Justice? What Justice?

Two similar stories have surfaced on the news. They are mightily disturbing for all sorts of complex reasons. If you are squeamish look away.

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.


  • veritas

    We have this problem but worse here in Australia.
    Judges are handing down ridiculously soft sentences for violent crimes and our parole boards are letting dangerous violent rapists and murderers out long before their short sentences are up.
    Guess what? They go and rape or murder again!
    The number of people here in Australia who have been attacked, raped or murdered by somebody who is on parole is staggering.
    This country seems totally incapable of having mandatory sentences even though the majority of the public want it. The legal fraternity fight hard against mandatory sentences because it takes away their power and chance to make big money defending the indefensible.

  • ForPeteSaiche

    Thanks for reporting on this imbalance of justice and mercy. Each of them should be kept away from children, computers, and porn until they are too physiologically impaired to cause harm to others. Most Bishops acted naively as reformers before having the benefit of research showing complete reform of sexual offenders to be rare. Judges, Bishops, law enforcement, psychologists, and many other sectors of society share culpability. They also share responsibility to constrain and possibly redeem the corrupt. Thank God for the police work that stopped another serial killer! Thank God also for the good and righteous works of agencies such as Morality in Media, law enforcement, the Church, and the majority of citizens.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    The most worrying thing is that the crime itself is as good as relative in secular culture, too.

    Paedophilia will probably be taken off the statute books as a crime around the same time Christianity’s put on it…

    • Timothy Reid

      That last line of yours sounds awfully paranoid and far-fetched. I cannot think of a country that is more friendly to Christians than the United States. It’s isn’t Syria or Egypt.

      • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

        Clearly spoken as someone who hasn’t lived elsewhere in the world.

        • Timothy Reid

          Do you live in the United States? If you do, have you been persecuted because of your Christian beliefs?

          • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

            Hyperbolic straw-man? Read your own post that I replied to and stick to the subject.

            To say that the is no other country that’s more friendly to Christians than the US is quite misinformed.

            For instance, I went to a country consulate with a priest and the section chief asked him to bless the consulate. I don’t think that anyone in the American foreign service would keep his job if he did this. How friendly is that?

            In the Philippines businesses stop to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet at three and… gasp!… no one sues for being imposed on? Where I work Muslims were told that they cannot say their prayers in their private offices together. Super religion-friendly America!

          • Timothy Reid

            Maybe your definition of persecution is more broad than mine.

  • Gail Finke

    And what is equally bizarre is that Catholic bishops are routinely considered to have been idiots and/or power-crazed despots for sending priests who molested children to therapy in the 70s and 80s when that was the recommendation of the entire psychological profession, but this judge just did exactly the same thing NOW when not only is it NOT the recommendation of the “expert” psychologists, but it’s also supposed to be an unthinkable and outrageous thing for anyone ever to have done! The world is crazy…

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      Actually, it is outrageous that an apostolic successor would value psychology more than moral theology.

  • Jack

    The Protestant minister who raped several boys was NOT a homosexual, but a pedophile. The two have nothing to do with each other, though many ignorant people conflate them.

    • frdlongenecker

      I disagree. He was a homosexual pedophile. The priest was a heterosexual pedophile. It’s pretty clear. One was attracted to males children. The other was attracted to female children.

  • Kansas Catholic

    He is a Kansas City Missouri priest, not Kansas.

  • Bill

    Fr. I must disagree with you at least in part. I firmly believe the sentencing of the priest to 50 years was based, at least, on anti-Catholic feelings if not bigotry.

  • bender

    One reason for the disparity in sentencing is that one was in federal court and the other in state court. Federal courts are required to follow federal law, which is largely arbitrary when it comes to sentencing and is usually much more harsh in setting those one-size-fits-all sentences. State courts have much more discretion to consider the real facts of real cases, with sentencing being within a specified range. This latter approach is much more consistent with that same tradition in criminal justice that led prisons to be called “penitentiaries,” i.e. places where people could do penance and find redemption. This is a more remedial approach, which looks to solve the problem of criminality and prevent its future commission, rather than the punitive approach which looks backward and simply seeks to get its pound of flesh out of the wrongdoer.
    All that said, the state sentence for the sexual assault of four boys is an outrage, while the federal offense for child pornography is a bit harsh, although not by much. (By the way, it is physically IMPOSSIBLE to “rape” a boy since he lacks the legally requisite “equipment.” A boy can no more be raped than two men can marry.)

    • Joseph

      Bender, a boy can be raped anally or orally, just as a girl can be raped anally, orally, or vaginally. I assure you that being raped anally or orally is a very serious matter, even if vaginal rape assaults the very core of sexual relations between men and women.

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      By the way, I think that you’re splitting technical hairs.

  • dougpruner

    Just some personal observations.
    –The rape sentence was too lenient for many reasons, most of them obvious these days. But recall the US judge who just recently “mistakenly” sentenced a schoolteacher to 30 days for multiple rapes of the same schoolgirl, who subsequently committed suicide over the trauma. (Before the sentencing.)
    –The Bishop should have known better—he is fortunate to get off with a misdemeanor. ANY response in a molestation case other than an immediate 911 call will be seen as “coverup”.
    Well, we can all look forward to the fulfillment of the Paternoster: “… on earth, as it is in heaven.” How many rapes in heaven, do you think? How many incompetent judges? Remember Ps 37:28,29. Nice prospect, isn’t it?

  • fats

    here is another blatant discrimination concerning the law and sexual crimes.. Here in California, a law has passed that lifted the statute of limitations for private organizations,( including religious) for one year so that victims past the age limit in the statute ( 26 i think it was), can go to court against sexual predators . BUT IT DOES NOT INCLUDE PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS like schools, etc. The explaination was that it was a separate part of the law, and would have to be addressed separately, but considering the time the debate took place ( for years), i suspect the real reason is the union influence in protecting their members.

    • Proteios

      I disagree. I think it is because the states who put forth a large percentage of school funding realize that with all the abuse for years that the state coffers would go dry. After all. They are liable. If you really knew how impotent state teachers unions were, you probably wouldn’t be too concerned with them.

  • Joseph

    Be careful with claims about Ratigan. He molested young girls. We have no idea how scarring that may have been to them. Focus instead on the leniency of sentencing for the rapist. Clearly he deserved at least or more than Ratigan. But when you venture into saying that Ratigan was unfairly over-penalized, you expose yourself to the charge of undervaluing the trauma and pain that these girls may have experienced. Their whole lives are now marked by a terrible experience that may afflict their relationships until the day they die. Perhaps Ratigan deserved life in prison. It’s clear that Giroux committed greater crimes, but it is *not* clear that Ratigan deserved less than he got. You have a strong case with Giroux; focus on him.

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      Since we have no idea how hurt the girls were and for how long in their lives, it’s beyond the realm of justice to hypothesize the worst and sentence according to a what-if. In other words, that would be revenge.

  • Elijah

    Both sentences are far too lenient. The firing squad for both.

  • Aequitas

    Fr. Longenecker, as a former victim of childhood sexual abuse, I have to politely disagree with you about the sentence of Shawn Ratigan. In my opinion, biased though it may be, life in prison is a fair and equitable sentence. The trauma that those girls endured will be with them for their entire life. Through therapy they may get to the point to where they will be able to reach a level of disturbance that they can manage and cope with. How then, if the effects of that man’s sins last a lifetime, is a 50 year sentence not just?

    Pedophiles have been shown in study after study to have the highest rate of recidivism of any criminal group. Since it is impossible to know who will re-offend and who will not, it is in my opinion, morally just to keep them in a facility that will protect the innocent from harm, most especially when the perpetrator has multiple victims that the courts are aware of. Jesus himself said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones- who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” – (Matt 18:6) Imprisoning them is the most merciful solution, as the civil alternatives are much more violent or morally unjust.

    As to the Protestant minister, there is no question that he should have been locked away for life in a prison where he would be kept free from harm and abuse. Although I desire that pedophiles should removed from the populous, I also grudgingly recognize their dignity as human beings.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your stance on retributive justice, the state should never be the judge of what is right and wrong. Only natural law and divine law can administer that duty.

    God bless you, Father!

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      Rather disproportionate suggestion, i.e., vindictive perhaps?

  • fats

    appaently my comment got lost… speaking of injustice, California just passed a law lifting the statutre of limitations on the age of victims of sexual crimes for one year, but it only included crimes committed by people in private , including religious, institutions. They did not include public institutions, such as schools..
    I smell a union rat in that one, since it was Republicans that tried to get it all inclusive ( and failed) and it was democrats that passed the law as it is..

  • TomD

    “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.”

    It appears that we have learned very little from the therapy-as-primary-approach to child sexual abuse that prevailed in the 60s and 70s. Raping numerous adults would presumably not result in therapy and probation; why does raping four young boys?

  • nannon31

    Please read more about why Bishop Finn was convicted….as you can imagine, it wasn’t for sending the priest to therapy. A school principal warned him about the priest a full year prior to his not going to police after he saw the photos while he sent Ratigan to a residence in the vicinity of more young people without letting the host religious of the residence know the problem of the priest.

  • AugustineThomas

    You guys all stab other Catholics in the back and try to make friends with baby murdering leftists and you’re surprised you’ve worked us into third class citizenship status?

    Satan worked mostly through fallen Catholics still going to church in bringing the American Church to its knees. If we start standing up for each other, maybe we won’t be so easy to oppress..

  • Masons Did It

    Simple, one is Catholic, one is Protestant. This is still a Protestant majority country, so the Protestant gets off easy. This is an old story……

  • Aaron

    Different jurisdictions have varying sentencing ranges, which may account for some of this. But I dislike your downplay of ‘touching’ without a ‘sex act.’ Molestation destroys a young child as much as penetration. That is why, at least in Colorado, the two are considered equally severe by law. The priest’s actions are equally disturbing as the pastor’s. You try to make it sound like he merely took pictures and patted them on the back. Isn’t it equally disturbing to find your priest took 4 child porn photos or if he took 20? I do agree, however, that there is a severe limitation to both the protection and therapy theories of criminal justice.

  • W. S. Wright

    I stopped reading this story when you said “he touched them intimately but did not commit a sex act on them.” That is patently absurd. “Touching Intimately” IS A SEX ACT.
    As for discrimination in these two sentences, you need to look further into sentence differences in different cases before different judges. Notably recently, the defendant Zimmerman was acquitted through FL’s so-called “hold your ground” law while a WOMAN who did not kill anyone, or even injure anyone, but only fired a warning shot at an unlawful stalker got a 2 year penitentiary sentence.
    Your article is misinformed and biased and unworthy of any credence whatsoever.

  • Travis Rupe

    There is no mention of the relative wealth of the ministers involved nor their standing in the community. Minster a (a small town in Iowa) vs Minister b (a priest in a predominantly non-catholic Metropolitan) is not a true comparison. This entire article is lacking in salient data to make an informed decision or agree/disagree with the author. He correctly describes the heinous nature of the first minister but obscures the nature of the second one who sexually touched 2 year olds and took explicit photographs of their genitalia..and he had done so NUMEROUS TIMES as ” Ratigan focused on girls from 2 to 12 years old and had committed multiple crimes over six years. Several counts were dropped as part of the plea agreement.” He may have only been convicted of 4 counts, but they were pretty severe counts.

    This article is a perfect example of pursuing an agenda and attempting to craft reality to support it’s thesis. I disagree with the authors attempt to do this. I also disagree with calling Ratigans sentence overly harsh.