Friday, October 16, 2009
pastoral care of a serial killer
One of the highlights of the current visit to the US was a meeting with a prison chaplain whom I must leave unnamed.
My questions about her work led to the discovery that one of the people in her pastoral care is a convicted serial murderer. I asked many questions about him. He was a male nurse who worked in a number of hospitals and who has freely admitted to ending the lives of many people who were, in fact, already dying. Apparently he couldn't bear to witness the end-of-life suffering of patients he was caring for. For providing pastoral care, the chaplain herself has endured a great deal of harsh criticism, often from her fellow Christians, including threats of attack. (Given the crimes he committed, the man as no right to pastoral care, execution would be too good for him, etc.) At times she has needed police protection -- not that she has ever defended his actions. In fact neither has the man. Police discovered how many were people killed only because, arrested for one death in a "sting operation," he insisted on admitting in detail what he had done with other patients. He pleaded guilty and presented no defense.
Apparently some of the hospitals where he was employed suspected a nurse was in fact giving deadly doses of a heart medication but preferred not to investigate, apprehensive that any investigation would produce results that would result in suits that would cost them dearly.
The man now lives an ascetic life in permanent solitary confinement. His chaplain has helped him develop a somewhat monastic spiritual life with four major elements: the Jesus Prayer, prayer with icons, a rule of daily prayer marked by the seven times during the day when a bell is sounded in the prison, and prayer with the psalms. He is a passionate reader. (It turns out he is one of the readers of my book on praying with icons.) He has also, as a prisoner, become a kidney donor, an act which he was able -- with assistance from his chaplain, prison officials and the doctors who were involved -- to do anonymously. An astonishing story.
You might pray for the man. Let me use a pseudonym. Call him "George the Prisoner" -- God will know who he is.