"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Peace on Earth, But About that Good Will stuff...

Good Lord, if anyone can stand more of this... I'm not really up on this in-house Catholic- converts-turned-professional-apologists industry, but apparently Mark Shea's boss is someone named Jimmy Akin, a cowboy-hatted apologist for Catholicism who apparently is considered a guru by many in the Catholic blogosphere. Akin and Shea both earn their daily bread at a lay-run outfit called Catholic Answers. At any rate, there is much consternation among said "St. Blogs" because Akin has weighed in on the torture "debate," and concluded, like Fr. Brian Harrison and Cdl. Avery Dulles, that not all physical coercion constitutes morally prohibited "torture." Now you would think that this Akin gentleman is some type of mouthpiece of the Almighty given the quivering anticipation that some bloggers have had awaiting his utterances on the torture issue.

But alas, he's disappointed many of them, and for the sin of agreeing with a pontifical professor of theology (Harrison) and an orthodox Cardinal (Dulles) and disagreeing with Shea and those who follow his interpretation of Veritatis Splendor Akin is already being excommunicated by the combox cardinalate. As for Mark Shea, who is the high priest of torture orthodoxy and will admit of no legitimate disagreement or even of parsing out exactly what VS and the contemporary Church is proposing for our assent, he's in the most uncomfortable position of having to explain why Akin is not a torture heretic like Shea's other opponents (like myself).

But wonder of wonders, Shea now admits that "there may be, in some other world, a way to get to something that looks an awful lot like torture but is not intrinsically immoral and therefore not necessarily condemned by Veritatis Splendor." Of course, he won't concede that America would ever really act in a way that is not intrinsically immoral in concrete circumstances: Bush and his minions are still reckless, lying purveyors of death, indiscriminate mayhem, and are probably responsible for the obesity epidemic, too. Whatever.

Nevertheless: debate over: we all agree on the fundamental proposition: not all pysical coercion is immoral torture; all else concerns peripheral issues like "how much" coercion; "what circumstances" justify it; "who" may use, and like questions.

Of course, it's nothing but a tempest in a teapot and no doubt of little concern to anyone outside this feverish little blogging community, but it's a pertinent reminder of why faithful Catholics follow the Church, not personalities, and why humility before the long and venerable intellectual tradition of the Church is preferable to the loud shouting of guys who not long ago thought the Church was the whore of Babylon and who haven't taken the time to plumb the depths of her intellectual tradition of moral reasoning, but rather, in true Evangelical fashion, simply wave a proof-text in our faces and utter denouncements.

These types have no patience for the slow and careful process of actually discerning what the Church has said in the past, and how and in what way She proposes adjustments to Her teachings, and what weight is assigned to these "adjustments." It's as if the mental habits accured from being in the anti-intellectual millieu out of which many converts come has remained with them.

Akin, for his part, is to be congratulated for his serious efforts to find out exactly what the Church has said and is saying, right down to his latest contribution, an interesting study of the Latin (and hence authoritative) text of VS and how that text is not as definitive on torture as the proof-texters assume.

Most of all, he's to be congratulated for being the catalyst for Mark's grudging concession which effectively resolves the kernel of this debate.
Continuing today's Anglophile theme, Gavin, the British defense solicitor yells at the telly when there's a legal drama on. Apparently the legal dramas over there are no more accurate about actual courtroom practice than our shows, which have drawn the ire of some of some domestic blawgers.

''I'm a right-wing Tory, and proud to be a right-wing Tory''

The common sense of the majority of people lead them to support the death penalty-- they instinctively realize that certain heinous crimes call for the ultimate punishment, not because of bloodlust, but because justice calls for a congruent satisfaction in order to restore as much as possible the moral damage done by the perpetrator. They know, too, that such a penalty can be a marginal deterrent and is certainly a specific deterrent for particular dangerous criminals.

England is no different than any other country in this regard. Like in America, where the academy, the mainstream media, and the Christian leadership all conspire to thwart the oft-expressed will of the people for moderate, fair, and reliable capital punishment laws, in England this same coalition of oligarchs have impeded these common-sense laws.

Comes now Priti Patel, a 34-year old political novice, who is making a strong bid to become the first Asian female MP and who is a Conservative Party member.

She makes the following observations:

"If you had the ultimate punishment for the murder of policemen and other heinous crimes, I am sure it would act as a deterrent," she said. "We must send a clear signal to people that crime doesn't pay. The punishment must fit the crime and yes, I do support capital punishment. "For far too long the law has been on the side of the criminal. Law and order is breaking down in Britain and we must do something about it."
To put the icing on the cake, she also favors retention of the British pound against the Euro, saying "I said I would never vote for the euro because I want to see a Britain that is governed by the British for the British."

There may yet be hope for the mother country. If nothing else, restoring capital punishment might give pause to the Islamists who are striving to introduce Sharia, with its throat-slitting "honor killing" tendencies, into England and other European countries.

HT: Crime and Consequences.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reconciling the Old and the New

Even if one takes for granted that the "modified" or "updated" or "developed" position of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism (#2267) with regard to the death penalty is absolute, true, correct, and binding always and everywhere as the only moral justification for the death penalty, the death penalty in this country is still in conformity with that position. This first of two posts will examine the new position of the Church on the death penalty; in a subsequent post I will show how this new position, correctly understood, does not conflict with American capital punishment jurisprudence and practice.

To recap the new, "modified" position as summed up by Pope John Paul II in EV:
It is clear that, for these purposes [defending public order and ensuring safety] to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
And the Catechism:
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 these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Note that the famous statement that death cases should be "rare" or "non-existent" is a statement that rests on the premise that "improvements" in the penal system, or "non-lethal means" have the ability to protect the public from the offender. Now what's interesting about this observation of both EV and the Catechism is that the limitation placed on the death penalty is not a philosophical or theoretical one, but a practical one. While the Catechism refers to a non-death sentence as "more" in conformity with the dignity of the human person, it does not state that use of the death penalty is not compatible with human dignity.

The rationale in both texts for restrictive use of capital punishment is the assertion of actual social conditions as the authors believe them to be. The statement that certain unspecified "improvements" in the penal system render the death penalty largely unjustified is entirely different than a proposition such as "human dignity demands that executions be rare or non-existent." It would be a problematic and theologically difficult and delicate matter to question a presumptively magisterial assertion that there is an intrinsic component of morality rooted in the nature of man that renders the death penalty unjust. Neither text, however, makes that statement.

The strongest theoretical claim occurs when the Catechism enjoins refraining from the death penalty when it can be done without endangering society, and that this refraining is "more" in conformity with human dignity. This leaves the possibility that use of the death penalty is still "in conformity with human dignity" but only less so, when it simply the right and just course to vindicate the common good even if the offender could be otherwise rendered harmless.

Returning to the justifications posited by both texts for restricting the death penalty, what of the assertion that some characteristic of a specific existing social institution ("the penal system") renders recourse to a particular penalty more or less justified? Do the texts enjoy any special protection from error about such detailed judgments of concrete social conditions? What studies or surveys did the authors rely upon to come to the conclusions they rely upon? Are their observations to be taken as universally valid? Has the penal system of Iraq or of Afghanistan evolved or "improved" so as to mirror that of France or Italy or other Western European nations?

What if the two documents are simply wrong as a matter of social science about the perceived level of improvements rendering the chance of harm "non-existent" or "rare?" It would not seem to constitute an attack of a magisterial statement to assess the continuing validity of the sociological, not philosophical or theological claims that "improvements" have rendered the death penalty obsolete.

Interestingly, where EV affirmatively claims that these "improvements" have rendered the death penalty mostly unjustified, the Catechism uses conditional language: "if non-lethal means are sufficient...". Thus, the Catechism seems to avoid the more categorical language of EV and leaves the judgment of when or if non-lethal means should suffice to the competent authorities, i.e., the public prosecutor (and of course, ultimately the jury and the sentencing judge).

Seen in this light, perhaps the harmonizing of the prior teaching and the current one rests on an understanding that the current position is predicated in large measure upon the purely contingent social conditions of "the" penal system (of course, there is no "the" penal system; there are hundreds of individual penal systems, all possessing differing capacities to render offenders harmless), and that what is contingent may change. Indeed, contingent circumstances of social institutions are subject to myriad reasonable yet differing conclusions. While the teaching authority of the Church is absolute in Faith and Morals, in sociological questions such as the efficacy of the penal system, the contentions of the Church's representatives are subject to reasonable debate and disagreement.

The new "teaching" if it can be called that, is then, not so much the positing of a new moral position as it is a reference to concrete circumstances coupled with an observation that the death penalty should optimally only be used to protect society, not to protect the larger concept traditionally referred to as the "common good."

While the Catechism does refer to human dignity, it does so only to state that prescinding from execution is more in conformity with human dignity when public safety is secured by other means than death; it does not claim that other uses of the death penalty are not in conformity with human dignity; the negative implication of the Catechism is that the traditional use of the death penalty would simply be less in conformity with human dignity, not that it would be unjust or immoral per se.

In this light, the two positions, old and new, can be reasonably seen as not in contradiction: where the former position did not particularly emphasize under what circumstances the death penalty optimally should be used, so long as it was at least justified by the common good; the new position stresses that the highest or best use of this punishment is where public safety alone demands it, while in other situations it would be still a morally permissible but less-than-perfect option.

Needless to say, the headline-driven, case-by-case abolitionist hard-line espoused not only by Pope John Paul II, but by Cdl. Martino and numerous American and European bishops is purely dicta as lawyers would say, and detracts nothing from the actual teaching of the Church.

In sum, the principles I deduce from the forgoing as guiding Catholics (and all Christians) in when the death penalty would be justifiably used, are:
1) Recourse to the death penalty is moral generally speaking;
2) The death penaly should be avoided when "non-lethal" means can protect
society; and
3) Recourse to the death penalty even where "non-lethal" means suffice to protect society is moral, but less in conformity with human dignity and would be justified only where exceptional circumstances render it necessary and never for reasons less than those included in the traditional ends of punishment (the "common good").
The next posting will examine whether, broadly considered, the death penalty in this country conforms with these principles.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Gentleman and a Scholar?

You pay $23, 0000 to have your little darling attend UCLA. You're so proud of little Mostafa Tabatabainejad; he's now a senior and knows that to get into the campus library, he has to present a student ID. Your little dear is of Iranian descent, and even though he surely must have been asked to present his ID before, this time he refuses, because he feels he's being "profiled" because of his race.

Not surprisingly, the student volunteer working at the library asks him to leave. He refuses. A campus police officer asks him to leave and he refuses. He starts shouting about the Patriot Act and his rights and demanding that the officer take his hand off of him as he's being escorted out the door. He drops to the ground in defiance of the officer and begins yelling and asking the other students to join in his "protest."

He holds onto furniture so the officers cannot drag him away. Even when he's eventually handcuffed, he resists their efforts to drag him away. So, to try to gain his compliance, the police officers stun your baby boy with a taser device, which delivers an electric shock.

Tasers are controversial because the ACLU and other pro-criminal groups do not like them. Police like them because they safely immobilize offenders short of using more lethal methods like batons or firearms. In fact, the UCLA police won a life-saving award from the manufacturer of Taser for a situation where "officers subdued a patient who allegedly threatened staff at the campus' Neuropsychiatric Hospital with metal scissors."

Although apparently some isolated deaths have occurred after tasers have been used, most reputable studies conclude that there is an extremely low risk of death or injury from use of such devices. Of course, any physical interaction with the police could result in unintentional death or injury because police cannot know in advance what hidden ailments an offender might suffer from. (This incident, obviously coercive of Mostafa's will and upsetting to his dignity, and clearly violative of the "golden rule" may, however, constitute torture under some interpretations.)

Back to our story: recall, if you will; your little 23k darling is exercizing his right to practice civil disobedience against the Patriot Act by not producing his ID at the school library and by shouting and carrying on and resisting removal by the police. They taser him a couple of times to attempt to get him to cease resisting. Little Mostafa's friends in the university community start expressing solidarity with Mostafa by closing in on the police, yelling at them and generally coming very close to obstructing justice. Eventually the police are able literally to drag your little dear out of the library amidst the shouting and complaining of the lad's fellow scholars.

UCLA education: $23,000.

Having a stunning evening at the campus library: free.

Suing UCLA for big bucks? Priceless.

At least they're teaching them something at UCLA-- when you precipitate an incident in which you cause the police to have to give you a kick in the pants, sue.

It's the American (Civil Liberties Union) way.

The (Law) School of Hard Knocks

The secret to success at being a criminal trial dog? Not what school you attended, but whether:
[you] take [your] job seriously and try to learn new techniques every chance [you] get - [you] go to trial advocacy classes, [you] watch lawyers [you] admire on trial, [you] ask experienced lawyers for advice and [you] actually LISTEN to their advice.

This from Blonde Justice but applicable to any one aspiring to more than mediocrity. Criminal litigation is more than just the nuts and bolts of substantive law and evidence. It's knowing when to shut up, when to not ask a question, how to handle a judge who won't rule correctly, how to gauge a witness and decide if a confrontational approach or a gentle approach is better: is the witness coming off sympathetically to the jury/judge? So many lawyers do not take Blonde Justice's modest road of learning from those who know better than we; some are too arrogant to imagine they need continually to learn and hone their abilities, others are simply interested in scoring rhetorical points to advance whatever agenda they're pushing (usually not the agenda of "what's best for my client?")

For a prosecutor, this "extra-legal" training means assessing a case and determining its true "value." It means assessing the credibility and demeanor of the prosecution's witnesses. It means finding creative ways to tell citizen complainants/victims that there is no crime that is provable in court, or that what happened to them is not a felony carrying penitentiary time, but a misdemeanor that will not result in jail time.

These things are not, and cannot be, taught in law school. They are where the law intersects with common sense, discretion, and good judgment, characteristics which often elude the intellectually brilliant or the stridently ideological, but are surprisingly often found in those of modest intellect.

The legal knowledge to do this job is easily mastered; the intangibles are not.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Back to Legal Stuff

Blonde Justice has quandry. Her co-counsel in a joint trial of co-defendants is apparently incompetent. Even the lawyer's client is begging Blonde to let the trial judge know. I'm sure the trial judge probably does know, but can't realistically do much about it. The shame is, even if the state gets the conviction, the case might end up being re-tried should a reviewing court agree that the attorney's performance was ineffective. Often in such cases I try to intervene as tactfully as possible to prevent at least the grossest mistakes... but it's hard for a prosecutor to get too much into second-guessing whether an attorney is just incompetent, or actually pursuing some type of trial strategy.

One proposed (at least partial) solution for Blonde's problem would be to allow appellate defenders to raise ineffectiveness claims in conjunction with the direct appeal rather than the current method of having to exhaust the direct appeal and then institute a separate habeas action, a cumbersome, lengthy, expensive state of affairs.

Call it one-stop shopping for addressing trial errors.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pounding Tables (again)

There is certainly much invective involved for taking the position that the Church has always believed the common good to be a prime justification for the death penalty, and not simply defense of society.

Let's see... I hate John Paul II, am a fool and a bloodthirsty American opposed to Polish Euro-weenies; I'm "orgasmic" about the death penalty (yes, that on Shea's Catholic blog), etc, etc.

A few gentle reminders: I am a prosecutor. This is not a hypothetical discussion for me. When I was a state trooper, one of my friends and colleagues was gunned down. As a prosecutor, I have had to sit with the families of murder victims and witness first hand the social, moral, and personal destruction wrought by murderers. Last week, our office saw off to his reward John Schmitt, who killed a bank guard during a robbery. I have personally prosecuted capital cases. I do not sit behind a computer and simply sling my intellectual hash. I have personally seen the devestation wrought to the common good by the sin and crime of murder.

Am I "obsessed" or "orgasmic" about the issue, then? Hardly. But I believe, as a faithful Catholic, that the proportionate, careful use of the death penalty is important to vindicate the lives of victims, to exact a fitting punishment proportionate to the crime, and yes, to protect society from further harm. A few short years ago, this would have been entirely unremarkable and a simple statement of correct Catholic belief. Now it makes me a "fool" to some.

Do I document cases where the death penalty is appropriate to illustrate these principles? Do I defend the use of the death penalty when the liberal political establishment challenges it? Do I defend the right use of the death penalty when even Catholics misstate the teaching of the Church? Absolutely, on all counts. Cdl. Martino's remarks are prime examples of this. A Curial cardinal, mind you, not some rogue bishop in the hinterlands, states that the death penalty must be abolished in order for a society to be considered civilized. This is an outright falsification of Catholic teaching, even that of EV and JPII.

It bears remembering also, that even if one cannot see beyond 1978 and will accept nothing in the body of moral teaching that predates JPII, the death penalty is in fact "rarely, if ever" used. Of all the murders in this country, a scant one-tenth of one percent are punished by death sentences. Yet the ecclesiastical establishment still hyperventilates over every eminently justified execution. So rest assured, if you care nothing for the common good, don't worry. We don't execute enough murderers to vindicate it. We barely execute enough to protect society.

Yet to point this simple fact out becomes something over which one is thrown to the combox lions. The smear machine is up and running, and I am called every name in the book, and don't forget guilt by association, whereby I am supposed to have adopted every statement made by every commenter who supports my position on the death penalty. Shea, of all people, with his comboxers, should know how dubious making that connection is.

It's the old legal saw: when you have the law, pound the law, when you have the facts, pound the facts, when you have neither, pound the table.

I have not changed, the Church's perennial teaching has not changed, the natural law has not changed.

All I can hear from the other side is table-pounding.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More on Tradition and Capital Punishment

Wow. Quite alot of misunderstanding out there among the combox cardinalate. The Pope cannot simply change prior moral teachings. The folks who were disappointed at Humanae Vitae learned that. It's pretty basic.

As to the death penalty, here's a post I wrote last year, just to remind everyone that I'm not talking about my teaching, but the irreformable teaching of the Church:

Catholicism and the Death Penalty, Part One
Ken Lammers over at CrimLaw has put up a podcast wherein he argues against my position that the DP as used in Virginia is in accord with Catholic principles. For the non-religious, this issue may not be that interesting, but even to a religious non-Catholic, the principles involved should be of some interest.I propose a two-part response. First, I will show that the teaching Ken cites, while accurate as far as it goes, short-changes the perennial Catholic teaching on the DP, which is far more expansive than the one document cited by Ken. In the second part, I will argue that even accepting the narrow view currently in vogue, our DP system adequately meets the criteria proposed by the Catechism.Ken begins by reciting the pertinent sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church pertaining to the DP. Of course he acknowledges, as does the Catechism, that the Catholic position even now is not that the DP is inherently immoral or can never legitimately be used. This first point is the most important, since the catalyst of my comments here and here was Tim Kaine's claim that his opposition to the death penalty is "faith based" because of his Catholicism. So Ken's comments certainly support my position that Kaine is falsely using Catholicism as a shield for what would otherwise be just an unpopular liberal policy preference against the DP. Kaine is clearly hoping that by invoking religion, and hiding as it were behind the Pope's cassock, he will be innoculated politically against the expected public disapproval of his abolitionist stand.With that being understood, let's look at the Catholic teaching about the DP. First, it has to be noted, and Ken does not even acknowledge this, that the historic teaching of the Church is far deeper than the Catechism passages he cites. It is, in sum:

Justice demands that the offended moral order be repaired and restored by a congruent satisfaction; and therefore the duty devolves upon the leaders of the
Republic to take care that grave crimes are punished by proportionate penalties;
for otherwise the moral order is disturbed and endangered. Certainly there are crimes of such gravity committed which, in the general estimation, will only be able to be expiated by means of the death penalty; of such a kind especially is murder cruelly committed after mature deliberation; for crimes which are the greatest affront to the moral order, and encompass the greatest harm, require of their nature the greatest punishment, that is, capital punishment. And therefore this rule is established by common sense: ‘Whoso sheds the blood of man, shall by man have his blood shed.’[Gen 9:6]

I could replicate this encapsulated statement of the Church's traditional teaching by citing Scripture, by citing the Church Fathers, by citing the medieval schoolmen such as St. Thomas Aquinas, by citing Papal writings and standard theology manuals (and I have such a compendium of these sources at hand), all of which strongly concur with the exemplary passage just cited.

It cannot be denied that the Church has consistently through the ages taught that use of the DP is justified not simply under a "self-defense" or utilitarian view, but rather it is seen in the traditional thinking as deeply rooted in a vindication of the sanctity of life and in the requirements of justice. The Catechism of the Council of Trent puts it this way:

The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things for man’s sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with God’s image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God Himself. That is, since God is the creator of life, and human life is his most precious creation, the violation of that life by a murder is seen as akin to an attack on God Himself.
This underlying view of the evil of murder is what informs the teaching that justice requires congruent satisfaction for this crime, a satisfaction that the Church has always taught includes the use of the DP, regardless of whether it is necessary to defend society from the further harm posed by the culprit.

Thus, the first interesting thing to note is that up until the pontificate of John Paul II, the teaching on the DP was that it was NOT restricted solely to cases where it was necessary for society's physical self defense. The traditional teaching is predicated upon consideration of what is just with respect to punishment. The new teaching is strictly utilitarian, holding that we should only execute when it's the only way to defend against a criminal who might re-offend. Moreover, it is by no means clear that the new teaching, couched in utilitarian language, should be read to overrule the traditional teaching. As a perennial teaching touching on a matter of morals, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Church’s traditional teaching on the death penalty belongs to the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. It is a teaching to which the following statement of the Fathers of Vatican I applies:

[T]he Church would lose its immutability and dignity and it would cease being a
life-giving society and a necessary means of salvation if it could wander from the safe path of truth in matters of faith and morals, and if, in preaching and explaining these matters, it could deceive or be deceived.
In other words, if the Church had been so wrong about the rightness of the DP, it would have failed in its Divinely constituted mission to lead men to heaven. Such a state of affairs is impossible, so the conclusion follows that the traditional teaching must belong to the infallible set of truths constituting the Ordinary Magisterium or body of fundamental Church teachings. This conclusion is not just mine, it is shared by other commentators (e.g., Rev. Thomas Williams, L.C., “Capital Punishment and the Just Society” in Catholic Dossier, Vol. 4, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1998). Even those who think it is not an infallible teaching acknowledge the weight and longevity of this teaching. (see, E. Christian Brugger’s recent book, “Capital Punishment: Roman Catholic Moral Tradition.”).

So much for Part One. The Church's teaching on the death penalty, then, is much broader than a reading of one source (the latest Catechism) or two (Evangelium Vitae) would suggest.

See also here for more on this and additional references laying out the traditional teaching.

In sum, yes, of course, protection of the community is ONE justification advanced by the Church for use of the death penalty. I never maintained otherwise. John Paul II's innovation is to reduce the teaching to that one justification only and to ignore the other, more substantial justifications offered by the magisterium.

Why did he see fit to ignore the "sanctity of life" and "rendering justice" rationales (without, note, expressly rejecting them)? Is it so unreasonable to assume that it is precisely because he wished to reduce the opportunity for recourse to the death penalty?

His own interventions in specific capital cases during his life, and the continued political agitation by high Curial officials like Cdl. Martino, certainly lead to a reasonable conclusion that the European churchmen who dominate the decision-making on such issues, have been imbued with the anti-death penalty mindset which is fashionable among contemporary liberal European secular society.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Vatican: "Saddam is the Real Victim"

So the powers that be in the Vatican don't think Saddam Hussein should be hanged. His lengthy trial and sentence are an "unjustifiably vindictive reaction", according to Cardinal Renato Martino , who also expressed disappointment that Iraq has "not yet made the civilised choice of abolishing the death penalty."

Remember, now, they're going to bat for a guy who was sentenced to hang for committing crimes against humanity by ordering the deaths of 148 Shi'ites from a northern Baghdad village, after a 1982 assassination attempt against him. But Cardinal Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that "punishing a crime with another crime - which is what killing for vindication is - would mean that we are still at the point of demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

This is a perfect example of how the Church's teaching on the death penalty has become distorted beyond recognition. The short story is that the Church always viewed the death penalty not in terms of societal self-defense (the premise of the "modified" teaching of John Paul II and the modern Catechism) but upon the twin principles that the sacredness of life is best vindicated by following the Divine command to punish murder by having the murderer forfeit his own life ("For whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed for in the image of God made He man") , and by the observation that "justice demands that the offended moral order be repaired and restored by a congruent satisfaction."

John Paul II and the authors of the recent Catechism understood that this teaching was of such antinquity, of such weight, and so universal that it could not be simply wished away. Thus they only modified the rationale offered for the legitimacy of the death penalty, from a moral vindication of the sacredness of life and the requirements of justice, to a mere "defense of society" rationale. This neat trick allows them to conclude that if there is no self-defense issue in a particular case (i.e., the prisoner can be effectively "neutralized" through incarceration), there is no rationale for execution. Et viola! Practically no executions are permitted under this line of reasoning.

Never mind that this is not the traditional teaching of the Church: the end for these innovators (fewer executions) apparently justifies the means (distorting and misstating the traditional teaching of the Church about the death penalty).

Needless to say, there are plenty of people, like Papa Shea, who don't care about this highjacking of tradition, and behave as if the pope is infallible in his every act and utterance. In fact, a pope's primary function is simply to guard the deposit of Faith and hand it down intact to his successor, not to refashion whatever in that Deposit he (or the zeitgeist) doesn't personally care for.

The reaction to Hussein's sentence shows these people for what they are: radicals who really favor outright abolition but could not accomplish that "officially" so they must voice their opposition in every case where someone is sentenced to death. To my knowledge, there has not been a case in the last 20 years in which the Vatican has pronounced that a sentence of death was justified; the examples are legion of pronouncements about how so-and-so should not be executed because the death penalty should be abolished and civilized counries have already done so.

So Rome "officially" allows that the death penalty is permissible, but in practice acts as if it never possibly could be, even in the limited circumstances laid out in their "modified" teachings: it must be abolished entirely in a civilized nation.

Bizzarely, under this morally bankrupt teaching, Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein avoid death because we can squirrel them away for life in some prison, while your garden-variety sociopath convicted murderer who vows to kill his guards or escape confinement could actually be executed as an ongoing threat to society.

Mission Accomplished

So the Dems take over by winning some very, very close races (like the 1/2 of 1 percent margin in the Virginia Senatorial race).

One fella worked hard to suppress the conservative Catholic vote, hoping to voice his displeasure with the evil torture-meister George Bush... and now the gutless wonder who advocated seeing no evil, hearing no evil, speaking no evil, Mark Shea, has the gall to say, hey, I had nothing to do with it!

By the way, lest anyone doubt the repercussions, the Supremes are considering whether to allow states to outlaw partial birth abortion. A swing vote of only one Justice is likely the margin between success and failure. What type of Justice will the Dems be likely to confirm?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mixed Signals

Well the world financial markets certainly know that the dems in charge is not good news (Wall Street also knows what's coming down the pike). And in my own little corner of the world, George Allen looks likely to go down to down by half a percentage point to noted bawdy author Jim Webb.

The satisfying news is that the voters of Virginia have defied the pollsters, who said the issue was much closer, and overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage and barring so-called civil unions.

Certainly Virginians have sent a mixed message: Webb, a legitimate Vietnam combat hero, has bent over and become an absolute tool of the dem party line: abortion rights, tax the hell out of the most productive elements of society, homosexual "rights," to include civil unions/marriage, and turning tail to let the jihadis take Iraq.

Friday, November 03, 2006


A man convicted of murdering a 5-year old boy and trying to kill the boy's mother pulls his time and now has murdered a 16-year old girl.

I suspect the death penalty is a general deterrent, at least marginally.

Applied to this killer, it indisputably would have deterred the death of this child.

HT: Crime and Consequences.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Plea for Help

Strange Justice

It takes some real chutzpah for a law professor of all people to suggest that so-called "procedural injustice" can be winked at so long as "substantive justice" is done.

When a judge goes behind the back of the prosecutor and cuts a leniency deal with a defense attorney to reduce an already-imposed sentence on a child sex offender (46 year old man with three counts of sodomizing a 7 year old girl), and specifically asks the attorney not to inform the prosecutor, that's not some trivial "procedural injustice;" it's judicial misconduct and should result in the judge's removal and suspension of her law license. (She violated this provision of the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct).

What would be the reaction if the shoe were on the other foot? Imagine a judge in an ex parte conversation assuring the prosecutor in a case that the judge will impose a sentence that the prosecutor wants. Would the defense bar and the legal academy applaud the judge for obtaining real justice despite her disregard of "mere" procedures like public trial and representation of all parties in a case?

The problem is the assumption that 1) procedural justice is a concept only to be applied in favor of the defendant, not the state; and 2) that cutting an otherwise lawful sentence is in fact, "substantive justice." One could easily argue that someone who sexually assaulted a seven year old girl deserves every minute of his original 30 year sentence, and that it was truly an injustice to reduce secretly that sentence by 10 years without so much as a phone call to the prosecutor.

That's not justice, that's moral cowardice.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Hate Crime by any Other Name

Defense attorney: Oppose homosexuality, and you deserve to die. But hey, killing a Christian because she tried to convince you of the immorality of your lifestyle is not a hate crime. Those are reserved for only the "correct" types of victims; Christians need not apply.