Here’s the first one: An Iowa Protestant pastor named Brent Giroux pleaded guilty of raping four boys (and eight more have come forward with accusations). Giroux was sentenced to seventeen years. The judge immediately suspended the sentence and said the pastor could have five years probation and receive therapy instead.
The second story concerns Kansas Catholic priest Shawn Ratigan who admitted taking lewd photographs of little girls. He was charged with four counts of producing child pornography. He also admits that he molested five young girls. His computer had hundreds of photographs of girls, but most of them were clothed. He touched the girls intimately, but he did not commit a sex act on them. He was sentenced today to fifty years in prison. As he is in his late forties this is effectively a sentence of life in prison.
Both stories are horrifying enough, but here are some other very serious problems with these stories. Is it possible that one man who is a Christian minister is sentenced to fifty years in prison for touching and taking pictures of little girls–the majority of which were clothed, but some which were naked– while another Christian minister who admits to raping four boys (and probably more) does not go to prison at all? Is it possible that one man who molested little girls, but did not rape them or commit a sex act is sentenced to fifty years while another minister who raped boys and told them it was to help them “overcome homosexuality” and be pure is sent for therapy?
Even stranger, when Shawn Ratigan was caught his bishop sent him away for therapy. For this the bishop was charged with covering up pedophilia and convicted of a misdemeanor. So its a crime for a bishop to send a man for therapy but a judge sentences a homosexual pedophile rapist for therapy and that’s okay?
Where is the justice in these sentences? Why would such disparate sentences be handed down by judges? It would be easy to see this as a case of anti-Catholic bigotry–after all it was a Catholic priest pedophile who was sentenced to life in prison. It was a Protestant pastor who was sent for therapy. There may be some truth to this idea, and while it is understandable as a gut reaction, I don’t think this is at the heart of the problem.
To understand what is going we have to look at the bigger picture. The judges clearly have two different ideas about crime and punishment. They gave grossly unjust sentences–one very harsh and other very lenient because they consider punishment to be for (on the one hand) protection of the public and (on the other hand) rehabilitation of the offender. In a powerful essay on jurisprudence C.S.Lewis argued that punishment could only be just if it was based in retribution (not revenge). Retribution is giving an objective set sentence for a set crime. If you did ‘X’ you get ‘Y’ as your punishment. Straight up. No arguments. You serve your time. You’ve paid your price to society. It’s done.
When punishment is based on other motivations like rehabilitation of the offender or protection of the public you get outrageous and unfair punishments. The judge clearly deemed Shawn Ratigan to be a threat to the public even though his crimes were comparatively minor. If protection of the public is the motivation, then Ratigan should be locked up for life. But the seriousness of his crimes do not warrant life imprisonment. To punish a person with the sole motivation of protection of the public we end up with a gross violation of justice. The public may need to be protected from Shawn Ratigan, but the severity of his crimes does not warrant life imprisonment.
When rehabilitation is the motivation for punishment the unfairness often goes the other way. So it is with Brent Giroux. The judge in this case considers rehabilitation to be the motivation for punishment. Therefore Giroux–who raped eight boys and probably more–is put on probation and sent for therapy. Once again, the wrong idea of what punishment is for produces a gross violation of justice. No wonder the parents of the victims are hopping mad.
So why, in our society, do we not have retribution as the basis for our judicial system? Because retributive justice is based on the idea of an objective moral order. In other words, it is based in the idea of both natural law and divine law as the foundation for civil law. Retributive justice must have an objective foundation. This is right. That is wrong. This is a crime. That is not a crime. For this crime you will receive this sentence. For that crime you will receive that sentence. When the idea of objective right and wrong is abandoned we must also abandon the idea of retributive justice. Consequently the only reason for sentencing becomes utilitarian–what works, and what seems to work is either incarceration for protection of the public or enforced therapy.
Why does this matter? Because the way justice is administered affects all of us. When the objective aspect of right and wrong is eliminated we lose not only retributive justice, but we also lose any foothold on what is actually right or wrong. When the objective natural law and divine law is abandoned who is to say what is right and wrong? The state. The state decides not so much what is right and wrong, but what is legal or illegal, and what is legal or illegal may have nothing at all to do with what is morally right or wrong;.
When that happens the state decides what is legal or illegal and what is legal or illegal is simply what suits the people in charge. The results will be chilling. This is why in the case of the baker in Oregon who would not bake a wedding cake for lesbians it was so disturbing to hear the civil authority say that the baker would have to be “re-educated”. In other words–he will have to go through forced therapy. If this is his punishment how will he know when it is finished? What if he is stubborn? Will he be “re-educated” until he gives in? What if he never gives in–then will he be incarcerated to protect society?
If you think this is alarmist talk, then consider again the cases of Brent Giroux who raped four boys and probably eight more but was only sent for therapy and Shawn Ratigan who touched four girls and took lewd photographs but has been sent to prison for fifty years.