On A1: What would Jesus do?

nun henriette browneThis is a case where it would be easy to wax cynical. I could say something like this: If a religious leader in a "conservative" church wants to get on A1, he or she has to do is take some kind of public stand that is sure to draw applause from religious and political leaders on the left. Attacking another conservative is a sure thing. Taking an idealistic stand on an issue that many would label "liberal" is another, even if the stand is taken for theologically conservative reasons. See "green" evangelicals on A1 of the New York Times.

Part of me wants to say that's what is going on at the Baltimore Sun, with the front-page story that ran with the headline: "Nun offers mercy, but robber gets jail -- Sister's kind words prompt tears in county courtroom."

But, you know what? I don't think that's what happened in this case. This story is on A1 because its a gripping human story and it's the faith element that will put a tear in the eye of many readers. Here is the top of Jennifer McMenamin's report.

Sister Muriel Curran faced the man who shoved her to the ground and ripped away her purse three years ago. She quoted Scripture. She thanked him for the guilty plea that spared her a trial. And she asked a Baltimore County judge not to send him to prison.

"There is possibility and hope -- I believe in it, it's what I'm about -- in rehabilitation and a future," the 78-year-old nun said yesterday, explaining that she has difficulty believing in a penal system that sometimes leaves criminals worse off than before they went to prison. "I've taught too many boys in my life not to believe that growth and change can take place."

Police officers waiting for other cases listened in astonishment.

The defendant's aunt and grandmother wept openly. Even strangers sitting in the courtroom sat spellbound and dabbed at their eyes. The veteran prosecutor handling the case fought back tears and later characterized the scene as "the single most profound thing I have ever heard in a courtroom." And the convicted robber, Charles R. Dodson, 22, hung his bald and tattooed head as he tearfully offered apologies and begged for the forgiveness that the nun had already granted.

There are many other details, both painful and poignant. In the attack, Sister Curran broke five ribs and tore her rotator cuff. Her face and arm were badly bruised and a gash above her eye required stitches. She can no longer raise one arm normally and is incapable of living on her own.

The sister's plea didn't sway the court. The judge gave Dodson 10 years in prison, suspending all but 4 1/2 years and ordering him to serve three years of probation after his release.

Why did she plead for mercy?

"The Gospel," she said. "You hear that cliche -- 'What would Jesus do?' -- but if you live it, you've got to believe it." ...

Reading from a card, Sister Curran quoted a letter in the Bible from the Prophet Jeremiah: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope." Turning to face Dodson, she said, "That is my hope for you, Charles. I would like to give that to you."

She reached out to hand him the card. She then extended her arm again. And although the sheriff's deputies assigned to the county's courtrooms usually prevent anyone other than defense attorneys from touching a defendant, no one interfered as the snowy-haired nun in the navy suit and white blouse shook the hand of the tattooed man in a dirty white T-shirt who had robbed her three years earlier.

Bravo. Amen. Read it all.

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