"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, January 07, 2009

RIP, Avery Dulles

I somehow missed the news that Avery Dulles has died. This interesting man, a scion of venerable WASP lineage, he became a Catholic, a jesuit priest and ultimately a cardinal.

Among other notable accomplishments, Cardinal Dulles shattered the notion that the Catholic Church is "against" the use of capital punishment. Some, even some bishops, even some cardinals, struggle with the idea that while the Church urges certain conditions upon use of the death penalty, She does not preclude its use altogether.

Cardinal Dulles rightly saw the continued assault on capital punishment by liberal Western democracies not as a sign of religious sensitivity, but rather as a sign of the increasingly materialistic, anti-supernatural philosophical stance of these post-Christian societies.

What a shame, therefore, that some otherwise orthodox Christians fall into the trap of confusing abolition of capital punishment with Christian charity.


dudleysharp said...

"Interestingly, Dulles hazarded the guess that this "internal solidification," as it plays out over the next half-century or so, might carry the church back to different positions on some matters than those taken by the popes who unleashed it. Specifically, Dulles said, his hunch was that the church may ultimately return to a "more traditional posture" on both the death penalty and the idea of a "just war."
"An unpublished interview with Avery Dulles", All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr., NCRcafe.org, Posted on Dec 19, 2008, at http://ncrcafe.org/node/2340

I think he is right, for several good reasons.

Pope John Paul II's writings on the death penalty, from Evangelium Vitae, neglected justice, reason and nearly 2000 years of bilical, threological and traditonal Church teachings.

Those writings were then put into an amended catechism.

So, I think the Cardinal is correct, at least with regard to the death penalty.

dudleysharp said...

Unfortunately, Cardinal Dulles used anti death penalty claims when he assessed the death penalty. Because of that, he made significant errors in looking at the actual implementation of the death penalty.

Rebuttal of Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. "Seven Reasons America Shouldn't Execute"

From Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info, below

Cardinal Dulles, S.J. discussed "Seven Reasons America Shouldn't Execute" in the March 24-31, 2002 issue of the National Catholic Register.

Cardinal Dulles could have, wrongly, used the same reasons to ban all imprisonment.

1. The inequitable application of the death sentence by courts and juries that are prejudiced against certain groups;

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.

It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases. Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders. This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.

Hardly. Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment. Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders. White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.

Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

The application of human justice will never be perfect. That is no reason to do away with it

2,The inability of poor and uneducated clients in many cases to obtain adequate legal counsel;

No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts. The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973. Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups? Not to my knowledge.

Ineffective assistance of counsel is reversible error.

3.The likelihood that innocent persons might be put to death, even in the absence of the two factors already mentioned;

Innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.

No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the 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.

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

A surprise? No.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.

What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.

However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.

Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

Reality paints a very different picture.

What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.

In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.

Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.

6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.

The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times, has recognized that deception.

To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 "innocents" from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their "exonerated" or "innocents" list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.

There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.

Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?


Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.

Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request

(1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
national legal correspondent for The NY Times

4. The difficulty of judging the subjective guilt of the defendant, especially in cases where the defendant is very young, mentally retarded, or psychologically impaired.

The death penalty is not imposed on the very young or the mentally retarded and psychological impairment is reviewed, pre trial, during trial and in post conviction review.

5. The tendency of executions to inflame an unhealthy appetite for revenge in society. Personal vindictiveness, according to Christian standards, is immoral;

It is improper to ban a just sanction, only because some very small percentage of the population is hateful and/or vengeful. Sadly, that is the state of some people. It would be immoral to sacrifice justice because of the immoral thoughts of a few. Specifically, the fact finders in a case, the judge or jurors are not those, directly, affected by the crime.

The death penalty is not vengeance. 75% of US citizens find the death penalty is morally correct.

6.The failure of modern democratic society to perceive the judgment of the State as embodying a transcendent order of justice;

The Cardinal's reasoning is subjective and very limited in scope. I am not sure that the Cardinal can prove his case. In fact, the "morally right" position, reflected in polling, contradicts his conclusion.

7. The urgency of manifesting respect for the value and dignity of human life at a time when assaults on innocent human life through abortion, euthanasia and violent crime are widely prevalent.

That is the opposite of the concern with the death penalty, which is based upon the value and dignity of life, just as is the value and dignity of freedom is reflected by our incarceration of criminals. A sanction is measured by the reverence we have for that which is taken away. Specifically, the death penalty is reserved for taking a guilty life because they took an innocent one.

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.

Vir Speluncae Catholicus said...

...and my main reason for being in favor of the DP -- expiation of sin.

That whole 'Faith and Works" thingee.