It turns out that Prejean's work was formative on a global level. She was instrumental Pope John Paul II's change of the Church's stance on capital punishment. About her letter to the Pope, she writes:
I spoke candidly about my disagreement with one part of the pope's 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("Gospel of Life"), which, while urging imprisonment instead of execution, allowed the use of the death penalty in cases of "absolute necessity." Whenever governments kill criminals, I pointed out in my letter, they always claim to act out of "necessity." I urged him to close the loophole and make Catholic opposition to government executions unequivocal.Sister Prejean is a tremendous woman. You can learn more about her on her website. In her press clips, I found an interview in Time, where she says of Bush: "Honestly, it's hard to look at [Bush's] face on television because everything he says is so untruthful. . . . I hate the way he uses religion. It's a sacrilege to me."
This was no small thing. The teaching of the Catholic Church upholding the right of the state to execute criminals "in cases of extreme gravity" had been in place for 1,600 years.
But that's precisely what the pope did: he removed from the Catholic catechism the criterion "in cases of extreme gravity." The omission changes everything, because Catholic teaching now says that no matter how grave the crime, the death penalty is not to be imposed. This cuts the moral ground out from under American politicians who advocate the death penalty for the "worst of the worst criminals."
Not growing up Catholic, my direct experience with nuns has been very limited. It's also been great. I have personally known only two nuns in my life. One was a teacher who worked with inner-city teenagers who had dropped out of school and were studying to get their high-school equivalency degrees. (We taught in the same program.) The other is a nurse in Harlem. She is a rape survivor who speaks publicly about her experience and volunteers enormous amounts of time to the cause of lessening violence against women. Both are feminists.