ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A slain Catholic priest is asking for forgiveness for his murderer. Reverend Rene Robert's body was found shot to death in Georgia in April last year. The priest had spent most of his life working with criminals, drug addicts and the homeless, and consequently wrote and signed a "Declaration of Life."
The 1995 document declares, "I request that the person found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I may have suffered."
The declaration, notarized by a lawyer, was kept in Robert's personnel file per his request.
Steven Murray kidnapped and murdered the priest in Jacksonville, Florida in April 2016. He then drove into Georgia, where police captured him; Murray eventually directed police to Fr. Robert's body. In the event that Murray is convicted of murder, prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.
Speaking on the punishment, Ashley Wright, a district attorney involved in the case, remarked, "We don't look at whether the victim is a priest, a nun, a philanthropist, a drug dealer or something else."
Wright went on to say that Robert's notarized declaration isn't legally binding, as her oath of office "actually prohibits me from making decisions based on what the community demands or rejects."
"We are not supposed to take into account the individual circumstances of the victim when we are talking about whether someone's case is worthy or not worthy of seeking the death penalty," she explained.
After an initial hearing in April, Murray showed remorse, saying, "I'm very sorry, and if anybody really loves Fr. Rene, they'll forgive me because he was a man of God, and forgiveness is forgiveness. I have mental problems, and I lost control of myself, and I apologize."
Ryan Swingle, defense attorney for Murray, commented, "It is both my personal and professional hope that his [Fr. Robert's] sincere wishes based on his faith will be honored."
He went on to say, "I think he's [Murray] expressed sincere remorse and has done so publicly, and I think that speaks for itself."
Deborah Bedard, sister of the slain priest, remarked, "I feel like that was an act of God. I'm praying for a miracle, and God's got it in His hands." Although she initially supported Murray's execution, she does not now.
Reverend John Gillespie said, "He spent almost all of his money on others and then begged for himself. I teach students: Do the things Rene did, but don't do them the way he did them."
Father Robert's example continues a tradition of Catholic saints extending mercy to those who don't deserve it.
Saint Vincent de Paul preached, "Extend your mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His Mercy from us?"
Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, said, "The saints have no hatred, no bitterness; they forgive everything, and think they deserve much more for their offenses against God."
In the Divine Mercy revelations, Jesus said to St. Faustina,
For there are three ways of performing an act of mercy: the merciful word, by forgiving and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray — that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict.