Bloodthirsty Prolifers

Robbie George makes a fine case for mercy for Kermit Gosnell.  Mercy, some of us recall, is for people who do not deserve it, not for people who do.  So, of course, allegedly Christian prolifers immediately toss Christ’s teaching to the winds in George’s comboxes and call for death, death, death and more death.  Lots of Orwellian language about how death equals mercy.  One contributor has written before about the glory of incinerating children in their bed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Another says, about a death penalty that would be inflicted in absolute privacy and provide no deterrent at all, “Justice needs to be done, and also seen to be done.”  Because these lovers of death are all about the sanctity of human life and the love of a God who forgives even the murder of his own Son.

A huge number of Christians don’t believe in anything like the grace and mercy of God (except for themselves and for excusable offenses and minor sins).  They believe in salvation by law, force, punishment and politics.  One of them frankly appeals to the death penalty as an exercise of raw Power.  Does Gosnell belong behind bars? Of course.  But thirsting for his blood is simple barbaric vengefulness, not justice tempered by mercy.

A lot of the “prolife” movement is simply another front for the culture of death.  The fact is, there is a strong and persistent correlation between self-identified “prolife conservative Christians” and enthusiastic support for the death penalty and torture.  This demographic doesn’t actually care what the Church teaches about its sacred cows any more than progressive dissenters do.  It just cares what the GOP teaches.   And the net contribution of the GOP over years has been minimal to the prolife cause and maximal to keeping the abortion regime in place and adding to it war and torture. God bless Robbie George for being a sign of contradiction to the spirit of our bloodthirsty age.

Update:  Ye Olde Statistician finds the perfect Chesterton passage:

“There is a limit to human charity,” said Lady Outram, trembling all over.

“There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”

“But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”

“No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”

He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

“We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”
– “The Chief Mourner of Marne,” from
The Secret of Father Brown.

  • Mike in KC, MO

    I agree with the Church’s teaching and am very much against the death penalty. But, leaving aside Church teaching (easy! Everyone calm down! Stay with me here!)…

    There are even good reasons NOT related to the Faith to NOT execute the man.

    Any man can kill. How about we show these wonton butchers of innocent children just how TRULY bankrupt their filthy worldview is and show mercy on one of the worst of their own of the kind they wouldn’t even dream of offering to those they kill with zest and vigor?

    Keep in mind that mercy does not mean patting him on the back and letting him go scot free. But screaming for blood will not wash away the gallons that have already been spilled.

  • Brian

    I got hate mail for saying something similar about Terri Schiavo’s husband.

    Revenge is not mercy.

    I am happy to let the courts handle this.

  • Tim Jones

    I don’t believe Gosnell would fair very well mixing among the general prison population. Criminals have their standards, after all. He’ll need special handling and a solitary cell.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    It could be that there are Catholics who don’t think the traditional understanding of justice went out with Vatican II, and now only applies to helping the widow, the orphan and the social outcast. That’s the impression I get when I read some of the comments.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The seamless garment is not easy to wear.

  • Andrew O’Brien

    I am also frustrated by many of these “pro lifers.” The “Right to Life” flows from our dignity as human persons, and there isn’t anything that we can do to lose our dignity. We can act in ways that are lower than our dignity, yes, but that doesn’t mean we lose it. If we arbitrarily determine that Kermit Gosnell is not worthy of life because of something that he does, then who are we to argue with people who arbitrarily determine that babies are not worthy of life because of things they cannot do?

    This is a terrible disconnect among “pro-lifers” and it needs to stop. It exposes that many are just moral elitists who are likely unprepared to deal with the consequences of a Post-Roe America which, God willing, will be hastened as a result of this case.

    But there is more. If we protect the life of Gosnell – a guilty person – than how much more will this strengthen our respect for the lives of the innocent? We have a tremendous opportunity to witness to our cause here and sadly, many “pro-lifers” are casting it aside in favor of vengeance. So sad!

  • Edward Hara

    Perhaps someone here can help me. I am confused about something regarding the death penalty, and my Calvinist background may be giving me hiccups in understanding.

    As I understand, earthly realities point to heavenly truths. Thus the marriage of one man and one woman which produces life is a type and shadow of the reality of the union in love of the Father and Son which brings forth the blessed and life-giving Holy Spirit as a Third.

    In re of this assessment, it seems to me (and again, I can be wrong here and am asking for correction if necessary) that the death penatly for certain crimes is a type and shadow of the eternal death penalty which awaits such a one who is an evil person and whose acts show his ontological state of evil. When a criminal is put to death for certain crimes, those who observe SHOULD think of the eternal death penalty known as hell.

    Therefore, it seems to me that if we plead societal mercy upon a man like Gosnell, then we are showing the idea of a God in Whom there is no justice and correspondingly, no hell to which He condemns those who are evil and unrepentant. In short, we put forth the idea that no one really deserves to go to hell and no one should pay an appropriate payment for his/her crimes.

    Now, having said that, I must say that I am very much in sympathy with the Greek Orthodox view of the afterlife which states that God indeed sends no one to hell, but rather, brings all home to Himself in His superabundant and incredible mercy. The thing is that those who are in the presence of God will find either one of two things:

    1. God is a tormenting fire, the fiery passion of his love is incompatible with their ontological state of evil, and they are tormented by His presence.

    2. God is a passionate fire which, because they repented and became like Christ in this life, warms them and blesses them forever.

    Don’t slam me with my answer. I am truly trying to understand this hard concept. Mercy calls for forgiving Gosnell, but justice orders that a penalty must be paid, just as in the afterlife.

    I will appreciate your thoughts on this. You may write to me at christosrey@verizon.net if you wish private response.

    • Lisa

      We cannot conquer evil with more evil, only with love. In the end, this will be the only love that will completely destroy evil and break that vicious cycle of hate, revenge, and unforgiveness.
      God is truly a God of mercy and he extends to us the grace of mercy for as long as we live. But at the end of our lives, His justice shall prevail and we shall be accountable to him for the choices we freely and knowingly made.
      As such, to deprive someone of the grace of mercy and a chance of repentance is wrong. We need to allow God’s grace to work in the life of all peoples and give them the chance to respond to that grace. Capital punishment takes away the opportunity for even the most hardened criminals to avail of Christ’s mercy.

      • fbridge

        Excellent post, Lisa! Well said. I am in full agreement and I am pro-Life.

    • Dustin

      My response will lack the theological depth you’ve displayed here, but I’m grateful for your reflections. I didn’t know that about the Eastern concept of the afterlife. I wish that were more known, and more accepted, than the idea of hell as a specific place.

      Now, a lot of people seem to be mistakenly thinking that mercy and forgiveness mean no punishment. I don’t know where that idea comes from. Refusing to put someone to death doesn’t mean that we’re all closet atheists. It means, as Andrew O’Brien said above, that we possess a dignity that we cannot lose and that we mustn’t violate. John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis (which I’ve not read in a long, long time, so I apologize to those who are better familiar with it if I now misrepresent it) says that, because God took upon himself a fully human nature, post-incarnational humanity has a certain share of divine dignity. But I’m restating things that Andrew said better, and which you probably already know.

      But it’s very troubling when we point to the punishments meted out by the state and treat the state as an agent of God, as if there were divine sanction for every act of state violence. As if, when the state killed, it killed in God’s name and couldn’t therefore possibly err. Nothing so befits Caesar as to deify himself. I yield to Lisa’s thoughts on foreclosing the possibility of repentence. When the state kills, it frustrates, rather than fulfills, God’s justice.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com Robert King

      As I understand, earthly realities point to heavenly truths.

      Earthly realities are real in their own right. They do not exist wholly and solely to point to heavenly realities.

      Now, the things of earth certainly do point to the things of heaven, but not as if they were mere signs. Rather, they are creatures which manifest the power and mind of their creator. Take for example a great work of art, say, a play by Shakespeare. It cannot be limited to one single “meaning” because it reflects so deep a reality. God is a far superior artist than Shakespeare, and the reality he reflects in his creation is far deeper than any human mind can comprehend. So the “meaning” of any created thing is greater than any one-to-one correspondence.

      But the first “meaning” of any created thing is the thing itself. A marriage is a real thing, a union of man and woman. Certainly it reflects the union of the Trinity in a way, and also the union of Christ and the Church, and also the union of God and creation, and also a number of more mundane things (like the matching of wine to cheese).

      So capital punishment is, first and foremost, an action of those who pass and execute judgment. It is the killing of a human being. It may reflect the permanence of God’s judgment, or the punishment of Hell, but these are not the reasons it came into being, nor are they justifications for using it when the justice of an execution is questionable. Indeed, symbolically connecting the acts of the State with the acts of God runs the risk (as Dustin points out) of encouraging hubris in the officers of the State.

  • Eileen D’A

    After following this story which is happening in my own town, and having heard details from the detective who broke up Gosnell’s house of horrors I have a difficult time extending mercy to him. But, it it not my place to administer final justice. That belongs to God. I would have him in a cold dark jail cell until he meets his Maker. Perhaps that would put the fear of God in him.

  • Marsha

    This is a disconnect I’ve notice for a while now and it greatly disturbs me. It is the same disconnect that allows certain parts of the pro-life movement to use graphic images of aborted babies without any regard for their audience – intended and unintended – and when another pro-life person disagrees with the use of graphic images one is automatically the enemy somehow. There is a deep anger here that needs a lot of prayer. Yes, we need to be righteously angry regarding the premeditated murder of unborn children, but that anger must be righteous and mixed with the same mercy God has for us not pure anger and never hatred.

  • Theodore Seeber

    He’s 76. Any just sentence he gets is going to be a Death Penalty. Personally, I’m pushing for death by sequential serving of life sentences.

  • http://cause-of-our-joy.blogspot.com Leticia Velasquez

    I agree, give Gosnell an irrevocable life sentence in which the possibility for him to repent of his crimes against humanity and become a witness to the truth. That is what is called for here.

  • Debra

    I have not so arbitrarily determined I am not worthy of life or any of the other gracious gifts I’ve been given. I dare say that none of us truly are. There is the obvious argument that human life is a sacred gift and should be held in the utmost of respect, and therefore, if we can protect society from the criminal without taking the criminal’s life, we should… But we have also seen since the advent of DNA testing that we have, in fact, on occasion made mistakes in convicting men who were innocent of the crime they are accused of. Even one being executed for a crime he hasn’t committed should be enough to rethink the whole death penalty issue.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    I’m a little confused by the understanding of “mercy” here, as it applies to capital punishment. I understand capital punishment to be wrong under these circumstances because the Catechism says it is. The only exception – where death “is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” – doesn’t apply here, as Gosnell won’t be interacting with infants in prison. So for me, not applying the death penalty isn’t a question of mercy; it’s a question of clear teaching from the Magisterium.

    I don’t think we get to say that we’re being merciful when we refrain from doing what the Church teaches us that we can’t do. So where’s the actual mercy towards Gosnell? I don’t know if I see any if we’re imprisoning him for the remainder of his days, particularly in a maximum-security state prison, which can be pretty rough, and where murderers normally go. Anyone willing to put him up in a tennis prison? No? If we’re relishing the idea of him living out his life in a cold, dark, damp cell, then maybe we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for our “mercy.”

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com Robert King

      As far as I understand it, this is correct. The reason to abolish capital punishment as a legal penalty is justice, not mercy. The death penalty should be abolished if justice is not served by it, or is better served by other forms of punishment. For myself, I think this argument holds up fairly well regarding most “developed” countries.

      However, the Sovereign – in our case, the Governor or the President – may commute a sentence or pardon a criminal. This is not an act of justice, but of mercy. It is a free gift from the Sovereign to the condemned.

  • Paulus Magnus

    Aside from (incorrectly imho) assuming the justice of long term incarceration as a penalty as proposed, there is a complete failure with such criticisms to address the actual arguments and stances of those who support capital punishment, which are mainly concerned with pointing out that the retributive aspect of punishment is a true and valid aspect which is completely ignored by those against the death penalty. Let us not forget the words of Venerable Pope Pius XII: “Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the state does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the enjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live.”

    Is it “barbaric vengefulness” to call for his death as punishment for his crimes? Hardly. It is the doctrinal teaching of the Church that such a punishment is a just punishment indeed and to criticize a willingness to utilize it as merely “barbaric vengefulness” is to appropriate upon oneself the ability to read souls and proclaim that it is out of hatred rather than justice that their blood is demanded. Whether it is pragmatic to retain the death penalty given alternative punishments and the occasional issue with whether they are truly guilty (though note that such a problem would remain no matter what penalty is applied) is another matter entirely. But I would appreciate it if you would cease to imply heresy upon the part of those who are quite well within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.

    • Mark Shea

      Not heresy. Just contempt for the Church’s actual Magisterial teaching.

      • Paulus Magnus

        The Magisterial teaching as pronounced by the Church for millennia and by innumerable bishops, popes and Doctors of the Church; that the use of the death penalty is indeed a morally legitimate penalty to impose upon someone guilty of grave crimes? I’m not seeing any contempt of that teaching by the pro-capital punishment crowd.

        • Marsha

          As our ability to imprison people for life has changed so has the teaching of the Magisterium to show us that the death penalty must be used rarely when the identity is certain and there is no other way to protect society from the offender. We cannot draw a line in the sand and refuse to accept the clarification of this teaching offered by the Magisterium of the Church as the Magisterium is a living body of the Church and continues to clarify the teachings of the Church. In this case, as long as Gosnell is not placed in a woman’s prison, society will be protected from his abhorrent killings.

          Actually, I’ve heard more than one person in the “pro-life” community cry out for a reduction in the appeals process and expediency in the use of the death penalty. When I mentioned that this would increase the likelihood of an innocent person being put to death, the person said we have to accept that a small number of innocent people will be put to death while trying at achieve justice. That is a completely unacceptable view and a travesty.

    • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

      In some Catholic circles, the answer to your questions would be ‘yes’.

    • Dustin

      I think that modernity has moved in a direction where more and more people see the concept of retribution as inherently barbaric, some ghastly shade from a time before the rule of law. A concept still rooted in the rule of power. A man in prison has been stripped of every societal privilege. He is utterly in the state’s thrall. He is a trapped insect, and the boot is hovering over him. To kill him, just because we can, just because we have the power to do so, is an enormous cruelty. Increasingly, people see the point of the justice system as the protection of public safety, the removal from society of those who threaten it, rather than a kind of collective reprisal. What further safety is gained from killing a man who longer poses any danger and will spend the rest of his life in a cell? What else is gained than some sick, primitive, tribal blood satisfaction? Why does killing become somehow magically expiatory when the state pulls the figurative trigger?

      • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

        “What else is gained than some sick, primitive, tribal blood satisfaction?”

        I’m not sure whether the smugness or the ignorance of the question is more painful.

        For those who care, the answer may be found in the writings of that sick, primitive tribe called the Catholic Church prior to 1990.

  • Marsha

    The catechism teaches us:

    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, 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 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 non-existent.”

    Merriam-Webster defines Mercy as:
    compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; also : lenient or compassionate treatment

    Thus, we are showing restraint and compassion by sentencing him to prison instead of violently taking his life especially since he is undeserving of this mercy. This is what Christianity is about.

    • Dustin

      Yes. “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ “

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Let’s ask Chesterton!

    “There is a limit to human charity,” said Lady Outram, trembling all over.

    “There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”

    “But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”

    “No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”

    He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

    “We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”
    – “The Chief Mourner of Marne,” from
    The Secret of Father Brown.

  • Rob

    Agree with the general concept here, that the death penalty should be foregone in favor of mercy. IOW, let’s apply Church teaching in this case, as in all. But the argument that giving the guy a longer life somehow equates to allowing God’s grace to break through the shell and bring him to repentance seems to me to miss the mark. In my limited experience with real suffering (admittedly, not death row), it is those moments that allow God’s grace to really shine through. Or cause me to want to give up the faith altogether. Either way, it disrupts business as usual and causes a real re-evaluation of reality.

    In other words, those who (incorrectly) favor the death penalty by no means limit the grace of God, nor deprive God of an opportunity to induce repentance.

  • Rich

    The George article is very good — thank you for posting it, Mark. After reading it, I agree with him completely.
    I did note, however, that George is much more charitable to those who disagree with his call for not killing Gosnell than you, Mark. He expects disagreement and he says right up front that he does not doubt the pro-life sincerity of those who disagree. I don’t want to even get into the nuance of the Catechism’s teachings on this , and lets note that Mr. George has won at least me over without going into legalistics. It’s about mercy.
    Sorry if I sound overly critical. I must admit I didn’t bother reading all the com boxes on the George article. I’m feeling extra-sensitive to negativity today.

    • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

      “I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnell’s, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.”

      That is one approach.

  • Paulus Magnus

    A couple of notes on mercy:
    1. In order for a pardoning, commutation, or lowered sentencing to be merciful, the original sentence must itself be acknowledged as a just one to be handed down. Otherwise you are merely acting in accord with the demands of justice.
    2. Again, for it to truly be an act of mercy, rather than an abandonment of one’s duty to justice, there must be some sign of true interior repentance.
    3. The idea that only in the industrial age are we to able to detain persons for a significant number of years is a rather rosy view of modernity. It’s more the case that only in the past two centuries have we seen the idea of years long incarceration as a just punishment.

    • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

      “2. Again, for it to truly be an act of mercy, rather than an abandonment of one’s duty to justice, there must be some sign of true interior repentance.”

      That’s not a Christian understanding of mercy, is it? Romans 5:8, and such.

    • Marsha

      Re Paulus Magnus’ points.

      1) I’m not sure how this relates to the topic. We are not talking about commuting a sentence, but that in today’s society there is no real need to use the death penalty. As such, the death penalty today is not a just penalty. The just penalty today is life in prison.

      2) This on bearing on the Catholic view of forgiveness mercy as already mentioned by Tom K.

      3) Believing we are more capable of long term incarceration in modern times is not a “rosy” view of the modern criminal justice system, but a fact. In previous times, the only ones held long term where those that were political prisoners where there was a statement to be made by holding them prisoner and/or wealthy families who had money to pay for upkeep/food and other necessities. The modern setup is unprecedented and allows long term incarceration on a level that was previously unthinkable especially for those of modest means or the poor. Additionally, modern prisons are by far cleaner and safer than prisons of past centuries with better provisions for food, healthcare, hygiene, and security and they are permanent structures. There have been extended periods when large areas did not have a permanent jail/prison to house prisoners and the cities/towns that had permanent prisons the conditions of those prisons were horrid.

      • Marsha

        Wow! I truly messed up with my editing of point 2. Let’s try again.

        Originally, I said:
        2) This on bearing on the Catholic view of forgiveness mercy as already mentioned by Tom K.

        I meant to say:
        2) This has no bearing on the Catholic view of mercy as already mentioned by Tom K.

      • Blog Goliard

        Marsha, I believe Paulus’ point was not to question the fact of the vast expansion, systematization, and industrialization of incarceration over the past couple of centuries or so, but rather its justification. You’ve responded to that point with a bare assertion that life imprisonment is the just punishment today (with an additional implication that capital punishment used to be the just punishment, until it reached its expiration date). I’m not sure that either Paulus or I have any idea what conclusions or assumptions might underlie this widely-shared conviction.

        Paulus was also, I suspect, wanting to stick up for the moral agency, and general competence and sophistication, of people in prior eras. There’s a whiff of chronological snobbery about the “well of course nowadays we’re able to house people in modern prisons so old theories and habits of punishment no longer apply” line of argument. If pre-moderns had wanted to house a vastly larger number of convicts, more systematically, for much longer periods of time, in much more congenial conditions, they could have done so. They did other things instead…not because they were compelled to on account of being pre-moderns, but because they chose those other things, and they found them fitting and just. The question is: why?

        • Marsha

          Why is life in prison more just?
          - does not risk the state killing those who are innocent
          - costs society a lot less than the death penalty

          ” If pre-moderns had wanted to house a vastly larger number of convicts, more systematically, for much longer periods of time, in much more congenial conditions, they could have done so. ”
          Prove this claim

          I disagree with the question being why. We are living in modern time, and make our judgement according what is available to us currently and life time imprisonment is currently an option thus ending the possibility of the state ever killing an innocent person (and many innocents have been killed in the name of the state). Thus, the teachings of the Church as they stand today are our guide and the current teachings of the magisterium acknowledge the role of the death penalty, but state that the need to actually use the death penalty is rare in modern times.

          • Blog Goliard

            The cost argument I’ll leave aside…it surely has little to do with the justice of the punishment.

            As for the other point–the use of any possible punishment X involves the risk that the state will impose X on those who are innocent. If X is death, then that poses the most dramatic risk (although it bears stating that while death is the ultimate finality, decades spent in prison can’t be refunded to someone wrongfully convicted either). It may even be such an extreme risk that it makes capital punishment unjust. But that doesn’t automatically make life in prison just…it might just as well be a lesser degree of injustice.

            (Also there’s a question being begged in the context of the present case, that being: “Is there any risk that Kermit Gosnell will be executed but then later found to be innocent?”)

            As for the pre-moderns, I can’t prove that those who built ancient Rome or the cathedral at Chartes or the Tower of London could have built at least minimally acceptable penitentiaries on a fairly large scale. But seeing what else these societies accomplished in their day, I’m quite confident that if they ever did find themselves sitting around thinking, “gee, we’re really troubled by subjecting so many people to capital punishment, and corporal punishment, and banishment…if only we had a way of warehousing a large number of convicts for decades at a time instead!”, they’d have come up with solutions to the problem. No, I think it’s far more plausible–especially in light of the writings they left behind–that they already had a system that they (the “they” including any number of great Christian saints and scholars) found suitable, both morally and practically.

  • Half Heathen

    But Mark, are you implying we should show mercy even to Rad Trad Holocaust deniers?

    • Mark Shea

      Of course. But not to their denialism. Come on. Hate the sin, love the sinner? Christian moral theology 101?

      • Half Heathen

        Now I know how Javert felt when he jumped.

  • Blog Goliard

    The first commenter above said: “Keep in mind that mercy does not mean patting him on the back and letting him go scot free.”

    Why not? If mercy should rule, why be stingy about it?

    In arguments over Church teaching on capital punishment–especially when the modern Catechism is invoked–the salient point seems to be the protection of society, and so it is contended that capital punishment is only licit when nothing less will stop the criminal from continuing to inflict grievous harm. (This seems a rather consequentialist, if not materialistic, focus to have; but perhaps that’s appropriate in this context.)

    So why doesn’t it follow that long-term confinement is only licit when nothing less will stop a criminal from continuing to inflict grievous harm? (Especially given the hazards, many of them potentially lethal, that a person can be exposed to in prison.) Such a penalty surely isn’t necessary in this case…just strip the man’s medical license, and order that if he’s ever caught within 1000 feet of any medical facility in future, and he’s not there purely as a patient, he’ll be locked up for the further protection of society.

    So why not, at the conclusion of the trial, sentence him to time served? Is there a fully-articulated theory of Christian and/or civil justice which can explain why life imprisonment–or imprisonment for a lesser term, or corporal punishment, or some other sanction–is necessary in this case, or are we simply navigating by instinct here in the space between execution (taken off the table because DEATH) and letting him go free (taken off the table because COME ON MAN), and further accepting long-term incarceration as the one true style of intermediate punishment simply because it’s the done thing in our day?

    Bottom line: I certainly see the difference in degree between those who are calling for the man’s execution and those who are merely calling for him to be locked away for the rest of his life…but I’m not sure I’m seeing a difference in kind.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      There’s a difference in kind: life imprisonment is a just punishment, while death is not. And if we care about Gosnell’s soul – as we should – a just imprisonment may be better for him than freedom. We’re basically sentencing him to monastic life: poverty, a significant amount of silence, and abundant time for reflection. That has to be more likely to result in conversion than allowing him to skip out.

      I also disagree that we can be confident that he won’t kill again. What measures can we use to ensure that he won’t leave the country and set up shop in a country with fewer qualms about infanticide than this one?

      However, as I explained earlier in this conversation, I agree with you that excluding all unjust punishments and opting for the harshest just punishment that remains is in no way merciful.

      • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

        “We’re basically sentencing him to monastic life”

        Sounds like you’ve never read the Rule of St. Benedict.

        • Imp the Vladaler

          What’s your point, other than to point out – as pedantically as possible – that prison life and monastic life aren’t congruent?

          • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

            “as pedantically as possible”

            Clearly you didn’t read the first draft of my comment.

            Since your premise is false, your conclusion doesn’t follow.

            • Imp the Vladaler

              No point then; just snark. Got it. When you’re ready to participate in a substantive conversation, I’ll be delighted to engage with you.

              • http://disputations.blogspot.com Tom K.

                Pointing out that your argument is unsound is not “just snark.”

      • Marsha

        Exactly! We cannot be sure that he will not kill again. He has already shown a blatant disregard for life and the laws of the land that prevent him from “snipping” the spinal cord of breathing infants so we have no reason to believe that he would respect the removal of his medical license and never practice “medicine” or kill another unborn/born baby again.

      • Blog Goliard

        “There’s a difference in kind: life imprisonment is a just punishment, while death is not.”

        If we presume that life imprisonment is just, then yes, that argument will do. But I’m trying to go deeper, and get people to examine the presumptions here. (In large part, because I’m having trouble understanding precisely what’s being presumed, according to what theory of justice. Or are we, in fact, just navigating by feel?)

        The simple fact that it’s not capital punishment does not make life imprisonment just…and it doesn’t explain why our mercy should be exhausted once we’ve refused to execute the man.

        (P.S. Of course we can’t be absolutely sure he won’t kill again…either in prison or out of it. The only way to be absolutely sure is to execute him.)

  • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

    It seems that you are in disagreement with Robbie George on the following point where he says “I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that.” You, Mark, seem to be strongly questioning the pro-life credentials of people who believe in the death penalty. Why do you think George is wrong on this point?

  • Geoff

    I think that many good and faithful Catholics misunderstand the purpose of the death penalty (or simply do not choose to look at the entirety of that purpose).

    1) that justice will be paid
    - Under God’s law we are forgiven our crimes against Him by the death of Christ on the cross in our place. And yet we still must bring that justice to completion through purgation.

    2) that the condemned may be offered a way to atone for his/her crimes
    - Through their willing surrender of their lives they can show remorse for their actions and do much to alleviate their punishment in eternity and, perhaps, console the hearts of those left alive after their crimes. (this requires their consent and confession)

    3) to serve as a deterrent for all those who may think of committing these acts in the future.
    - Having watched this punishment enacted upon someone (especially one who showed true remorse for their actions and accepted it as just) the next person contemplating these actions will hesitate to commit them.

    (also, hopefully everyone knows that the Vatican had a Chief Executioner position for hundreds of years who enacted the executions ordered by the popes. Pope Sixtus V actually said “While I live, every criminal must die” because he understood the effect having highwaymen, robbers, murderers and rapists out and about has on the general populace.)

    Having said that, I must point out that the common reason for demanding the death penalty today is not for justice, not for a just punishment for injustice performed, not to mitigate the guilt on the conscience of the guilty, but out of retribution or vengeance. We demand that others be hurt because they have hurt us. Vengeance is God’s alone. We lack the wisdom to even begin to understand the motivations of the acts performed and without understanding WHY a wrong was done to use we cannot properly judge that act and as such need to hold strictly to the proscribed punishments.

    In light of the recent events in Boston I can affirm the Churches historical and permanent teachings: we must forgive our enemies or risk our eternal soul. We must, however, ensure that justice is done. Both for those who were harmed in that heinous act and for society as a whole to be witness that when an injustice is done, the state is there to enact a just recourse. Free of vengeance and retribution but justice none-the-less.

    And as an aside, what would you prefer: a lifetime of solitary confinement interspersed with time spent in the presence of some of the most evil and violent men the world can produce, or death to go before Christ having begged his forgiveness?

    tl;dr To uphold the right and duty of the state to enact the death penalty is COMPLETELY in line with Catholic teaching, both traditional and “modern” (which is another issue). It MUST, however, be used in the proper way, with the proper motivation, and only with absolute certainty of guilt.

    Anyway, thats just how I feel about this and I know I am late to the party…

    Geoff


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