Josef Fritzl left a lot of human wreckage in his wake: the daughter he imprisoned and raped for 24 years, the seven children he fathered with her and the wife whose life he shattered. Yet, for an atrocity that has stunned the world, he may wind up serving just 15 years in prison if charged, tried and convicted.
Practically speaking, that may translate into a life sentence for Fritzl, 73. But his case has revived a debate over Europe's lenient penal system — and whether harsher, U.S.-style sentencing guidelines might help deter such heinous crimes.
"Fifteen years for destroying human lives is unacceptable," said Harald Vilimsky, a public safety policy official with Austria's conservative Freedom Party. "Any punishment that falls a single day short of a life sentence is a mockery of the victims."
Many Europeans abhor the death penalty, and capital punishment is illegal across the 27-nation EU. But in many countries, even convicted murderers handed life sentences seldom serve more than 25 years.
Sweden has life imprisonment for murder, but the sentencing guidelines go as low as 10 years. That applies — in theory at least — even to serial killers.
In Germany, convicted rapists are punished with sentences of six months to five years. Serial cases, and those involving weapons or death threats, can fetch up to 10 years in prison — but also as little as 12 months.
Poland's maximum for rape is 15 years, and that would apply even for sexual assaults repeatedly carried out over two dozen years as alleged in the Austrian case. The standard time served? Two to 12 years.
"It's rare that anyone serves the full sentence in Europe," said James Whitman, a professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale. "It's expected that people are let out early."
Now in light of these observations, I am left scratching my head in wonderment at the new-found squeamishness of my Church to support the death penalty.You may know that the Roman Catholic Church "officially" allows that the death penalty is permissible in extremely limited circumstances which in practice Church spokesmen never will admit exist. The whole new "rarely, if ever" teaching states that the death penalty is legitimate in principle, but if
non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means.
And what are these non lethal means? The next paragraph explains:
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 definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself -- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an abolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."Now in light of the facts recited in this AP article, and elsewhere, it is plain that according to the Church's own updated, new and improved "rarely if ever" posture, the Church should be all for capital punishment, especially in Europe, where there really is no life without parole, and where in fact murderers are routinely paroled in Italy after 10 years!
At least in the U.S., we make pretense of imposing life sentences without parole in many if not most murder cases-- and even that does not "render one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm"-- but in Europe, where even serial murders are not punished by true life imprisonment, the state does not render offenders harmless at all.
However, I won't hold my breath for the Church to sanction the death penalty, since after all, this whole issue is not about doctrine or moral teaching (the Church cannot alter these, which is why, much as they want to suggest or imply it, they can't come out and declare the DP intrinsically evil); the current "teaching" is nothing more than an attempt to "baptize" the dominant social and political bias of European Churchmen against capital punishment.