Stay of Execution: Catholic Conscience and the Death Penalty

stay-of-execution-catholic-conscience-and-the-death-penalty-father-gordon-j-macrae-s

In Our Sunday Visitor, Fr Gordon MacRae refuted another priest’s defense of the death penalty in U.S. Justice. He now makes his case this week on These Stone Walls.


If, like a number of Catholics I know, you find yourself on the fence about Catholic opposition to the death penalty, then please read this to the end. The death penalty in American justice is one of those hot-button, polarizing issues I usually try to avoid on These Stone Walls, but I just waded into its murky depths. So I ask you to step into that torrent with me for a few minutes to weigh another side of this story.

Some TSW readers spotted a controversial letter of mine published in the October 27 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. The letter is controversial because it publicly challenges another priest whose open defense of the death penalty in U.S. justice was seriously flawed and incomplete (OSV Letters, October 6, 2013).

I do not know Father John Lewandowski, author of the published letter, but I just could not let the matter pass without comment. Believe me, I tried to, but it kept me awake. As I wrote in “From the Pope’s End of the World,” last week, both content and context are necessary to fully understand Pope Francis. Context should not be sacrificed to score a point.

In his argument in OSV, Father Lewandowski selectively cited a few passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to refute the U.S. Bishops’ public opposition to capital punishment. His lack of context gave an erroneous impression that, in principle in modern justice, the death penalty is sanctioned in Catholic moral teaching. The context that was missing was a final paragraph from the Catechism that firmly holds that few, if any, circumstances exist today in which the death penalty is necessary for the common good, and therefore justified.

Catholic moral teaching sanctions in theory a government’s right to take the life of an offender, but only when no other option is available to contain the aggressor and protect life. Catholic teaching does not sanction vengeance. This is a distinction emphasized by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life” 55-56, 1995), and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2267).

Blessed Pope John Paul II affirmed that capital punishment can be morally imposed only out of necessity. In his defense of life, he stated that the death penalty is seldom or never necessary to protect the lives of others in modern society. Our Sunday Visitor editors omitted parts of my letter – sometimes necessary to save space – but it lost some context. I would like to publish my entire OSV letter here, and then explain why I am also unhappy with my own argument:

“It was painful, sad, and scandalous to read a selectively worded defense of the death penalty penned by a Catholic priest in the pages of OSV (Letters, October 6). Father John Lewandowski cited only a part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to underwrite the morality of the death penalty. Had he cited just one section further, CCC 2267, OSV readers might have weighed the following:

‘[T]he traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty IF [emphasis mine] this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives…If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as they are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.’ (CCC 2267)

“Life in prison is a demonstrably sufficient means to render the death penalty beyond the scope of what the Church considers just and moral. Father Lewandowski further asks in defense of punishment by death, ‘But what about the widow and the orphan or the bereaved family?’ Since when is revenge the preferred recourse in Catholic moral teaching? Are they less bereaved by the taking of yet another life? How does vengeance mitigate such tragic sorrow?

“Just days after Father Lewandowski’s letter appeared in OSV, The Wall Street Journal (October 12/13) ran an article about a shortage of anesthetic drugs used for U.S. executions because the European Union refuses to ship them due to a conclusion that the American death penalty is barbaric.

“I have been in prison for 19 years. I am well aware that the U.S. justice system offers no assurances against wrongful convictions. The hundreds of DNA exonerations nationwide over the last decade should make any American, certainly any Catholic, wary of capital punishment as the ordinary course.” (Fr. Gordon J. MacRae, Our Sunday Visitor. Oct. 27, 2013)

THY BROTHER’S KEEPER

I am unhappy with my own argument because it, too, is incomplete. I was not always so vehemently opposed to capital punishment. It wasn’t until I experienced the American criminal justice system first hand that I learned how little regard for truth and justice the entire process has. And yet it stands out nonetheless as one of the best systems of justice in the world. I can only conclude from this that the human community is not so good at meting out justice, and the concept needs work. For this reason, Catholic positions have evolved somewhat, as have the nation’s, as have my own.

My OSV letter presented an argument that the large number of proven wrongful convictions “should make any American, certainly any Catholic, wary of capital punishment.” That is true, and it is also true that the U.S. justice system has wrongfully executed innocent men. The hundreds, perhaps thousands of wrongful convictions in America are no longer a matter of debate. They have exposed an abuse and perversion of the justice system that, from my experience, should nullify any right of the state to put its citizens to death for a crime. In an October 2011 post, “Thy Brother’s Keeper: Why Wrongful Convictions Should Matter to You,” I made this point with some clear examples.

But this is not the point I should have made in OSV. The fact of wrongful convictions should be a reason to oppose our government’s use of the death penalty, but there is another, more transcendent reason Catholics should oppose it. Sometimes even the most consciously pro-life Catholics feel lukewarm on the issue of capital punishment, vaguely holding that to be pro-life is qualified to mean “pro-INNOCENT-life.” Good sense defies applying the same pro-life principles to the taking of life from millions of innocent unborn and the taking of life from those who commit murder.

I think TSW readers know of my pro-life positions from posts such as “The Last Full Measure of Devotion: Civil Rights and the Right to Life.” I readily agree with some that opposition to capital punishment in the meting out of justice does not always fit comfortably under our pro-life umbrella.

THE SUPREME COURT AND CATHOLIC CONSCIENCE

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a state’s right to execute citizens for certain crimes. It is often argued that the death penalty should be used because the Supreme Court has allowed it to be used. The Court may be the final arbiter of law, but not of conscience, and not even of justice. Here’s a striking example described in my post, “The Last Full Measure of Devotion.”

In 1857, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Catholic, handed down a decision in the famous Dred Scott case. Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri whose “owner” took him to the State of Illinois which was a free state. Dred Scott, who had learned in secret to read and write, then sued for his freedom. In a decision upheld by a majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Taney ruled that black men are not citizens of the United States and therefore, “a black man has no rights any white man is bound to respect.”

There are few today who would argue the justice of this decision. Because the Supreme Court says something is lawful does not mean that it is morally correct, or that it serves justice. And for those who hold out little hope for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Dred Scott decision rested upon some of the same principles of law, and was eventually reversed.

Our national sense of justice has evolved since Dred Scot, and my own has evolved over the last twenty years as a prisoner of the State of New Hampshire, a state with one man currently on death row. He is a young black man, a population still four times more likely than white men to receive the death penalty for the same crime. It wasn’t until I was placed in the shoes of a prisoner that I became convinced that dealing out death must not be the purview of any democracy, and most certainly must not be the public position of any Catholic priest.

Catholics must hold out hope for conversion and redemption, concepts which transcend law. Otherwise, there IS no hope. Our concern must look beyond an eye for an eye to hold out hope for the salvation of a soul. Some fundamentalists argue that Scripture contains many examples of God’s sanctioning of capital punishment. That is true, but God Himself sanctioned the protection of the life of Cain, humankind’s first murderer, forbidding anyone to harm him as he was expelled to wander “In the Land of Nod, East of Eden.” And Saul of Tarsus, who presided over the murder by stoning of the deacon, Stephen, was chosen by God for a conversion and transformation that, as Saint Paul, built the Church.

Some defend capital punishment, arguing that it affords a moment just before execution for an offender to repent and save his soul. This reduces conversion and redemption to a momentary event instead of a process. Consider “Pornchai’s Story.” If the State of Maine, where his crime took place at age 18, had the death penalty, Pornchai and I would have never met. He would not have found God – Who was clearly intent on being found by Pornchai – and his soul would have been lost forever.

DIVINE MERCY IN TEXAS

I think most TSW readers today would gasp at the very thought that Pornchai Moontri could have long ago been put to death in many states with a death penalty. When we know the person who committed the offense, and walk a few steps in that person’s shoes, we’re not so eager to dole out death, to compound one tragedy with another.

Many TSW readers have read Felix Carroll’s inspiring book, Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions, featured on These Stone Walls. People around the world have read the book’s chapter about Pornchai’s life and conversion, and have marveled at God’s justice and Divine Mercy.

Joe WalkerBut there is another chapter in Felix Carroll’s great book that shook me in my very soul. It is the painful and compelling story of Joe Walker. On July 8, 2006, Joe returned to his Greenville, Texas home after a visit to his parish church to find a note from police summoning him to the station. Joe’s 40-year-old daughter, Sarah Anne, a mother of two, had been brutally murdered, stabbed 27 times by a young, deeply troubled Laotian immigrant.

Joe was simply devastated, but this amazing man of faith, who embraces Divine Mercy, vehemently opposed the death penalty for his daughter’s killer, 25-year-old Kosoul Chanthakoummane. As the case went to trial, a death sentence was sought by the prosecutor against Joe’s wishes, and imposed by the court.

Today, Kosoul lives on death row awaiting execution in a Texas prison while Joe Walker awaits only one thing, Divine Mercy and the turning of that young man’s soul to God. Joe has contacted Kosoul’s family, has sent them material about Divine Mercy to share with their son, and joins them in prayer for his life.

Joe Walker’s practice of Divine Mercy has convinced him that what God wants from this tragedy is not Kosoul’s life, but his soul: “To put him to death, to take another life, I don’t think our Lord would want that,” says Joe. And of the day of execution, he said, “If I am still alive, I’ll go down to the prison and make a big scene.”

I once wrote – in “Potholes on the High Road: Forgiving Those Who Trespass Against Us” – about my grueling path to forgiveness of a prosecutor who wrongly put me into prison for 67 years for a crime that never took place, and then took his own life. Joe’s story was an earth shaking challenge for me that the practice of Divine Mercy is not God’s alone, but the gift of a road map to the imitation of Christ.

Jesus once asked his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8). On that day, I hope I’m standing next to Joe Walker.

About Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005: “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.” READ MORE

Comments

  1. Dorothy R. Stein says:

    Something amazing has happened in New Hampshire since this post was written by Father MacRae. The State of New Hampshire has one man on death row, as Father MacRae pointed out. He is a young African-American man who shot and killed a Manchester police officer at 3 a.m. in an alley during a chase. John Breckinridge, the partner of that officer, was present in that alley. During the trial, Officer Breckinridge testified in favor of sentencing that offender to death. Since then, Officer Breckinridge has returned to his Catholic faith, has retired from the department, and has written a stunning article calling for abolition of the death penalty in New Hampshire, and the commutation of that offender’s sentence to life in prison. His reasoning is most humbling, it is laid out in this article: http://www.catholicnh.org/parable/inside/life-or-death/

    • Mary Jean Scudieri says:

      Thank you for posting this Dorothy! It is a wonderful testament to the power of God in our lives, even when we don’t seek it and do our best to run away from it. God bless!

  2. Juan says:

    ‘Thank you Father Gordon for your insights concerning this semi-taboo topic, more valuable when your post is written in the middle of such a still-to-be-corrected injustice against your person.

    In the web of “Equal Justice USA” ( http://www.ejusa.org ) we can find quite a few impacting and clarifying statements / testimonies such as: a) the death penalty is not efficacious in preventing crime, i.e., states without the death penalty actually have lower murder rates than those with it b) deterrence is a myth, i.e., The National Research Council reviewed more than three decades of research and found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters c) the system doesn’t really help the victims that much; and it isn’t so rare for a given victim’s relative to reject execution of the killer (Joe Walker and others) d) even with the best intentions, police officers, lab technicians, prosecutors, judges, and witnesses can make mistakes or errors in judgment; also “snitch” testimony, where a prisoner may receive reduced sentences or special favors for testifying against a defendant, does exist: Juan Roberto Meléndez, exonerated in Florida in 2002 (one of the at least 143 innocent people sentenced to die since 1973), spent 17 years, eight months and one day on death row as a result of it e) there are false confessions f) incorrect or fraudulent science exists: Forensic science is only as accurate as the human beings conducting the tests, crime lab scandals have revealed that forensic evidence can be misread, compromised, or even tainted; in one case, agents found that a police chemist testified to evidence that never even existed, the defendant, Malcolm Rent Johnson, was executed in January 2000 g) Withheld evidence: Sometimes evidence is dismissed or withheld even though it would have ruled out the primary suspect. Derrick Jamison was sentenced to die in 1985 for the murder of a bartender, prosecutors hid eyewitness descriptions that didn’t match his appearance, and several other pieces of evidence. Jamison spent 20 years on death row before he was cleared in 2005 h) racial bias still occurs i) court limitations (including, among others, faulty reasoning, legalism and irrelevant technicalities) often prevent information that would prove innocence from being heard in court j) bias and arbitrariness: individual prosecutors have broad discretion to decide when to seek the death penalty; some high-profile murderers or serial killers don’t get the death penalty because they can afford better lawyers who negotiate deals, meanwhile poor defendants are executed for robberies “gone wrong” or other murders that were not premeditated and there have even been instances of accomplices getting executed while the person who actually committed the murder got life; people who do not support the death penalty are excluded from serving on capital juries, the result being that large segments of the population cannot participate in the most serious cases k) the death penalty is very costly, in addition to its dubious morality: “ If the millions of dollars currently spent on the death penalty were spent on investigating unsolved homicides, modernizing crime labs and expanding effective violence prevention programs, our communities would be much safer” said a former Police Chief ; “ Continuing to spend millions of dollars to take a murder defendant who has already been caught and subject him to death rather than life without parole will not prevent the next murder [ Note: the situation of a killer escaping or being released just because of prison overcrowding and “apparent good conduct” does not enter in this category–see E.G. Lewis’ comment on November 20, 2013 ] ; Redirecting money to more vigorously apprehend and prosecute armed robbers, rapists, burglars, and those who commit gun crimes will prevent murders and save lives” said a District Attorney.

    Over the past decade and a half I have been corresponding with people in jail. Two of them, after years on death row, saw their death sentences removed and were also declared free persons again. Since then they have been taking part in activities geared towards abolishing the death penalty. Another one, Pablo Ibar, is currently on death row in Raiford, Florida, accused of resembling a murderer who appears on a poor quality home surveillance video. The two murderers were in that home longer than 20 minutes, yet no physical evidence left behind by them can be connected with Mr. Ibar. But “since he resembled” – and that only partially – a murderer in a technically suboptimal video, the justice system has concluded he must be guilty and, therefore, must die (see http://www.pabloibar.com/paginass/caso.htm but it is in Spanish and there is the Basque language option).

    Other people, yes, they may have committed grave wrongs but there were varied mitigating circumstances in their cases [ remember Joan Baez’ song saying something like “if not for “fortune” it would be you and I?“ ] and have reformed themselves.

    Permanent safety from unreformed aggressors as well as preventive actions (inasmuch as they are feasible) have to definitely remain societal goals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II’s comments on the death penalty, considering resorting to it an exception rather than a rule, seem more than justified. The Spirit of Truth promised by Christ was “to guide you (us) to all Truth” (Jn, 13) or to the “fullness of Truth” according to other translations, so it may well be that for centuries we have not stumbled upon a fuller truth in the justice system yet. The same can be said of slavery, far from having been totally abolished yet around the world.

    Besides, justice without mercy can easily turn into cruelty.

    God bless, Juan.

  3. Cathy L. says:

    Thank you Fr. Macrae for your good insight on the death penalty being part of the culture of death, as well as the admission that there are some among us who cannot be trusted to live outside of an institution. One of the saddest stories I ever heard was from a dear friend whose brother was schizophrenic as well as a serial rapist. He was returned to his family after time served. As much as his family loved him, they were not a mental institution with any level of expertise in dealing with this son and brother. They were vulnerable, society was vulnerable and the young man was vulnerable. He raped again, and cornered by police, shot himself in the head on TV. While I don’t support the death penalty, I also don’t support the thought that “time served” returns a man to society in a better state or even a prepared state. On learning that many of the recipients of good will in homeless shelters are ex-prisoners, with many on the sex-offender registry. I’ve heard people protest the thought of serving or giving to these shelters for this reason. They are still human beings with basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. As you have said it, if you had actually committed the crime you were accused of, you could have made a plea deal and be out by now, but to what? I guess that is the haunting question regarding time served and “freedom” and a justice system that has too much pride in gaming for convictions and too little interest in truth.
    As an aside, I am troubled to know a priest who has washed his hands of supporting the case against abortion, or speaking publicly against it, because “too many” who are opposed to abortion are not opposed, or are not equally opposed to the death penalty. I hope it’s okay to say such a response by a priest is, well, somewhat a disappointing excuse.

  4. M says:

    Father G
    You write with calm reason about this topic which I have always found difficult
    I sometimes feel the death penalty is more merciful than a long, never to be released, prison sentence yet I know I could never do the job of executing another so it seems cowardly to support an action I could not carry out myself and since God allows us to come into existence perhaps only He has the right to end our lives. It also has to be remembered that not every person found guilty is guilty Once an innocent life is taken it cannot be returned .

  5. D.R. Stein says:

    Former NH Representative, Tony Soltani, a staunchly conservative Republican has a long Op-Ed in the Sunday Concord Monitor entitled “I’m Rethinking my Support for the Death Penalty.” He makes three points that you made very well: “First, we now have a man on death row in New Hampshire. His actions hardly evoke sympathy; nevertheless, he is human, and taking a human life, in a sterile, clinical and controlled setting degrades the human family. Second, it has the undertone of challenging our Creator’s supremacy, taking what is only God’s to give and take. Lastly, hundreds of innocent persons have been proven not guilty after having been condemned to death.” Good job, Father MacRae.

  6. Tom says:

    It is hard to fathom that a Catholic priest in this day and age would pen a full-throated defense of the death penalty. With the overwhelming evidence of innocent people condemned to death rows and later exonerated, it is almost a matter of justice to oppose the death penalty. To anyone who says “the state has never executed an innocent man” I invite you to visit the closest Catholic Church and go in and gaze upon the crucifix.

    During the debate to abolish the death penalty here in Maryland, Baltimore’s then-archbishop, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, testified before the General Assembly. The following part of his testimony is, I think, most instructive on this issue:

    “I acknowledge at the outset that I am something of a late-comer to the position I espouse here today. Until relatively recently, like many I suppose, my view about capital punishment was the view of most Americans: I thought it served a purpose. If it did nothing else, I thought, it was a deterrent — the prospect of its imposition would prevent the wrongful taking of human life. But that was then.
    In 1995, the year the Holy Father visited Baltimore, Pope John Paul II published an encyclical letter he titled Evangelium Vitae, the “Gospel of Life.” In it, he called upon Roman Catholics, other people of faith, and all people of good will to respect life, God’s great gift, and to defend it at all of its stages, from conception to natural death. Woven into the fabric of that exhortation was an appeal to end capital punishment – to stand against the killing of even those who have committed murder and, in doing so, have affronted God’s dominion and denied their own and their victims’ God-given humanity. If other bloodless means of punishment is available to protect society from murderous violence, the Pope said, then these should be employed as being more in keeping with the common good. In contemporary society, he said, such means are at our disposal.
    The Holy Father’s appeal subsequently was reflected in our Church’s official Catechism, in homilies and other statements delivered during his visits to the United States, and in the teaching of Church leaders and bishops’ conferences, national and local. I had the privilege of hearing this appeal from Pope John Paul in person during his 1999 visit to St. Louis, when he declared that: “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.” This was a real moment of conversion for me, a turning point, so to speak.”

    If one were to do a thorough academic study of the basis for the church’s earlier approach to the death penalty, I think one would find that the toleration of its use was based in the right of society to protect the innocent from an unjust aggressor. in earlier times, perhaps the death penalty was the only means available to serve that end. In our modern age, it would be hard to think of a place where incarceration cannot serve this end as effectively. And traditionally, the use of force may only be moral if that use is only as much force as is necessary to protect the innocent. If incarceration can serve that end, then it can be argued that putting someone to death is excessive, or more force than is necessary, and therefore not morally justified.

    Personally, my evolution in thinking on the death penalty is much like Cardinal O’Brien’s. There was a time when I thought perhaps the death penalty served a purpose in some of the most egregious cases. However, the profound witness of Blessed John Paul II in his written and spoken word as well as my years of experience dealing with the criminal justice system, I have determined that the state should never be given the power or authority to take human life as is done in some states in their death chambers. In the end, while at our baptism we are called to “put on Christ”, we must never fall to the temptation of “playing God”. When we condemn a fellow human being to death, we do just that. We determine that their life is not worthy of continuing, and in a way we become what we condemn them for. Reflecting upon the witness of Blessed John Paul II, I believe that the Lord calls us to a better way.

    Tom

  7. Bill Crews says:

    This is the dilemma as I see it. The interpretation on the Catechism is useful if one discounts the lives of prisoners and prison staff. Murder by a prisoner is clearly not deterred by being in prison. So what do we do in this case?

    The United Nations has proclaimed that solitary confinement for periods longer than 15 days is, in fact, torture. And the political winds now blowing indicate that our current system of Super Max prisons and prolonged solitary confinement will not survive another decade.

    I also think we should also look at life without parole as a problem rather than a solution. Once a prisoner knows he can never be released what is his incentive to cooperate with the prison regimen or, at a minimum, not kill or maim others?

    So if we have a regime that sentences prisoners to long periods of incarceration and we remove the carrots of earned good time and parole while also remove the sticks of prolonged stays in solitary confinement and the death penalty, how is order to be maintained within prisons that will serve to keep prisoners and staff safe?

    • Father Gordon MacRae says:

      Once again, I apologize that I am unable to respond to all comments, but I have asked a friend to help me respond to Mr. Crews who raises some important points. I think that most people’s understanding of what takes place in prison is very much skewed by television and a sensational news media. I have been in prison for going on 20 years. Many of the people around me are serving life sentences with no possibility of parole. They are, within the prison system, the very least of the problems. In all this time, I am aware of only one lethal assault on a prisoner, and it was committed by two mean who each had less than another year to serve.People serving life cling tenaciously to the few dignities still allowed to them. They are very concerned, on a daily basis, about losing what little they have. Many of our prisons have a problem with Mass punishments, and most of the disruptions are committed by young men with very short sentences who simply do not care what long serving prisoners will lose because of their behaviors. The New York Times had a recent article covering this very thing. Disruption in prison is rarely created by “lifers” but rather by our one-size-fits-all justice system. And as I have said repeatedly, for most, prison is an expensive, bloated, social failure. I do appreciate your comment and all the comments on this post.
      With blessings to all,
      Father Gordon

  8. Pierre Matthews says:

    Dear Fr. Gordon,
    RE: Capital Punishment
    The New Testament narrates 2 specific cases:

    Case 1: (Jon. 8:3-11) judges and prosecutors were about to sentence
    an adulterous woman to the firing squad. Jesus was watching the Court
    proceedings and the judge asked Jesus for his opinion. Jesus took a large sheet of paper and silently listed crimes and other hidden felonies.
    He looked at them and said: whoever is free of guilt, let him execute
    this woman. One by one, the judges retired speechless to their chambers.
    Jesus, this master trial lawyer, turned to the accused and asked her:
    where are they? Neither do I sentence you; you are forgiven; go and
    sin no more.

    Case 2: (Lv.17:1-2) be damned by whom scandal arrives; better put a
    millstone around his neck and throw him into the sea.

    Two cases with opposite outcomes.
    Case 2 seems to be in total opposition with Jesus’s message of immense
    mercy to St. Faustina, highlighting consistently our Lord’s forgiveness.
    Fr. Gordon: please comment. Thank you.
    Pierre Matthews (via email)

    • Juan says:

      Dear Pierre, I don’t think Fr. Gordon has been able to answer you. Here is what another priest said on the conflict you observe in the Bible between opposing and condoning the death penalty: Lc 17, 1-3 can be interpreted not necessarily as Jesus saying that the one who scandalizes ought to be killed but rather that it would be better for that person losing her or his life before committing a grave sin, and He ends by saying “be on your guard” in verse 3 (although this verse is connected in some translations to the following topic on fraternal correction, in others it refers to really being careful in avoiding scandal). I hope this may be oh help to you as it was to me. God bless, Juan.

  9. D.R. Stein says:

    As a non-Catholic observer of These Stone Walls, I’m rather surprised at the number of otherwise sincere Catholics who are ready to declare Blessed John Paul II and the Catechism the Catholic Church in error on this topic. Suddenly, Pope John Paul’s “The Gospel of Life” is simply his “opinion.” I read a news ticker this week that Bishop Peter Libasci of the Manchester NH Diocese has lobbied that Legislature to repeal the state’s death penalty. There are some 160 priests in that Diocese. I can find no published support for the bishops’ position from any priest except you. I think it took a degree of courage for you to write this. Let’s hope that courage and that support of your bishop are mutual. Finally, your account of the story of Joe Walker is breathtaking. I have absolute respect and admiration for how Joe Walker’s astonishing witness gives substance to his faith at great cost to himself. This is what Pastor Bonhoeffer meant by the cost of discipleship.

  10. Kenji says:

    One comment here suggested a connection between Japan’s very low murder rate and a deterrent effect of Japan’s death penalty. There is no such connection. Japan has a low murder rate because Japanese citizens are not permitted to own guns, and we are not all ninjas. No guns = fewer murders = a rarely used death penalty.

    Kenji Sato via email

    • Kathleen Riney says:

      We have the “Right to Bear Arms” to Protect ourselves from the GOVERNMENT!!! I’ve already left my thoughts in another Post. Having seen our Prison System as a Volunteer for many years, I still believe that there are cases, as in the McDuff case, here in Texas, where the Death Penalty is the only way to protect others…Not other prisoners, but, other Helpless people outside of the walls. McDuff spent 17 yrs in Prison & was released on an Appeal to the Supreme Court. TWO WEEKS after his release, he raped, tortured, & murdered the 1st of SEVEN young women, before he was caught. I do absolutely believe that our “Justice System” is so Corrupt, that only an entirely New, Common Sense, & Humane System is needed ‘yesterday’ to replace it!! If Christians did visit those in Prison, Routinely & often, that would help some. But they don’t. We Christians need to “Fix” our own priorities before we start hacking at ‘others’…Where has the Laity been for the past 40 yrs while our Church has been taken over by evil & corruption? Sorry folks, but Texas was at the Top of the List for Grave Liturgical Offenses, & Swarms of Homosexual Networks pulling strings! The Laity was oblivious! Those of us who Dared to speak out were ignored & Shunned. Mea Culpa, even though we DID try to be heard, we failed to Pray & Fast for our Clergy!! Oh, we did pray for our priests & Bishops, but the sheer numbers of offences, failed to wake US up to the necessity of Taking to the Streets with our Prayers & Fasting!! We were too Civilised to wear Sackcloth & Ashes, & that’s what we needed! So, we ALL failed The Body of Christ. Now, we’re at a point in this Culture of Death, where only a direct intervention from God Himself will Prevail….The Real tragedy is a Soul that is Lost forever…All of our families have been contaminated..Intercession 24/7 is needed…”.Love is desperately needed, in our own families first!!” That’s what Mother Teresa taught us! She mentioned that in every single talk she gave. Pax Christi….

  11. MarcAnthony says:

    “I think most TSW readers today would gasp at the very thought that Pornchai Moontri could have long ago been put to death in many states with a death penalty.”

    No, I do not. If Pornchai is reading, please do not misunderstand me! I, first of all, don’t personally believe that your crime merited death after hearing your story and the circumstances surrounding it. And I believe your conversion is 100% genuine from what I’ve read here.

    BUT – if you truly converted and were sentenced to death, then your reaction should not have been, “I am robbed at a chance at a normal life”, but “Like the Good Thief, I recognize that I deserve to be here and I accept my punishment”.

  12. MarcAnthony says:

    Fr. McCrae, I disagree with your premise. The Church does not ONLY support the death penalty when it’s the only option. John Paul II did, and the Catechism affirms his opinion, but that would mean that for thousands of years the Church was using the incorrect logic until he corrected them. Now I know that since this isn’t dogma it is, in theory, possible that this is true, but I find this INCREDIBLY unlikely. I mean, Thomas Aquinas was in favor of the death penalty; you don’t need to agree with him, but JPII never made any sort of infallible statements contradicting him.

    Furthermore, I think taking the death penalty off the table cheapens the victim’s worth. As humans we are the only ones capable of making moral decisions. Thus, we are the only beings that merit punishment; simple logic dictates that certain crimes are worthy of the death penalty. And the Church, of course, believe in retributive justice as moral (not revenge). That is one of the premises for the doctrine of Purgatory.

    Recall the good thief Dismas in the Bible. He was good because he recognized he DESERVED his punishment. Instead of trying to claim that he was reformed and shouldn’t be killed, he recognized that his death was just. And Jesus, when he learns this, does not free him from his death sentence. He simply rewards him in the afterlife. His temporal punishment and debt to society still had to be paid.

    • MarcAnthony says:

      Recall, even, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. I don’t speak for the book, but in the musical. Valjean only escapes the law (after his conversion) when he has some duty to carry out. He always promises to return to Javert and accept his punishment, because he knows it would be just – and probably the death penalty. Justice must, of course, be tempered with mercy, but then it is called the justice system. It is designed to give fair retribution for crimes. Mercy can OCCASIONALLY be offered to the Valjeans of the world but as a gift, not something to be expected for every murderer. On the contrary, allowing every murderer to escape death themselves cheapens their worth as a human being by claiming that they don’t have the moral autonomy to commit an act that would merit such a punishment, when clearly they do.

    • JuliB says:

      I agree. This cannot be at the same level of authority. The Church has not condemned the death penalty throughout the ages, and perhaps even accepted it.

      I don’t think it should be handed out willy-nilly (my concerns with it are not religious – but rather there are issues with the practical application of the death penalty). But it should stay out on the table.

    • Juan says:

      Dear MarcAnthony : True, Jesus didn’t free Dismas from his death sentence but neither did He free himself from His own death sentence. Did Jesus mean to condone his sentence? It doesn’t seem so: in Mt 26, 45 we read “ . . . the Son of Man is to be handed over to the power of evil men” . As for John Paul II having mistakenly corrected previous long-standing doctrine supporting the “liberal” use of death penalty sentences, please read at the end of my general comment above, where I refer to reaching the fullness of Truth as a process, at times a very long one. With regards to your statement that not dealing a death sentence would cheapen a victim’s worth: in the middle of the tragedy of murder, the victim’s dignity does not depend on whether the killer is executed or not. God bless, Juan.

  13. Antoinette says:

    I think the saddest indictment, outside of abortion, on humanity is that we are capable of cutting short a person’s life purposely and possibly rob him or her of the chance of conversion! And so for me, the saddest death is not the one of a person who lived the gospel (on the contrary, that is a cause of great joy) but the death of an unrepentant soul! With what conscience can we take away the chance of heaven from anyone?

  14. Helen says:

    I have, for a long time, been on the fence on this topic, but you have convinced me that you are right. The US justice system has made so many big mistakes that it can no longer be trusted or allowed to carry out the death penalty. As to the rest, I wonder if some of these commenters even read this article. It was the clearest explanation I have read about why the Catholic Church endorses the death penalty in theory, but not in practice. I am not at all convinced by arguments that quote public opinion polls and crime rates. SInce when does the Catholic Church consult the polls before arriving at a moral truth? The argument about deterrence makes no sense. Does anyone ever stop to ask whether they are in a death penalty state before pulling the trigger? You are right, dealing out death diminishes us as a Democracy.

  15. James Hunt says:

    Father Gordon Macrae wrote:

    “When we respond to a heinous crime by taking a life, we become reduced as a society, and diminished as a democracy. ”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    It is difficult to imagine a society more reduced and diminished than the killing “corners” of Baltimore and other large cities. Day in and day out, young men cycle in and out of prison and murder or are murdered, their deaths ordered by drug lords residing both inside and outside of prison. Were the state to start executing these drug lords, the message (paradoxically) in the communities were these drug lords operate is that the lives of these young (and some not so young) men _do_ matter. (I will quickly add here that literally hundreds of millions of mostly federal dollars have been invested in these communities over the past decades to little discernible effect, so please no comments that the communities or their residents have somehow been ignored by beneficent bureaucracies.)

  16. Kathy Maxwell says:

    Dear Fr. Gordon,
    There was a time when I agreed with William Buckley’s view at one time to the effect that the death penalty was necessary, in order that the state show a respect for the value of the life of the victim(s).

    It is easy to get carried away with anger and disgust when hearing about a child’s brutal death, for example, and wish that the person who committed the heinous crime be put to death.

    However, I’ve come to believe that the deliberate taking of another life for any reason other than immediate threat to ones self or others, is wrong. That includes targeted drone killings.

    However, I’m always amazed that the very people who are adamantly opposed to the death penalty for murderers, have no problem with the murder of unborn children. Very strange.

    God bless you, Father. And Pornchai and Ralph and Michael and Skooter.
    Kathy

    • Dudley Sharp says:

      Kathy:

      Many Catholics, as others, have forgotten the foundations of traditional teachings and have accepted, instead, a brand of secular compassion, devoid of eternal considerations.

      The foundation of the 2000 years of Catholic teachings in support of the death penalty, is based in reverence for life and recognizing that man is made in the image of God, and that murdering a man is a blow against God, for which the death of the murderer is mandated.

      Saint (& Pope) Pius V, “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

      Pope Pius XII: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

  17. Media bias continues to spread the lie that it is the religious and political right that embraces the death penalty while liberal Democrats campaign against it. One need look no further than New Hampshire to challenge this bias. In 2000, the Republican Legislature in NH voted with a strong majority to repeal that state’s death penalty citing the same errors in justice that you raise in this post. New Hampshire’s liberal Democratic Governor at the time, Jeanne Shaheen, vetoed the repeal bill stating that “New Hampshire needs a death penalty.” Jean Shaheen went on to ride the 2008 Obama wave into the U.S. Senate.

    I recall that as Governor, Jean Shaheen also played a role in denying justice to Father Gordon MacRae. In 1998, former L.A. Prosecutor Marsha Clark wanted to interview Father MacRae in prison for a nationally televised program during which he had volunteered to undergo a new polygraph examination. (He had passed two before his trial.) FOX News which was hosting the show was denied admission to the prison and to Father MacRae. After an appeal to the Governor, Jean Shaheen wrote: “I will not intervene in the decision to deny media access to Gordon MacRae.” It seems to me this is not far afield from the arguments about the death penalty. For errors of justice to be corrected, they must first be admitted, and that takes courage, integrity, and true justice – all components that are lacking in the current American exercise of justice.
    Ryan A. MacDonald (via email)

    • Dudley Sharp says:

      Ryan:

      The most recent accurate poll on the death penalty had 86% death penalty support (Angus Reid, 4/2013).

      Of the many polls I have reviewed, the usually find a bump of plus 3-9% for Conservatives/Republicans and a similar drop for Liberals/Democrats.

      My guess is that NH may have much more liberal conservatives than many other jurisdictions.

  18. Jim says:

    I have always been against State Sanctioned Ritual Murder. It is unnecessary and has become just vengeance. I am totally and forever pro life.
    Jim

    • bill bannon says:

      What if the death penalty when sufficiently used prevents three to eighteen murders through deterrence that are not deterred by life sentences? If Dr. Joanna Shepherd and other economists researching this area are correct, the very new Catholic position is getting victims killed yearly. The Supreme Court stopped the death penalty from 1972 to 1976 and the murder rate went up after ’72 and went down after ’76 in death penalty states who really use it. Here’s a NY Times article on the researchers: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/us/18deter.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

      And here is Joanna Shepherd’s essay: http://www.michiganlawreview.org/assets/pdfs/104/2/Shepherd.pdf

      The catechism and John Paul II did something very curious. They commented on an area in which research is relevant but neither cited any research. A life sentence only protects you from a caught murderer but the arrest rates for murder in some Catholic countries are low…Guatemala is less than 6%. So at any given time in that country, you are not protected from 96% of murderers. Check the UN figures for homicides by country. The two largest Catholic countries, Brazil and Mexico (no executions), have murder rates above 20 per 100,000 while death penalty Japan is .4 per 100,000. Certainly there are other factors like Japan was never exploited by Spain into a rich/poor dichotomy. But that means that a Shinto country is 50 times safer for your family than the two largest Catholic countries.

      • Juan says:

        Dear Bill, Pedro Alvares Cabral made it to Brazil in the year 1500 or shortly after, incorporating it to Portugal; things remained that way until today, with the exception of the 1580-1640 period when, after the death of Portugal’s King Sebastian, Brazil was under Spanish rule. So it cannot be properly said that Spain shaped Brazil’s in any significant way as you are implying. As for violent deaths in Mexico, the majority of them occur in the Northern part and are related to drug dealing in that area and across the border with the USA; also possibly because of sexual trafficking and other mafias. In view of the facts of history, to connect Spain’s “exploitation” of those two countries with high murder rates there, seems to be far from the truth. On the other hand, to call Spain’s rule in Mexico “exploitation” seems also far from the truth: to give you just an example, Spanish law in Mexico and in other countries of Hispanic America (obviously, Brazil cannot enter here) had in those days harsher penalties for offenses against Indians than against fellow Spaniards. And citizens of those Spanish-speaking countries have Spanish as a native tongue (not as a second one) through inter-marrying and proper schooling, which cannot be said of other colonization scenarios. By the way, the rich / poor dichotomy is an age-old phenomenom, you don’t need anybody’s exploitation to have it.

        God bless, Juan.

  19. Dee Susan says:

    I think a lot of the peopel who scream for the death sentence are really afraid. It is their fear that fuels their lust for “vengence”. I think fear also fuels a lot of the racial prejudice and religious intollerance we see in our society.

    As for Divine Mercy, I recall that Jesus offers us His mercy and then tells us to show mercy to our brothers and sisters in return.
    It isn’t always easy, and I think we need to pray a lot to become the kind of people who are not afraid and who can extend mercy to others.

    • Dudley Sharp says:

      Folks support the death penalty for the same reason we support any sanction, that being a just and proportionate sanction for the crimes.

      The entire reason that criminal justice systems were created, was to take vengeance out of the equation, to replace it by law and due process, while in the process, making sure that those directly affected by the crime are not fact finders in the case.

      The death penalty is even further removed from vengeance, than any other sanctions, as it is the only sanction with super due process.

      • Juan says:

        Dear Dudley, The death penalty may indeed be proportionate to the offense, but it’s disproportionate to the defendant’s dignity as a human being. His life is not the property of any earthly authority, therefore judges should not dispose of what is not theirs. The trials that many prisoners on death row go through are anything but due process and are nothing resembling justice. While those directly affected by the crime are not fact finders as you say, the rate of false and mistaken testimonies is high. God bless, Juan.

  20. Doug Sparkes says:

    I’m with you and you perfectly underscored my thoughts before I even read, “Consider “Pornchai’s Story.” If the State of Maine, where his crime took place at age 18, had the death penalty, Pornchai and I would have never met. He would not have found God – Who was clearly intent on being found by Pornchai – and his soul would have been lost forever.” This, in turn reminds me of the Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Many would have “justifiably” called for the Gollum’s execution for all the evil he participated and took part, but in sparing his life and only in sparing his life was the ring able to be destroyed. I sometimes wonder about the vastness of God’s mercy. I wonder that if I were to take vengeance on someone … say I execute a murderer, does God then forgive the murderer? If I act as God, dishing out rationalized human justice, am I not usurping God’s plan for this executed man’s life? How can I even begin to know what God has in store for him and how can I determine infallibly the will, mind and judgment of God? (On a side note, doesn’t the question make for a proof text for God’s existence? Only humans are concerned with justice. Where does this come from?) Okay, so I am against the death penalty, but on that note I have to point out a conundrum … There is a prisoner, here in Washington, a convicted murderer. For years he’s been on good behavior and it is my understanding that he was considered to be a model prisoner. Time goes by and then one day he is left alone with a guard and he murders her. In this case, the state was not able to protect it’s citizens (the guard) from the criminal. What are we to do with such a man?

    • Father Gordon MacRae says:

      I want to thank all of these writers for some very thoughtful and incisive comments, but Mr. Sparks raised a question that I feel I must respond to so I have asked a friend to help me post this reply. The situation with the prisoner really does raise a question about what is to be done with such a man. I am in my 20th year in the New Hampshire Prison for crimes that never took place. Over these years, I have encountered many murderous and out of control prisoners. I often leave these encounters with no doubt that the man I just met should never again be trusted with freedom. The problem with the man who murders in prison is not a justification for the death penalty, but rather is a symptom of this nation’s grossly over-crowded and mismanaged prison system. The problem with managing such men is that the overworked and underpaid prison staff must be up to the task, but when their prisons are filled with men who should not even be there, how do they manage the one who must be managed?

      I see confrontive and even deadly assaults on a regular basis. Some could be prevented if the prisons were not so over crowded. I cannot help but question the fact that the United States has four percent of the world’s population but over 25% of the world’s prisoners. I cannot help but question the fact that over the last 25 years the NH state population grew 34% while its prison population grew 600% due to excessive sentences by judges who abuse their power to appease the public.

      And how could I not resent the fact that I would have left prison 18 years ago had I been guilty and willing to say so while now, for being not guilty, I am serving a prison sentence more than 30 times what the State was willing to give me. Our prison system is bloated and destroying many, many young men’s lives with its one-size-fits-all sense of justice. Perhaps if we had fewer people in prison, the murderers could be better managed and both society and justice could be served.
      With thanks and blessings to all,
      Fr. Gordon

      • Dudley Sharp says:

        The US doubled their prison population to 400,000 by 1983, from the 200,000 of 1948-1976, and then, with an additional increase from about 700,000 in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2008.

        The crime rates plummeted to 40-60 year lows (1).

        The murder rate dropped by:

        46% between 1976 (8.7 murder rate) and 2012 (4.7 murder rate)

        54% between 1980 (10.2 murder rate) and 2012

        Violent crimes rates dropped by:

        17% between 1976 (468 crime rate) and 2012 (387 crime rate)

        49% between 1991 (758 crime rate) and 2012

        Property crimes rates dropped by:

        41% between 1976 (4819 crime rate) and 2012 (2859 crime rate)

        53% between 1991 (5898 crime rate) and 2012
        ======

        1) The exception is rape, which may be due to chronic underreporting, from previous decades.

        from FBI data
        ======

        Patrick A. Langan, senior statistician at the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, calculated that tripling the prison population from 1975 to 1989 may have reduced “violent crime by 10 to 15 percent below what it would have been,” thereby preventing a “conservatively estimated 390,000 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in 1989 alone.”

        Studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 94 percent of state prisoners in 1991 had committed a violent crime or been incarcerated or on probation before. Of these prisoners, 45 percent had committed their latest crimes while free on probation or parole. When “supervised” on the streets, they inflicted at least 218,000 violent crimes, including 13,200 murders and 11,600 rapes (more than half of the rapes against children).

        both from

        “Prisons are a Bargain, by Any Measure”, John J. DiIulio, Jr., Opinion, New York Times, 1/16/1996

  21. Bonnie says:

    Thank you Father. I am now firmly on your side of the fence, instead of teetering back and forth at the top, after reading this post. God Bless you.
    Prayers continue for you, Max and all prisoners.

  22. Rick Zorro says:

    Father Gordon: Thanks for a direct and clear assessment of the capital punishment issue. It has always been and as far as I know, a moral principle, that the state can only take a life in its own defense.
    Given our situation that life imprisonment without parole is possible, it is difficult conceive how capital punishment even in the most egregious situations can be justified. If we are honest, the present practice of capital punishment is a veiled disguise for vengeance.
    Scripture makes it clear that vengeance belongs to God alone. Those who cite the Old Testament for justification fail to recognize that Christ came into our midst and we now live in New Testament times. It is the Gospel of Christ that directs and enlightens our path in this life. Can anyone really countenance Christ
    sanctioning capital punishment? I can’t! By the way, arguments for setting up a deterrence and taxpayer expense for keeping convicted murderers alive do not trump the value of one human life bought and paid for by the Son of God. When will we stop arrogating to ourselves powers we don’t have and stop playing God?

    • Dudley Sharp says:

      Rick:

      You are in error regarding Catholic teachings, the death penalty has been mandated as a just sancition by the Church for over 2000 years.

      Defense and self defense are the outcome and intent of laws, but not the reasons for them. Even the CCC stated that the primary purpose of sanction was redress and justice.

      Your assesment of the sanction is very much like that from EV and CCCin 2267, for which we have this reply:

      “The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II” .” (7)

      “The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception.”(7)

      7) “Capital Punishment and the Law”, Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome); and Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (University of Notre Dame)

  23. E G Lewis says:

    Sorry Father, but you’ll never change my mind.
    No argument will ever change these facts; A) Ted Bundy was jailed, but escaped. He went to Florida and killed 3 more women. Florida saw to it that no more women died. B)We watched a cold case show a few days ago about a sadistic killer in TX who was sentenced to live without parole. A Federal judge said they had to release prisoners because of over crowding. They decided since he’d been a model prisoner for 22 years they’d let him go. He killed three more women in horrible ways before they found and executed him.
    Some people, by their behavior, demonstrate they are not fit to live in our society. or as someone of Facebook put it a few days ago…”The idea that we’re all God’s children is nonsense. Some among us are Satan’s children. They must be found and eliminated.”
    Ideas such as this are the result of Modernism infiltrating the Church. Too many of the Bishops want to sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya.

    • James Hunt says:

      I second E.G. Lewis’s comments: in Baltimore, officials are preparing to prosecute as many as 14 corrections staff accused of aiding and abetting leaders running a murderous street gang run from within the city jail. Like many readers here, I’ve always had a deep love for John Paul the Great, but have also found his contention that “modern society” can contain this sort of evil within prison walls and prevent harm to others to be deeply flawed. I would add that Baltimore has an extraordinary number of extra-judicial executions (i.e. drive-by shootings and point blank bullet-in-the-temple murders) connected to the drug trade and a distorted sense of “honor” (c.f. “The Wire”). Would there be fewer if the state exercised its prerogative to execute those like the leaders of the gang mentioned above? There certainly were fewer when the state _did_ exercise that prerogative.

    • Father Gordon MacRae says:

      I much appreciate E.G.’s comment, and candor, and I had a good laugh at the image of a bunch of bishops sitting around singing Kumbaya. I sometimes also have the sense that many of them are a bit out of touch, but that’s just me. I have a hard time taking the worst case scenario and presenting it as the norm upon which policies for society should be written. This is exactly what happened in the clergy sex abuse crisis. The people of SNAP and VOTF got away with repeating the worst cases and holding them up as though they were the norm, and our bishops responded accordingly with the Dallas Charter. I believe it was Ryan MacDonald who wrote in an article that throwing every accused priest out of the priesthood “is a sort of ecclesiastical equivalent of lethal injection.”

      No judge should be permitted to release an offender sentenced to life without parole. That offender’s behavior in prison should have no bearing on the sentence meted out to him. Revisiting that sentence should be the steepest of slopes for someone who has committed such a heinous crime. As I wrote in response to Doug Sparks in these Comments, how could I not resent the steep slope I have to challenge my life sentence when people who have committed murder are released so haphazardly? This is not, however, a justification for the death penalty. When we respond to a heinous crime by taking a life, we become reduced as a society, and diminished as a democracy. There are insane criminals among us, and some are evil in their core, and this is why we have prisons. It is to manage them humanely and justly. But we have filled those prisons with men who should not be there for decades on end, leaving the prisons themselves entirely unmanageable. I spent much of yesterday with a 21 year old who at 19 had a relationship with a 15 year old and is now serving a 10 to 20 year prison sentence for it, thrown in among vicious rapists and murderers. His life is utterly ruined because he entered into what he thought was mutual love with someone who the law says could not consent. I fully agree that it was a crime. I cannot agree that this young man should have been thrown into prison for one to two decades from which he may never recover. Our one-size-fits-all prison system is grossly expensive failure, and a death penalty is not a valid solution to it. The world’s most enlightened nation can do better than this.

      • Dudley Sharp says:

        Father Macrae:

        You are changing the EV and CCC standard, which is “practically non existent” that criminal justice systems allow criminals to harm, again.

        Athough that EV and CCC claim is flatly and easily confirmed as false, you do a real disservice by introducing another poor standard, the “worste case scenario”, which has zero credibility within this discussion.

        Most likely, criminal justice systems allow, with their policies, that worldwide, every day, hundreds to thousands of innocents to be murdered, every day, with additonal countless innocents being violently harmed, but not murdered.

        It is not practically non existent nor is it the worst case scenarion, but a common, every day occurrence.

Comments that are courteous and on topic are most welcomed. Please note that they are held in moderation. Comments Policy

*