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McVeigh set to die, but we don't need his death.

Trout swimming upstream for the survival of their species, leaping over boulders and cascading rapids at the risk of being swept downstream are akin to us who speak against the death penalty in the case of Timothy McVeigh. We seem more at one with the mysterious forces of nature than with our brothers and sisters looking forward to his May 16 execution in the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

Make no mistake about it; this horrific case tests our conviction that capital punishment is immoral. Nevertheless, from our deepest religious reservoir comes the spiritual survival instinct that insists: no more death. If the killing of one-time altar boy Timothy McVeigh could restore the lives of all who died in the hell he created, then, perhaps, some of us might be swayed.

Execution advocates charge us with insensitivity. You lost no loved one in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, they say. This is true, but we anguish over the senseless killing and the seemingly remorseless killer as much as those who also lost no one in the bombing but issue vociferous calls for the death penalty. We have mourned the dead and prayed for those whose lives are forever changed because of the evil done that April 19, 1995.

When we wonder if anyone personally affected might agree with us, we remember with gratitude the position taken by Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter died in the blast. Interviewed by The New York Times (June 23, 1997) within sight of the place of destruction, he said, "I don't need another death." He expressed the hope that a long prison term might draw from McVeigh the reason for his deed.

In the unsettling and unsettled intervening years, Welch has befriended McVeigh's father, who, while grieving for the events of that day and its consequences, also grieves for a long period of estrangement from his son that preceded that pivotal date. After Timothy McVeigh was arrested, law officers impounded the contents of his mailbox. Included was an unopened birthday card from his dad.

Why do we who stand with Bud Welch not make an exception in this unusual instance of mass destruction? Because there are principles we cannot forsake. While others of good conscience may disagree, we adhere to these beliefs:

* All life comes from God and returns to God. Because its source is sacred, all life is sacred. That includes the lives of mad bombers who, with cool calculation, destroy the lives of the innocent.

* The Bible warns us who fear those who can destroy our bodies to be even more fearful of those who can destroy our souls. Timothy McVeigh has succeeded in destroying 168 bodies, while breaking the hearts of loved ones who survived them. We refuse to give him the power to draw us into spiritual suicide through imitation.

* The thirst for vengeance is a poison that prevents or retards the recovery of the human spirit. We recall the exchange between the father of a slain daughter and Sr. Helen Prejean immediately following the execution they both witnessed. After years of agitating for this man's execution, he said when it was over, "It is not enough." Prejean commented that he was like a man, dying of thirst, reaching for a tall glass of salt water.

* Timothy McVeigh thinks himself a hero. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, what do we think would please him more than to have the federal government add him to the death toll?

* McVeigh considers himself a martyr. Martyrs attract their own following, their own imitators. Life in prison without parole is far less seductive than martyrdom and a much saner alternative.

* McVeigh, by becoming the first person to undergo federal execution in 37 years, will win a unique place in penal history. His execution will open the floodgates for the executions of the other 19 on death row with-him in Terre Haute. His death would lubricate the wheels of the killing machine.

* Finally, those who take to heart the biblical injunction to love our enemy find in the world's McVeighs a profound challenge. Loving the enemy includes desiring his repentance. A life in prison offers the chance of personal conversion.

Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo is president of the Brooklyn Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy. Her e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:Timothy McVeigh
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 6, 2001
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