Next week, in Catholic Weekly, I will be starting a series on the Death Penalty

Here is Exhibit A on why:

Man Executed in Arkansas Last Night Chose Communion for His Last Meal

How was justice achieved against this guilty-as-sin fake penitent who richly deserved death?:

[Ledell] Lee insisted upon his innocence from the day of his arrest through the night of his execution. He implored Arkansas to let him take a DNA test and compare the results to DNA collected at the scene of the murder he allegedly committed, but the state refused. Lee also presented evidence that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel and that the presiding judge lacked neutrality: At the time, the judge was having an undisclosed affair with the assistant prosecutor. (They later married.)

Exhibit B is here:

Arkansas Fights to Execute Two Men Without Testing DNA Evidence that Could Exonerate Them

Why? Arkansas is in a huge hurry to kill as many death row prisoners as they can because (I am not making this up) the chemical they use to kill them is reaching its expiration date and they want to use it up rather than let all that money go to waste. Thrift!

They were going to have a bonanza on death during Holy Week with eight executions (because what better way to remember the most famous act of capital punishment in history?). But then some stupid judges blocked the executions and the Good Christians of Arkansas were denied their human sacrifices.

But the struggle to kill goes on. And so, yesterday, in the perfect illustration of the absurdity of the Christian pro-death penalty position, our brand new super duper prolife hero on the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, was presented with a classic case. A murderer who has repented his sins and who asked only for communion (and whose guilt is in serious question). His super duper prolife choice? Kill him! Yet another triumph of the witness of the Christian anti-abortion-but-not-prolife movement.

Throughout the history of the Church, what was often prescribed for such people (assuming they were even guilty) was not (contrary to popular opinion) death, but penance (often lasting years). But in Christian America, where we now run the largest gulag on the entire planet, massively weighted toward minorities, we are more enlightened. The dialogue, in brief, goes like this:

“Repent and live!”

“I’m innocent! Test my DNA!”

“No! And if you were really repentent, you’d stop saying you are innocent! So we’re going to kill you! So repent and live!”

“I repent!”

“DIE! In Jesus Name!”

The excuse for this barbarism is “retributive justice”. But as the story of Arkansas’ eagerness to kill men who may, in fact, be innocent makes clear, the real goal is often retribution, not justice.

One of the excuses for the death penalty is the old saw that “nothing so wonderfully concentrates the mind as the prospect of a hanging“.

According to this brutal calculus, threatening people with death is a powerful inducement to repentance. If they are guilty, they may yet have a shot at heaven. (If they are innocent, apparently, the formula is “kill all, God will know his own!”) And, likewise, according to this formula, repentance makes absolutely no difference to the Javert tasked with killing the newly minted saint. Bastard had it coming. Man was made for the law, not the law for man. So what Jesus *should* have done with the woman taken in adultery was receive her confession of repentance and than bash her brains out with a rock.

Sure, even Ezekiel, living in the Iron Age, could figure out that was idiotic:

Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live. (Eze 18:31–32).

But we dissenting American conservative Catholics, along with the enlightened regimes of China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and sundry other Islamic despotisms are way smarter than Holy Church. We know the death penalty is necessary and if we have to kill a certain percentage of innocents to make sure that penitents are slaughtered and our thirst for the blood of the truly guilty is slaked, all the better. Why else did Jesus die than to make sure that guilty sinners got what was coming to them? Better the innocent should die than the guilty escape! That’s the message of the American system of justice (and of Catholic defenders of this grotesque judicial slaughter) this Easter season.

What is often overlooked in the death penalty debates by righteous Christians eager to kill is not merely what the death penalty does to the victims, but what it does to the executioners.

Lacking the sports gene, I had never heard of Aaron Hernandez until the other day, when somebody sent me some evil meme on Facebook making fun of his suicide and full of comments of cruel people joking about it. My instant response was to unfriend this person seeking exile from civilization because my mama taught me you don’t make fun of suicide and similar tragedies. The message of the meme and the memester was very clear: bastard got what was coming to him. Let us sing and dance on this guy’s grave. Partay!

That’s why every appeal to Catholic defenses of the death penalty and “retributive justice” as an excuse for blowing off the Church’s call to abolish the death penalty is ultimately rubbish. People who talk about the “justice” of the death penalty and try to sell you a load of bushwah about how supporters of it are all as cool as cucumbers and motivated purely by Vulcan Justice and are never vengeful, bloodthirsty monsters devoid of human feeling always overlook the thousands upon thousands of people who send around memes likes this or wave frying pans or fill comboxes to bursting with cruel glee.

They overlook centuries of public executions as municipal sport and entertainments. They overlook the arena. They pretend that human nature has changed. They overlook the incredible cruelty of which the mob is capable right now, today. They overlook the reality that if would take almost nothing to turn public execution into a lucrative sport on pay-per-view which would certainly turn a huge profit with millions of Americans. They pretend that public executions would be met with the sobriety of Solon and not with “Away with him! Crucify!” regardless of whether or not the victim is even guilty (as Arkansas is making clear).

In short, they overlook what the death penalty does, not merely to the victim, but to the souls of the executioners. The people laughing their heads off at Hernandez’ pathetic suicide today will be the mob screaming to kill somebody–it matters little who–tomorrow.

Screw that. Abolish the death penalty. It is poisonous vengeance, not justice. it is, as the Church makes clear, essentially unnecessary.
It makes us worse, not better. No Catholic on the planet should be fighting the Church to defend it.

Next week, as is fitting for Divine Mercy Sunday, at the Catholic Weekly, I will start making my case for why the Church is simply right about this and Catholic dissent on this is wrong.

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