Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Catholics and the Death Penalty

If you haven't read it already, Mark Shea's article about Sr. Helen Prejean and some of her more outrageous recent statements is here, and worth reading.

The worst thing about activists like Sister Helen is that they end up doing their cause more harm than good, especially among those of us Catholics who are inclined to view such obvious leftism and heterodoxy with suspicion.

Indeed, it was because of activists like Sister Helen that it took me years to realize that the Church wasn't all that inclined to look positively on the nuclear arms race; and it's because of people like Sister Helen that it also took me years to tease out just what a Catholic ought to be thinking about in terms of the death penalty, too.

Because, of course, the death penalty isn't intrinsically evil. Unlike abortion which is never permissible, the just exercise of the death penalty by lawful civil authorities for the purpose of punishing the guilty has always been, and will always be, morally acceptable.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT

Two things should be clear from reading the above: first, that Catholics are not required, and indeed are not able, to oppose the death penalty using the same philosophical guidelines as we do to oppose such grave evils as abortion, torture, contraception, and other intrinsic evils for the simple reason that the death penalty is not intrinsically evil; and second, that determining those circumstances where the death penalty might be appropriate is the prudential duty of lawful authority, and of a just society as well.

It is true that generally speaking our use of the death penalty in America today doesn't always appear to meet the prudential guidelines outlined in the Catechism, which I'll summarize as follows:

1. The guilt of the person must be fully determined.
2. Non-lethal means must be insufficient to protect innocent people's lives from the convicted criminal.
3. The non-lethal means must include the opportunity for redemption.

Now, I think that the first criteria is setting a higher standard than our legal notions of "beyond reasonable doubt." That standard, after all, still allows the convicted person to appeal his case. I'm not sure at what point between "beyond reasonable doubt" and catching the criminal red-handed in the process of committing the crime, with the added weight of his own guilty confession, we would find "fully determined," but that's why these are prudential decisions to be applied on a case-by-case basis. However, it can't be overlooked that the death penalty today is too often disproportionately applied not to those whose evidence of guilt is the strongest, but to those who can least afford highly-skilled criminal lawyers to defend them, which is inherently unjust.

The second criteria is the one that many strident death penalty opponents focus on. Surely, surely in America in the twenty-first century our methods of incarceration are sufficient to protect society from those who pose a danger! But as this recent story reminds us, this is not always the case. Even given high-tech security measures and well-guarded prisons, it's possible for some prisoners to pose a threat to other inmates, to guards, and to the public. I recall the news when the so-called "Texas Seven" escaped; I remember reading about the police officer killed by them on Christmas Eve. Of the seven, two were supposed to be serving life sentences; in fact, the man supposed to be the group's leader was serving eighteen life sentences for his crimes. The duty to balance the potential public threat posed by those convicted of serious crimes against the criminal's right to be treated with the intrinsic dignity owed to all human beings is an important and weighty one.

The third point may seem strange at first glance. But consider for a moment the possibility that sometime in the future it might be seriously proposed to replace the death penalty with a life sentence that includes keeping the convicted criminal on some kind of prescription medication that will rob him of his free will and consciousness, making him docile, easily controlled, and no longer a threat to the public, his fellow prisoners or guards, and so on. It seems clear that the Church wouldn't consider this an acceptable alternative to the death penalty, at least not if the medication in question made it impossible for the prisoner to remember his crimes, learn to feel remorse, and seek God's forgiveness for them.

All of this means, of course, that opposition to the death penalty from a Catholic perspective isn't at all in the same category as opposition to abortion. They are not two different sleeves on the same seamless garment; and though at root both are connected to our appreciation of the inherent worth and dignity of all human life we don't do either issue any favor when we try to conflate two such dissimilar matters. Opposing abortion is the duty of all Catholics, who should work to end it and never to support it; opposing the death penalty in general because of our desire to see criminals repentant and working for their salvation as we hope for ours, and mindful of the Church's belief that it is not inherently wrong for the state to choose to impose this penalty under certain circumstances and that we may on occasion disagree with our fellow Catholics about specific criminal cases and whether these meet the criteria outlined above from a prudential standpoint, is also a duty, but a duty of a different sort and degree.

Unfortunately for many pro-life Catholics, the constant attempt to equate abortion and the death penalty as if they were of the same moral weight, or worse, the tendency by some leftist Catholics to oppose with great vigor the death penalty while insisting that their "personal" opposition to abortion should not be imposed upon society, weakens the effect of our efforts to promote the Gospel of Life. To put it in the simplest possible terms, abortion is always wrong, while the death penalty may or may not be wrong in an individual criminal case depending on certain prudential considerations which both justice and mercy compel us to consider.

12 comments:

Paul said...

In your summary, point 2 is not quite right. The Catechism indicates that the need to protect and defend society from the aggressor is the sole reason that might make the death penalty permissible. The need for punishment is not a permissible motive.

It's apparent that modern society does indeed have the ability to protect society to the necessary degree (e.g the high-security prison in Colorado). The fact that society hasn't yet chosen to fully implement such entirely practical facilities wherever they are needed does not form any excuse for maintaining the death penalty.

Alexandra said...

Great topic and information!

That's how I understood it as well. The death penalty is for protection(rare cases), not punishment. And punishment is for medicinal purposes only; death not being one of the medicinal remedies. ;)

Red Cardigan said...

Paul, could you clarify? When I took a Life Issues class with Rita Marker she said that the only just reason for any penalty, death or otherwise, is the state's legitimate authority to punish. And the first point from the CCC, #2266, seems to back that up. I'd like to understand this better myself, so if you can offer some clarification it would be appreciated.

Patrick said...

Here's the key: Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. By definition, the disorder introduced by murder cannot be redressed. Killing the murderer does not bring the victim back. This means that using death as punishment is not medicinal. It is retribution or vengeance.

Hence, the only justification for the death penalty is to protect society from the criminal. If there are other ways to do so, we should use them.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Patrick. I think I'm beginning to see: the state has the right to punish the guilty, and the state has the right to defend. Sentencing someone to die--does that mean that while fulfilling its duty to defend the innocent the state has failed to punish? Or is the period prior to the execution the punishment?

In any case, I think it's clear that if the state can punish the guilty without needing to protect the innocent by sentencing the criminal to die, it should do so. But that's where cases like the Texas Seven get so complex: the innocent were *not* protected by someone being sentenced to *18* life sentences!

Paul said...

#2266 of the Catechism indicates the general aims of punishment. "it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party". Note the must. Since executing someone simply stops any correction, an execution fails the purpose of punishment.
If this were not clear, #2267 then turns to the specific case of the death penalty, and points out that the only reason for it is to defend human lives. Note again the "only possible". This very explicitly gives the only rationale for the death penalty -- not as a punishment, but as a defense of lives. #2267 indicates again that this purpose of defense is the only rationale when it says: "If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means." Note the: "will limit itself"
#2266 and #2267 are consistent in ruling out the death penalty as a punishment, and limit its use to those occasions when it is the only possible means of the defense of lives.
Prudential reasoning is used to determine if the death penalty is really the only means of defense in a particular case.
As a guide in applying such prudence, the Catechism then indicates that the choice of the death penalty should be "very rare, if not practically nonexistent", and hence if someone's prudence led to a different conclusion, then that prudence would need changing to be in line with what the Church says here.

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, I'm in agreement with you, and have edited the post to reflect that.

But I still think that determining when the death penalty ought to be applied is a serious problem for those in this position.

Suppose, for instance, that a criminal has assaulted children, been sent to jail, has escaped and assaulted more children, been caught and sent back to jail, has escaped again and this time compounds his rape of children by murdering several of them. If we consider the death penalty to be completely off the table, aren't we at least hypothetically risking innocent lives, given this offender's patterns of action?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that horrific violent murders compounded by such factors as the kidnapping and rape of the victim should also be "very rare, if not practically nonexistent." But they aren't, and I'm not sure how authorities can ever *know* that the prison term alone, even multiple life sentences, will really protect society. It's not about trying to get around Church teaching, but to understand it in such a way that it *doesn't* seem like the Church cares nothing for the potential future victims of these criminals--which is clearly not what the Church teaches, but it can be hard to see that.

John Thayer Jensen said...

"it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party". Note the must. Since executing someone simply stops any correction"

It is not clear to me that execution cannot contribute to the correction of the guilty party. I would say that would be true only if we believed that this life is all there is. It is a traditional view that the threat of execution (which must mean the possibility of real execution) may be the last thing that may help a person to repent - and that execution may seal that repentance once for all. I do not say this idea is not tricky of application - but I do not think it is un-Catholic or illogical.

Paul said...

Execution can no more help correction than emptying a cup adds water to it.

And while execution might help repentance, one cannot conclude that execution is therefore a good thing, since both just and unjust executions alike might help repentance.

The teaching as it stands also has the advantage that it helps the executioners: if the executed does not repent, he may go to hell, and I rather think that God will want a perfect excuse from the executioners as to why the executed was sent to judgment before more attempts at correction. If the execution takes place in order to save other lives, then that is such a good excuse. Otherwise there isn't one -- which might be unfortunate for the executioners.

Anonymous said...

The cathecism is not necessarily infallible.

It's certainly not when it contradicts previous teaching on the matter.

Rebalancing the scales of justice in the case of murder can only adequately be done through the forfeiture of the murderer's life - he having unjustly taken an innocent life has no right to live. Repentance, etc., have nothing to do with the virtue of justice one way or another.

dudleysharp said...

Pope John Paul II: His death penalty errors
by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
(contact info, below)
October 1997, with subsequent updates thru 5/07
 
SEE ADDITIONAL REFERENCES AT THE END OF THIS DOCUMENT

The new Roman Catholic position on the death penalty, introduced in 1997,  is based upon the thoughts of Pope John Paul II, whose position conflicts with reason, as well as biblical, theological and traditional Catholic teachings spanning nearly 2000 years.
 
Pope John Paul II's death penalty writings in Evangelium Vitae were flawed and their adoption into the Catechism was improper.

In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the 1992 Universal Catechism to reflect Pope John Paul II's comments within his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Therein, the Pope finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required "to defend society" and that "as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent."
 
This is, simply, not true.  Murderers, tragically, harm and murder, again, way too often.
 
Many issues, inexplicably, escaped the Pope's consideration.
 
First, in the Pope's context, "to defend society" means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives or, otherwise, prevent future harm.  
 
When looking at the history of  criminal justice practices in probations, paroles and incarcerations, we observe countless examples of when judgements and procedures failed and, because of that, murderers harmed and/or murdered, again. History details that murderers murder and otherwise harm again, time and time again -- in prison, after escape, after improper release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them. 
 
Reason dictates that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and/or murder again than are executed murderers - an obvious truism overlooked by the Pope.
 
Therefore,  the Pope could err, by calling for a reduction or end to execution, and thus harm more innocents, or he could "err" on the side of protecting more innocents by calling for an expansion of executions.
 
History, reason and the facts support an increase in executions based upon a defending society foundation. 
 
Secondly, if social science concludes that executions provide enhanced deterrence for murders, then the Pope's position should call for increased executions. 
 
If  we decide that the deterrent effect of executions does not exist and we, therefore, choose not to execute, and we are wrong, this will sacrifice more innocent lives and also give those murderers the opportunity to harm and murder again. 
 
If we choose to execute, believing in the deterrent effect, and we are wrong, we are executing our worst human rights violators and preventing such murderers from ever harming or murdering again - again, defending more innocent lives.
 
No responsible social scientist has or will say that the death penalty deters no one.  Quite a few studies, including 16 recent ones, inclusive of their defenses,  find that executions do deter. 
 
As all prospects for negative consequence deter some (there appears to be no exception),  it is a mystery why the Pope chose the option which spares murderers and sacrifices more innocent lives. 
 
If the Pope's defending society position has merit, then, again, the Church must actively support executions, as it offers an enhanced defense of society and greater protection for innocent life.
 
Thirdly, we know that some criminals don't murder because of their fear of execution.  This is known as the individual deterrent effect.  Unquestionably, the incapacitation effect (execution) and the individual deterrent effect both exist and they both defend society by protecting innocent life and offer enhanced protections over imprisonment.

Fourth, furthermore, individual deterrence assures us that general deterrence must exist, because individual deterrence could not exist without it. 

Executions defend more innocent lives. 

Fifth, actual innocents that are convicted for murders are better protected by due process in death penalty cases, than in non-death penalty cases. No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the US death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed. That is. logically, conclusive.

Again, offering more defense of innocents and, thereby, a greater defense of society.

The Pope's defending society standard should be a call for increasing executions. Instead, the Pope and other Church leadership has chosen a position that spares the lives of known murderers, resulting in more innocents put at risk and more innocents harmed and murdered --  a position which, quite clearly, contradicts the Pope's, and other's, conclusions.
 
Contrary to the Church's belief, that the Pope's opinion represents a tougher stance against the death penalty, the opposite is true. When properly evaluated, the defending society position supports more executions.
 
Had these issues been properly assessed, the Catechism would never have been amended  --  unless the Church endorses a position knowing that it would spare the lives of guilty murderers, at the cost of sacrificing more innocent victims. 
 
When the choice is  between

1) sparing murderers, resulting in more harmed and murdered innocents, who suffer through endless moments of incredible horror, with no additional time to prepare for their salvation, or
2) executing murderers, who are given many years on death row to prepare for their salvation, and saving more innocents from being murdered,

The Pope and the Catholic Church have an obligation to spare and defend more innocents, as Church tradition, the Doctors of the Church and many Saints have concluded. (see reference, below)
 
Pope John Paul II's death penalty stance was his own, personal prudential judgement and does not bind any other Catholic to share his position. Any Catholic can choose to support more executions, based upon their own prudential judgement, and remain a Catholic in good standing and they can also, thereby, defend more innocents.
 
Furthermore, prudential judgement requires a foundation of reasoned and thorough review. The Pope either improperly evaluated the risk to innocents or he did not evaluate it at all.
 
A defending society position supports more executions, not less. Therefore, his prudential judgement was in error on this important fact, thereby undermining his sole point in reducing executions.
 
Sixth, defending society is an outcome of the death penalty, but is secondary to the foundation of justice and biblical instruction.
 
Even though Romans and additional writings do reveal a "defending society" consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the proper punishment for murder, regardless of any consideration "to defend society."  Both the Noahic covenant, in Genesis 9:6 ("Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."), and the Mosaic covenant, throughout the Pentateuch (Ex.: "He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death."  Exodus 21:12), provide execution as the punishment for unjustifiable/intentional homicide, otherwise known as murder.
 
These texts, and others, offer specific rebuttal to the Pope's position that if "bloodless means" for punishment are available then such should be used, to the exclusion of execution. Pope John Paul II's prudential judgement does not trump biblical instruction.
 
Seventh, most telling is the fact that Roman Catholic tradition instructs four elements to be considered  with criminal sanction.
1.  Defense of society against the criminal.
2.  Rehabilitation of the criminal (including spiritual rehabilitation).
3.  Retribution, which is the reparation of the disorder caused by the criminal's transgression.
4.   Deterrence
 
It is a mystery why and how the Pope could have excluded three of these important elements and wrongly evaluated the fourth. In doing so, though, we can confirm that his review was incomplete and improper. 
 
At least two Saints, Paul and Dismas, faced execution and stated that it was appropriate. They were both executed.
 
The Holy Ghost decided that death was the proper punishment for two devoted, early Christians,  Ananias and his wife, Saphira,  for the crime/sin of lying. Neither was given a moment to consider their earthly punishment or to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Ghost struck them dead.
 
For those who erroneously contend that Jesus abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament, He states that He has come not "to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them."  Matthew 5:17-22.  While there is honest debate regarding the interpretation of Mosaic Law within a Christian context, there seems little dispute that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and that Genesis 9:6 deals directly with the sanctity of life issue in its support of execution.

(read "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
 
"In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000)
 
Saint Pius V reaffirms this mandate, in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), stating that executions are acts of "paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment."  ("Thou shalt not murder," sometimes improperly translated as "kill" instead of "murder").  And, not only do the teachings of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine concur, but both saints also find that such punishment actually reflects charity and mercy by preventing the wrongdoer from sinning further.  The Saints position is that execution offers undeniable defense of society as well as defense of the wrongdoer.
 
Such prevention also expresses the fact that execution is an enhanced defense of society, over and above all other punishments.
 
Eighth, the relevant question is "What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from 'paramount obedience' to God's eternal law to a civil standard reflecting 'steady improvements' . . . in the penal system?".  Such teachings hadn't changed.  The Pope's position is social and contrary to biblical,  theological and traditional teachings.
 
If Saint Pius V was correct, that executions represent "paramount obedience to the [Fifth] Commandments, then is it not disobedient to reduce or stop executions?
 
The Church's position on the use of the death penalty has been consistent from 300 AD through 1995 AD.  The Church has always supported the use of executions, based upon biblical and theological principles.
 
Until 1995, says John Grabowski, associate professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University, " . . .  Church teachings were supportive of the death penalty.  You can find example after example of Pope's, of theologians and others, who have supported the right of the state to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes and certain cases." Grabowski continues: "What he (the Pope now) says, in fact, in his encyclical, is that given the fact that we now have the ability, you know, technology and facilities to lock up someone up for the rest of their lives so they pose no future threat to society -- given that question has been answered or removed, there is no longer justification for the death penalty."  (All Things Considered, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 9/9/97.)
 
Ninth, the Pope's position is now based upon the state of the corrections system -- a position neither biblical nor theological in nature.  Furthermore, it is a position which conflicts with the history of prisons.  Long term incarceration of lawbreakers in Europe began in the 1500s.  Of course, long term incarceration of slaves had begun thousands of years before --  meaning that all were aware that criminal wrongdoers  could also be subject to bondage, if necessary - something that all historians and biblical scholars -- now and then --  were and are well aware of. 
 
Since it's inception, the Church has issued numerous pronouncements, encyclicals and previous Universal Catechisms.  Had any biblical or theological principle called for a replacement of the death penalty by life imprisonment, it would have been revealed long before 1995. 
 
Tenth, there is, finally, a disturbing reality regarding the Pope's new standard.  The Pope's defending society standard requires that the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant.  The Pope's standard finds that capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to prevent future crimes. Therefore, using the Pope's standard, the moral/biblical rational -- that capital punishment is the just or required punishment for murder -- is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder. 
 
If defending society is the new standard, the Pope has decided that the biblical standards of atonement, expiation, justice and required punishments have all, necessarily, been discarded, with regard to execution.
 
The Pope's new position establishes that capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed.  Yet, such connection had always been, until now, the Church's historical, biblically based perspective on this sanction.  Under a defending society standard, the injury suffered by the murder victim is no longer relevant to their punishment.  Executions can be justified solely upon that punishments ability to prevent future harm by the murderer.

Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a defending society standard renders justice irrelevant.  Yet, execution defends society to a degree unapproachable by any other punishment and, therefore, should have been fully supported by the Pope.
 
"Some enlightened people would like to banish all conception of retribution or desert from our theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself.  They do not see that by doing so they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?" (quote attributed to the distinguished Christian writer C. S. Lewis)
 
Again, with regard to the Pope's prudential judgement, his neglect of justice was most imprudent.
 
Some Catholic scholars, properly, have questioned the appropriateness of including prudential judgement within a Catechism. Personal opinion does not belong within a Catechism and, likely, will never be allowed, again. I do not believe it had ever been allowed before.
 
In fact, neither the Church nor the Pope would accept a defending society standard for use of the death penalty, unless the Church and the Pope believed that such punishment was just and deserved, as well.  The Church has never questioned the authority of the government to execute in "cases of extreme gravity," nor does it do so with these recent changes. 
 
Certainly, the Church and the Pope John Paul II believe that the prevention of any and all violent crimes fulfills a defending society position.  There is no doubt that executions defend society at a level higher than incarceration. Why has the Pope and many within Church leadership chosen a path that spares murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives, when they could have chosen a stronger defense of society which spares more innocents?
 
Properly, the Pope did not challenge the Catholic biblical and theological support for capital punishment.  The Pope has voiced his own, personal belief as to the appropriate application of that penalty. 
 
So why has the Pope come out against executions, when his own position -- a defense of society -- which, both rationally and factually, has a foundation supportive of more executions?
 
It is unfortunate that the Pope, along with some other leaders in the Church, have decided to, improperly, use a defending society position to speak against the death penalty.
 
The Pope's position against the death penalty condemns more innocents and neglects justice.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

These references provide a thorough rebuke of the current Roman Catholic Church teachings against the death penalty and, particularly, deconstruct the many improper pronouncements made by the US Bishops.
 
 
(1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum,
by Romano Amerio, 
a faithful Catholic Vatican insider and scholar, a professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian)  at the Council. 

Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment.
 
domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
titled "Amerio on capital punishment ", May 25, 2007 
 

(2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at
homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx
 

(3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at
www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/capital_punishment.htm
 

(4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
www.st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2003/21-4
 

(5) "MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?", KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004
www(dot)catholic.com/newsletters/kke_040302.asp
 

(6) "THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS' MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS" , KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers,, Nov. 22, 2005
www(dot)catholic.com/newsletters/kke_051122.asp


(7) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002
www(dot)firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2022


(8)  "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).


(9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at
ourworld(DOT)compuserve.com/HOMEPAGES/REMNANT/death2.htm


(10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.


(11) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty", by Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007
www(DOT)tfp.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=957
 
copyright 1997-2008 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or part, is approved with proper attribution.
 
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharp(at)aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 
 
homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx
 
www(dot)dpinfo.com
www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
joshmarquis(dot)blogspot.com/
www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_contents.htm  (Sweden)
www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

dudleysharp said...

Dead Man Walking and Sr. Prejean's Death Penalty Disinformation
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters

I. Dead Family Walking: The Bourque Family Story of Dead Man Walking , by D. D. deVinci, Goldlamp Publishing, 2006

" . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category."

"Being devout Catholics, 'the norm' would be to look to the church for support and healing. Again, this need for spiritual stability was stolen by Sister Prejean."

The book alleges whole cloth fabrications by Sister Prejean within her book "Dead Man Walking".

"On November 5, 1977, the Bourque's teenage daughter, Loretta, was found murdered in a trash pile near the city of New Iberia, Louisiana lying side by side near her boyfriend–with three well-placed bullet holes behind each head. "

www(dot)deadfamilywalking.com/

contact T.J. Edler, 337-967-0840, infogoldlamp(at)aol.com


II. The Victims of Dead Man Walking
by Michael L. Varnado, Daniel P. Smith

comment -- A very different story than that written by Sister Helen Prejean. Detective Varnado was the investigating officer in the murder of Faith Hathaway. 2003


III. Death Of Truth: Sister Prejean's new book Death Of Innocents

For some years, there has existed a consistent pattern, from death penalty opponents, to declare certain death row inmates to be actually innocent. Those claims have, consistently, been 70-83% in error. ("ALL INNOCENCE ISSUES -- THE DEATH PENALTY")

Keep that in mind with "Death of Innocents".

Readers should be very careful, as they have no way of knowing if any of the fact issues in either of the two cases, as presented by Sister Prejean, are true. Readers would have to conduct their own thorough, independent examination to make that determination. You can start here.

Four articles

(a) "FOR GOOD REASON, JOE O'DELL IS ON DEATH ROW"
scholar(DOT)lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1995/vp950728/07210224.htm

quote: "The DNA report commissioned by O'Dell and his lawyers actually corroborates O'Dell's guilt. There is a three-probe DNA match indicating that the bloodstains on O'Dell's clothing is indeed consistent with the victim Helen Schartner's DNA as well as her blood type and enzyme factors." "There is certainly no truth to O'Dell's accusation that evidence was suppressed or witnesses intimidated by the prosecution."

(b) "Sabine district attorney disputes author's claims in book"
www(DOT)shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050124/NEWS01/501240328/1060

quote: "I don't know whether she is deliberately trying to mislead the public or if she's being mislead by others. But she's wrong,"
District Atty. Burkett, dburkett(AT)cp-tel.net

(c) Book Review: "Sister Prejean's Lack of Credibility: Review of "The Death of Innocents", by Thomas M. McKenna (New Oxford Review, 12/05). http://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=1205-mckenna

"The book is moreover riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations."

"Williams had confessed to repeatedly stabbing his victim, Sonya Knippers."

"This DNA test was performed by an independent lab in Dallas, which concluded that there was a one in nearly four billion chance that the blood could have been someone's other than Williams's."

" . . . despite repeated claims that (Prejean) cares about crime victims, implies that the victim's husband was a more likely suspect but was overlooked because the authorities wanted to convict a black man."

" . . . a Federal District Court . . . stated that 'the evidence against Williams was overwhelming.' " "The same court also did "not find any evidence of racial bias specific to this case."

"(Prejean's) broad brush strokes paint individual jurors, prosecutors, and judges with the term "racist" with no facts, no evidence, and, in most cases, without so much as having spoken with the people she accuses."

"Sr. Prejean also claims that Dobie Williams was mentally retarded. But the same federal judge who thought he deserved a new sentencing hearing also upheld the finding of the state Sanity Commission report on Williams, which concluded that he had a "low-average I.Q.," and did not suffer from schizophrenia or other major affective disorders. Indeed, Williams's own expert at trial concluded that Williams's intelligence fell within the "normal" range. Prejean mentions none of these facts."

"In addition to lying to the police about how he came to have blood on his clothes, the best evidence of O'Dell's guilt was that Schartner's (the rape/murder vicitim's) blood was on his jacket. Testing showed that only three of every thousand people share the same blood characteristics as Schartner. Also, a cellmate of O'Dell's testified that O'Dell told him he killed Schartner because she would not have sex with him."

"After the trial, LifeCodes, a DNA lab that O'Dell himself praised as having "an impeccable reputation," tested the blood on O'Dell's jacket -- and found that it was a genetic match to Schartner. When the results were not to his liking, O'Dell, and of course Sr. Prejean, attacked the reliability of the lab O'Dell had earlier praised. Again, as with Williams's conviction, the federal court reviewing the case characterized the evidence against O'Dell as 'vast' and
'overwhelming.' "

Sr. Prejean again sees nefarious forces at work. Not racism this time, for O'Dell was white. Rather, she charges that the prosecutors were motivated to convict by desire for advancement and judgeships. Yet she never contacted the prosecutors to interview them or anyone who might substantiate such a charge.

"(Prejean) omits the most damning portion of (O'Dell's criminal) record: an abduction charge in Florida where O'Dell struck the victim on the head with a gun and told her that he was going to rape her. This very similar crime helped the jury conclude that O'Dell would be a future threat to society. It supports the other evidence of his guilt and thus undermines Prejean's claim of innocence."

"There is thus a moral equivalence for Prejean between the family of an innocent victim and the newfound girlfriend of a convicted rapist and murderer."

"This curious definition of "the victims" suggests that her concern for "victims" seems to be more window-dressing for her cause than true concern."

(d) Hardly The Death Of Innocents: Sister Prejean tells it like it wasn't -- Joseph O'Dell
by Anonymous, at author's request

In lionizing convicted murderer Joseph O'Dell as being an innocent man railroaded to his 1997 execution by Virginia prosecutors, Sister Helen Prejean presents a skewed summary of the case to bolster her anti-death penalty agenda. While she is a gifted speaker, she is out of her element when it comes to "telling it as it was" in these cases.

Prejean got to walk with O'Dell into the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center on July 22, 1997. However, she wasn't in Virginia Beach some 12 years earlier when he committed the crime for which he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. That is where the real demon was evident, not the sweet talking condemned con-man that she met behind bars. O'Dell was, in the words of then Virginia Beach Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Albert Alberi (case prosecutor), one of the most savage, dangerous criminals he had encountered in a two decade career.

Indeed,O'Dell had spent most of his adult life incarcerated for various crimes since the age of 13 in the mid-1950's. At the time of the Schartner murder in Virginia, O'Dell had been recently paroled from Florida where he had been serving a 99 year sentence for a 1976 Jacksonville abduction that almost ended in a murder of the female victim (had not police arrived) in the back of his car.

The circumstances of that crime were almost identical to those surrounding Schartner's murder. The victim of the Florida case even showed up in Virginia to testify at the trial. Scarcely a mention of this case is made in the Prejean book.

Briefly, let me outline some of the facts about the case: Victim Helen Schartner's blood was found on the passenger seat of Joseph O'Dell's vehicle. Tire tracks matching those on O'Dell's vehicle were found at the scene where Miss Schartner's body was found. The tire tread design on O'Dell's vehicle wheels were so unique, an expert in tire design couldn't match them in a manual of thousands of other tire treads. The seminal fluids found on the victim's body matched those of Mr. O'Dell and pubic hairs of the victim were found on the floor of his car.

The claims that O'Dell was "denied" his opportunity to present new DNA evidence on appeals were frivolous. In fact, he had every opportunity to come forward with this evidence, but his lawyers refused to reveal to the court the full findings of the tests which they had arranged to be done on a shirt with blood stains, which O'Dell's counsel claimed might show did not have the blood marks from the defendant or the victim.

Manipulative defense lawyer tactics were overlooked by Prejean in her narrative. O'Dell was far from a victim of poor counsel. As matter of fact, the city of Virginia Beach and state government gave O'Dell an estimated $100,000 for his defense team at trial. This unprecedented amount nearly bankrupted the entire indigent defense fund for the state. He had great lawyers, expert forensic investigators and every point at the trial was contested two to five times.

There was no "rush to justice" in this case.

O'Dell's alibi for the night of Schartner's murder was that he had gotten thrown out of the bar where he encountered Schartner following a brawl. However, none of the several dozen individuals supported his contention - there weren't any fights that night. Rather, several saw Miss Schartner getting into O'Dell's car on what would be her last ride.

But Prejean would want us to believe the claims of felon Joseph O'Dell.He had three trips to the United States Supreme Court and the "procedural error" which Prejean claims ultimately doomed him was the result of simple ignorance of basic appeals rules by his lawyers.

Nothing in the record ever suggested that Joseph O'Dell, two time killer and rapist, was anything but guilty of the murder of Helen Schartner.

Justice was properly served.


IV. Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty

"It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) - the Mosaic Law prescribed death - should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .” Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.

The sister’s analysis is consistent with much theological scholarship. Also, much scholarship questions the authenticity of John 8:7.

From here, the sister states that “ . . . more and more I find myself steering away from such futile discussions (of Biblical text). Instead, I try to articulate what I personally believe . . . ” The sister has never shied away from any argument, futile or otherwise, which opposed the death penalty. She has abandoned biblical text for only one reason: the text conflicts with her personal beliefs.

Sister Prejean rightly cautions: "Many people sift through the Scriptures and select truth according to their own templates." (Progressive, 1/96). Sadly, Sister Prejean appears to do much worse. The sister now uses that very same biblical text “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” as proof of Jesus’ “unequivocal” rejection of capital punishment as “revenge and unholy retribution”! (see Sister Prejean’s 12/12/96 fundraising letter on behalf of the Saga Of Shame book project for Quixote Center/Equal Justice USA)


V. Redemption and the death penalty

The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God. Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never. Truly, just as St. Aquinas stated, it was Poncelet's pending execution which may have led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation. And, for that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.

A real life example of this may be the case of Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham. During his final statement, Gentry said, "I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus." As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, "Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord." (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97). We cannot know if Gentry or the fictitious Poncelet or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation.

But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again.

"The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.


VI. On God and the death penalty

It is not uncommon for persons of faith to create a god in their own image, to give to that god their values, instead of accepting those values which are inherent to the deity. For example, death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) states, in reference to the death penalty, that "I couldn’t worship a god who is less compassionate than I am."(Progressive, 1/96). She has, thereby, established her standard of compassion as the basis for God’s being deserving of her devotion. If God’s level of compassion does not rise to the level of her own, God couldn’t receive her worship. Director Tim Robbins (Death Man Walking) follows that same path: "(I) don’t believe in that kind of (g)od (that would support capital punishment and, therefore, would be the kind of god who tortures people into their redemption)." ("Opposing The Death Penalty", AMERICA, 11/9/96, p 12). Robbins, hereby, establishes his standard for his God’s deserving of his belief. God’s standards do not seem to be relevant. His sophomoric comparison of capital punishment and torture is typical of the ignorance in this debate and such comments reflect no biblical relevancy. Perhaps they should review Matthew 5:17-22 and 15:1-9. Be cautious, for as the ancient rabbis warned, "Do not seek to be more righteous than your creator." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33)

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Detective Varnado writes: "For those who believe in the teachings of Sister Helen Prejean as her journey continues in her effort to abolish the death penalty. 'For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And, no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13 & 14' " -- From Detective Varnado's new book Soft Targets; A Women's Guide To Survival
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Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.