The Nun & the Boston Bomber

on May 14, 2015

Famous anti-death penalty campaigner Sister Helen Prejean, who inspired the Susan Sarandon movie “Dead Man Walking,” testified Monday on behalf of the Boston Bomber facing possible execution for murdering four, including an 8 year old child, and wounding 264, many of whom lost limbs.

Summoned by the defense, her purpose was to demonstrate that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sorry for his bloody crimes, even though he declined to testify himself about his supposed sorrow, instead looking bored while surviving victims have testified of their suffering.

“He said emphatically, ‘No one deserves to suffer like they did,’” the activist nun testified.  Searching for evidence of his sorrow, she recalled of his voice during their conversation: “It had pain in it, actually, when he said what he did about ‘nobody deserves that.’ I had every reason to think he was taking it in and he was genuinely sorry for what he did.”

Well, boohoo for him.  The nun’s purpose, and the defense purpose, is to persuade at least one juror to veto the death penalty.  They hope a manufactured impression of remorse might do it.  And maybe it will.

But Sister Prejean’s cause is not seeking remorse from killers.  Her cause is protecting killers, remorseful or not.  If the bomber had told her he was proud of his murder and mutilations, and that he planned to murder again in prison, her cause requires her to still seek his protection.

While meeting with him, did the nun implore him to repent and seek God’s mercy?  Or did she focus on extracting/interpreting anecdotes that might nullify the judicial process and spare him execution?  Was she concerned more about his eternal soul, or his physical life, and her political cause?  Let’s pray the former, but the latter seems likelier.

If indeed the latter, Sister Prejean is an archetype for the modern church’s indifference to eternity, and judgment, in favor of therapeutic protection and affirmation.  Traditional Christianity has taught that to stand unrepentant before a Holy God, for mass murder no less, is a fearsome terror indeed, far worse than any state imposed death penalty.  

A truly repentant murderer would have no quarrel with the death penalty.  He would know more than any other how deserving he is of it.  And he would face it knowing that if truly repentant, and having sought and received God’s mercy, there is no cause for fear and instead confidence in an eternal glory with other repentant sinners.

Postmodernity is not very interested in these topics of repentance, judgment, or holiness.  Its focus is more on entitlement and escape from responsibility.  You murdered four innocents?  Well, at least wink to indicate you’re sort of sorry!

If the Boston Bomber had himself testified, falling to his knees in tears, pleading his eternal sorrow for his horrid crimes, and declaring that his execution is more than merited, far kinder to him than what he measured to his victims, and that he looks to God for pity, such a performance, even if not sincere (only God knows the heart), at least pays obeisance to this situation’s stark moral drama.  

Instead, having an activist nun, who thinks Heinrich Himmler didn’t deserve the death penalty, try to speculate about slight tonal hints of possible remorse from a petulant, arrogant killer is an insult to the justice system, the bombers’ victims, and to Christian concepts of sin and atonement.

After praying for his suffering victims and their families, we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, not that his rendezvous with God is delayed, but that he will be ready to meet God.


  1. Comment by Greg on May 14, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Another home run, Mark!
    Are you on steroids?

  2. Comment by Paul Frantizek on May 15, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Yes, he hit this one out of the park.

    Job well done, Mark.

  3. Comment by Joseph on May 19, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Yes, death is the backbone of American justice, along with plea bargaining, mass incarceration, and racism.

  4. Comment by Paul Frantizek on May 19, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Well, retribution is definitely an integral element in criminal justice.

    And considering that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planted a bomb that killed an 8 year old boy and caused several other people to lose limbs, I’d say death is a reasonable form of retribution.

    But, judging from your comments, I’m sure you think differently…

  5. Comment by Trevor Thomas on May 14, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Sister Prejean is another illustration of why the Catholic Church in the U.S. is in steep decline. Just as with its promotion of national healthcare (see the Obamacare debate), or a litany of other programs that push state paternalism over personal responsibility, for decades now the Catholic Church has shown “indifference” towards eternity and judgement. Thus, anyone fervently seeking the truth on such matters is drawn elsewhere.

  6. Comment by yolo on May 14, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    I wonder how many Catholics know that capital punishment was not forbidden prior to Vatican II? That is the problem.

  7. Comment by Paul Frantizek on May 15, 2015 at 7:09 am

    It still isn’t forbidden, that’s another falsehood the so-called ‘Catholic Left’ has propagated.

    Pope Benedict himself affirmed that capital punishment is a matter of prudential judgment.

  8. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 15, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Well, no, that’s not quite correct. Here’s what the the official Catechism of the Catholic Church says in #2267:

    The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
    “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
    “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’

    That is probably why Helen Prejean has never been silenced no matter how many lies she tells or how much injustice she promotes. She can protect herself by pointing to Evangelium Vitae and the current official text of the Catechism.

    In this, the Catechism very much represents the personal opinions of John Paul II, though I do not suggest he was the only person in the Roman religion to hold them. It isn’t the traditional position though. Historically, the Catholic church both supported and, in the Papal States, practised imposition of the death penalty. We are talking about hundreds upon hundreds of executions by axe, mallet, noose, etc. with clearly documented history. But I suppose that is yet more fruit of papal infallibility as a doctrine. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae required the recently published 1992 Catechism to be revised in 1997. So that’s the real basis for the current Catholic doctrine, and the bull hasn’t been modified or repealed.

    John Paul II’s position on capital punishment wasn’t apparently Ratzinger’s position — Cardinal Ratzinger tried to minimize the impact of John Paul II’s departure from traditional teaching on this issue after he became Benedict XVI by declaring that abortion and euthanasia were intrinsically evil whereas capital punishment and war were not.

    There is a lot of equivocation and hand-waving by Catholic apologists on this, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Catechism changed official Roman Catholic doctrine on this issue, very long-standing doctrine based on centuries of theological writings. I don’t imagine that Francis will have any interest in reviving the traditional position. But given what the doctrine of papal infallibility means, anything could happen if a pope dedicated to a certain position decides to issue a new “apostolic constitution”, on this or any other issue. So much for “tradition”.

  9. Comment by Paul Frantizek on May 15, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    I agree that the latest Catechism reflects JP II’s nontraditional view of capital punishment, but I’d argue that the qualified language used makes it pretty much impossible to assert infallibility in any guise to the statement (‘ very rare, if not practically non-existent’ is, frankly, horrible phrasing for a document like the Catechism).

    I’d even go further though and refute the premise that modern states have advanced past the point where capital punishment is necessary. I’d argue that conditions in prison are such that there’s very little likelihood for repentance and redemption and a very strong possibility of further offense and degradation (The Richard Speck prison video is a perfect example of this).

  10. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 16, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Unfortunately Evangelium Vitae was issued as an apostolic constitution, despite its horrible phrasing. And faulty logic.

  11. Comment by johnschuh on May 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Let us not get caught up in the legalize. Bottom line is that our faith is founded on belief in an executed prisoner by means reserved to rebellious slaves. St. Augustine struggled with the problem of defending the state and concluded that the use of violence was necessary because the state has to defend itself. In a way, the death penalty is an affirmation of the Fall of man, and the doctrine of hell. That there are men, indeed, many men who deserve such a fate and who refuse to repent because they will not or cannot hear what God says to them. To think otherwise is to ignore the horrors that human history is full of.

  12. Comment by Joseph on May 19, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    In Europe we do not brood as much on the Fall and on Hell because we are not so busy creating hell for out fellow human beings.

  13. Comment by johnschuh on May 20, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Really? You are the guys who gave us two rounds of hell on earth from 1914-1945;

  14. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 20, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    You are correct. I’ve seen some silly posts but Joseph’s wins the cigar today.

  15. Comment by yolo on May 15, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    My point is that Roman Catholicism never precluded the possibility of execution. Liberal protestant denominations did, but ministers from these denominations never appear in court probably because of their support of death in abortion and euthanasia. Also, their opposition to execution is more Marxism than anything else (the idea that society caused the criminal to commit the crime instead of the criminal.) The folly of that position is on full display in Norway; uh, search Brevik. It’s interesting or ironic because Norway executed a bunch of collaborators at the end of WW2. I respect Catholics that oppose execution who cite a consistent life ethic, but I have always believed that the consistent life ethic is dubious because of war and because the unborn and the sick are innocent or at least closer to innocence. They’re the most vulnerable and they’re the most vulnerable to criminals that prey on them.

  16. Comment by Paul Frantizek on May 15, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Agree. Sister Helen Prejean is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

  17. Comment by J_Bob on May 15, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Maybe that’s why those particular religious orders are dying out.

    They seem to have forgotten their roots.

  18. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 15, 2015 at 1:13 am

    “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”

    2 Cor 11:13-14

  19. Comment by Patrick98 on May 15, 2015 at 10:55 am

    I am just pondering here and invite comments. Which is a worse punishment, death, or life imprisonment? I personally hope not to die until I am aged. I don’t want to die anytime soon! So, death would not be good. At the same time, life in prison and missing out on so much of freedom and the things we enjoy would also be horrible. For a young man, which would be the worse punishment? Any thoughts on which would be the harsher punishment? (Not which would be more just, I don’t want to get into that debate – which punishment would be worse if you were this man’s age?)

  20. Comment by the timnath kid on May 15, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    Given what happened to Jesus, you kindaa have to wonder where he would come down on this whole capital punishment thing.

  21. Comment by O'Pinyon on May 16, 2015 at 3:00 am

    The Torah re: capitol punishment came from Jesus, since He is also God. He chose to come into history at a time when He would be killed as the Lamb of God.
    “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

  22. Comment by the timnath kid on May 16, 2015 at 9:41 am

    well thought out reply, but capital punishment flies in the face of turning the other cheek does it not?

  23. Comment by O'Pinyon on May 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I believe that turning the other cheek is something only the offended party can do.

  24. Comment by Wild Biker Bill on May 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Indeed. My limited understanding is that in Jewish jurisprudence murder was the one unforgivable sin. Why? Because the victim is no longer around to forgive. And the victims of a crime are the only ones with the authority to forgive. Forgiveness by anyone and everyone else is exceedingly cheap grace for they do not bear the consequences.

  25. Comment by johnschuh on May 20, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Capital punishment is the reserving of the power of retribution to the State. Otherwise we have the Hatfields and the McCoys.

  26. Comment by Mark Brooks on May 16, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Actually, you don’t have to wonder at all.

    First, let’s figure out what God has said about capital punishment.

    “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning;
    from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of
    man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of

    Whoever sheds man’s blood,
    By man his blood shall be shed;
    For in the image of God
    He made man.”

    Note that this was given before the Mosaic law to Noah and his family, all that remained of humanity at the time. In the Mosaic law, this is made part of the law of Israel:

    “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbour, to kill him by
    treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.”

    Who gave the Mosaic law? Who was it that spoke to Moses and Noah?

    Well, we know that the God of Moses identified himself thusly:

    “Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’”

    and Jesus said:

    “Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is our God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

    So Jesus was the I AM of the Old Testament, by His own testimony. And the I AM of the Old Testament commanded the penalty of death for murder to Noah and Moses and the people of Israel. The penalty of blood is blood. The penalty of sin is death. God has no problem with the death penalty. Injustice, of course is a different matter. Don’t confuse the justice of a penalty with the justice of a process. A wrongful conviction is always evil. But there’s no question of that in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

    I can quote you other scriptures if you like, such as Paul’s reference to the sword of the magistrate in Romans, or Jesus’ reference to the death penalty for bloodshed in Matthew 26 (frequently misinterpreted). Then there is this line from the Book of the Revelation:

    “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”

    and also this from Revelation, specifically in the message to the Church of Thyatira:

    “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father…”

    The imagery there is particularly strong, referencing Psalm 2, Isaiah 30 and Jeremiah 19, where it is made clear that this is an image of the evil of the nations being killed as a penalty for their deeds and brought under Jesus’ divine rule.

    This is really too large a subject to go into in a forum post. Read the Bible and it will become clear to you that not only would Jesus not oppose a murderer being put to death, but he will put murderers to death Himself on His return.

  27. Comment by Joseph on May 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    so Bostonians are into the eye for an eye business — which makes them killers in turn

  28. Comment by johnschuh on May 20, 2015 at 12:55 am

    Well, eye for an eye beats a head for an eye. If Austria had rested content with the death of the assassin rather than sending in an army into Serbia, especially an army that was not well-prepared for war, then how many millions of lives would have been spared?

  29. Comment by Joe Sherrill on May 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Trouble is like many others her belief is in her own feelings and not based on scripture..

  30. Comment by Max Friedman on May 19, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Re “Sister Prejean is the modern church’s archetype for indifference to eternity and judgment”.
    I want to rewrite this since I’ve been following Prejean and her very far left sense of “justice”.
    I would say “Sister Prejean is the modern church’s archetype for indifference to EVIL and JUSTICE”.
    Tsarnaev and his brother are evil, period. Their deeds were evil. Period.
    No leftist psychobabble can change this in a sane world, but Sister Prejean lives in an insane world where the victim gets no justice and she wants to keep the evil perpetrators alive.
    I’ve had friends who personally dealt with Adolph Eichmann (one tried a trade deal of trucks for Jews in eastern Europe in the early 1940’s, 40,000 children’s lives at stake. Eichmann’s answer was to poke (Dr.) William Perl in the chest and say “Jew, you don’t tell me what to do”.)

    Dr. Perl, in WW2, Lt. Perl, was an interrogator of the SS officers who committed the horrible atrocities known collectively as the Malmedy Massacre(s) (there were more than just the slaughter of about 150 American POWS, including Medics). He dealt with evil, again, up close and personal. Our military/political justice system failed in that all the killers served no more than 5-9 years in jail and then were released back into German society.
    I met Mossad Agent Malkin who physically captured Eichmann in Argentina. Talk about “touching evil”!
    And then there was little Susie, who with her slightly older sister, mother and other relatives, were sent to Auschwitz, where Dr. Mengele almost selected her and her look alike sister, for medical experiments. Susie survived; the rest of her family did not. Again, Evil up close and personal.
    Sister Prejean is nothing but a leftist apologist for EVIL. If she had been alive in Germany during the rise of Hitler and his Nazis, thru the end of WW2, she would have been a religious protector of Adolph and his SS and Gestapo because she would have refused to recognize pure EVIL in them, just as Communists then and now, refused to recognize the pure EVIL of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho and Pol Pot.
    The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and Sister Prejean is just that, a great waste of a human potential to CARE for the victims, instead of protecting their persecutors.

  31. Comment by Don Bryant on May 19, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Well said. I do look forward to your take on current challeges to the orthodox Chritian tradition in both theology and morality.

  32. Comment by Joseph on May 19, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Retribution is primitive thinking and incompatible with the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha. He killed a boy so you want to kill him — that is primitive.

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