicted message about our society’s respect for life?”

Schieber’s message on the death penalty is one that seems to be gaining support across the country. Two states (New Jersey and New Mexico) have abolished capital punishment in the past three years, and legislation to end capital punishment has picked up momentum in several other states. There is more scrutiny and questioning of the death-penalty system.

It’s time for Kentucky to join this movement by considering legislation that has been before the state General Assembly for several years to abolish capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without parole. House Bill 45 in the current legislative session calls for this, and the legislation should be given a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee.

Action on HB 45 is the message Catholics should convey to our legislators. There is an alternative to responding to criminal acts of violence with other acts of violence. There is another way, as Vicki Schieber has testified to in living her Catholic faith.


Pat said...

This is only a small matter, but this is not a Catholic News Service editorial. It is an editorial of The Record, the weekly Catholic newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Susannah Sheffer said...

Thanks for the correction! It's good to be accurate about such things.