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Many SPs sign Declaration of Life

Note: The following story was originally written in 2001 at the time of the execution of Timothy McVeigh in Terre Haute, Ind.

Sisters of Providence are given an opportunity to make a personal commitment in opposition to the death penalty.

Each Sister of Providence residence receives a Declaration of Life form. When signed, this legal document attests that if the person signing it is ever murdered, no matter how violently, he or she still opposes the death penalty and does not want the murderer put to death.

“I signed it because I think life is precious and that the life of the person who killed someone is precious, too,” said Sister Joan Matthews, a music educator living at Holy Redeemer Convent in Maryland. “I know that there is always a chance for a person to change.”

Of the three sisters living at Holy Redeemer Convent, Sister Joan said, “We talked together about it. There was really no question among us; abolishing the death penalty is a big movement in the Congregation and in the Church.”

“This is an opportunity for us to express our position related to the death penalty in a very concrete way,” said General Officer Sister Joan Slobig. “It does not say the person should not be punished for the crime; it just says the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment for any crime.”

Signed declarations are kept on file in the Office of Records. The Congregation would then make the information known at the time of a trial.

“This is a positive way to try to break the cycle of violence that the death penalty perpetuates,” Sister Joan Slobig said. The form sent out can be copied and distributed to others. The idea of distributing the Declaration of Life form was sparked by a staff member at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods who attended a Brown Bag Luncheon on the Death Penalty.

“I think something like this is an incentive to really come to terms with ‘what is my informed position related to the death penalty?’ If I’m willing to sign the Declaration of Life, then I have come to a firm commitment of opposition to the death penalty,” Sister Joan Slobig continued.

Those strongly committed in their opposition to the death penalty have recently faced widespread challenge regarding the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

“It’s a very complex issue for us to think through because of the emotion evoked by this particular case,” Sister Joan Slobig said. “There are many approaches to the issue, but as people of faith, our position flows out of our belief in the sanctity of human life.

With this case, it’s hard to come to terms with the enormity of the violence. To be able to hold to your conviction that killing in any circumstance is wrong challenges our faith at the deepest levels. Yet you know when you sign the Declaration of Life that you’re saying even if you were in an Oklahoma City bombing kind of situation, where you were not the only victim, you’re still standing by your belief that killing is wrong.”

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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