Monday, October 31, 2011

Catholic Church & Occupy Vancouver

A local church almost got taken over by the group, as reported by All Headline News.

An excerpt.

“Organizers of the Occupy Vancouver movement almost took over the Holy Rosary Cathedral in downtown Vancouver on Sunday morning.

”Vancouver Police stopped the protesters from disrupting mass at the Catholic church. A spokesman for the group, which renamed itself Occupy Vatican, said the purpose of the aborted church takeover was to bring to the Catholic Church’s attention the thousands of residential school survivors who suffered under the clergy.

“However, some members of the Occupy Vancouver movement said that the Occupy Vatican movement did not secure consensus at their Saturday night general assembly and was not supported by the majority of protestors.

“Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miler anticipated the march of protesters and requested extra police protection outside the cathedral to prevent the disruption of the mass.

“In the U.S., protesters from Nashville and San Diego were arrested over the weekend after police moved into their camps at night.

“Nashville police used a new law that banned overnight camping near the Tennessee state capital. San Diego police arrest 51 protesters, removed tents, canopies, tables and other furniture.

“Making the Wall Street movements more challenging is an early cold storm that hit parts of the U.S. over the weekend, which also disrupted Halloween celebrations.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Economic Justice

The reaction to a recent Vatican document entitled: TOWARDS REFORMING THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL AND MONETARY SYSTEMS IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL PUBLIC AUTHORITY, that came from the Pontifical Council of Justice & Peace has raised a lot of comment and after reading it I can see why the fuss, but it is a good document, thoughtful and well worth a read.

An excerpt.


“The world situation requires the concerted effort of everyone, a thorough examination of every facet of the problem – social, economic, cultural and spiritual. The Church, which has long experience in human affairs and has no desire to be involved in the political activities of any nation, ‘seeks but one goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth; to save, not to judge; to serve, not to be served.’”

“With these words, in the prophetic and always relevant Encyclical Populorum Progressio of 1967, Paul VI outlined in a clear way “the trajectories” of the Church’s close relation with the world. These trajectories intersect in the profound value of human dignity and the quest for the common good, which make people responsible and free to act according to their highest aspirations.

“The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence. What is more, the crisis engages private actors and competent public authorities on the national, regional and international level in serious reflection on both causes and solutions of a political, economic and technical nature.

“In this perspective, as Benedict XVI teaches, the crisis “obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”

“The G20 leaders themselves said in the Statement they adopted in Pittsburgh in 2009:

“The economic crisis demonstrates the importance of ushering in a new era of sustainable global economic activity grounded in responsibility.”
“The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace now responds to the Holy Father’s appeal, while making the concerns of everyone our own, especially the concerns of those who pay most dearly for the current situation. With due respect for the competent civil and political authorities, the Council hereby offers and shares its reflection: Towards reforming the international financial and monetary systems in the context of global public authority.

“This reflection hopes to benefit world leaders and all people of good will. It is an exercise of responsibility not only towards the current but above all towards future generations, so that hope for a better future and confidence in human dignity and capacity for good may never be extinguished.

“Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson +Mario Toso
President Secretary”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow Up, Criminal Justice Collapse Book

Yesterday, I wrote about the book reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, “The Collapse of the American Criminal Justice System”, and after reading the table of contents at Amazon, I decided to not buy the book, which decision was validated by this excellent article about the book from the Crime & Consequences blog.

An excerpt.

“Prof. Doug Berman put up an entry today on Sentencing Law and Policy about the last book published by the late Harvard Law Prof. William Stuntz. The book is titled, "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice." Its thesis, not too surprisingly given the title, is that our criminal justice system has fallen into utter failure….

“The whole thing -- all of it -- is preposterous. Over the time this alleged disaster is supposed to have happened (roughly the last 20 years), the crime rate has fallen off a cliff. The property crime rate is down by 43%; the violent crime rate by 47%, and the murder rate by slightly more than 50%. The raw figures are here, and you can do the math yourself. If you look at the numbers, you'll see that the murder rate is lower now than it has been at any time in almost 50 years.

“Perhaps the most stunning figure, however, is this: The number of serious crimes annually 20 years ago was 14,872,900. The number last year was 10,329,135. That is a drop of 4,543,765. Four and a half million fewer crime victims….

“I will readily concede that the system looks "broken" to two categories of observers: (1) academics who never saw a criminal for whom an excuse could not be manufactured, and who thus lament their incarceration; and (2) the criminals themselves, now thankfully keeping each other company rather than the rest of us.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Criminal Justice, Keeping Informed

Every few months I buy a new book on criminal justice containing the newest research to help keep me informed, and this one looked interesting after reading the review from the Wall Street Journal.

I went to Amazon and after reading the table of contents, decided against buying it, primarily because I have already obtained a 2011 book, Crime and Public Policy, which is an edited text book with several essays covering a broad array of criminal justice subjects, and secondly because Stuntz's book looked a little too focused on one area and one opinion, and wouldn't necessarily add that much to my library.

However, I did purchase, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which looks to be an extraordinary research project on violence, and about which I will let you know once I get a chance to peruse it.

Here is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal review.

“How has the American criminal-justice system become one of the most punitive in the world without providing a corresponding level of public safety? In "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice," William J. Stuntz—a revered Harvard law professor who died of colon cancer earlier this year at the age of 52—offers a provocative big-picture answer.

“Perhaps aware that "collapse" in the book's title requires justification, Mr. Stuntz begins by reviewing some statistics. As he shows, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, amid the largest crime wave in American history, the U.S. prison population declined. Imprisonment rates plummeted to some of the lowest ever seen in the modern Western world. High-crime neighborhoods, as Mr. Stuntz puts it, were "abandoned to their fate."

“The backlash to this crime wave was equally striking. Since the mid-1970s, America has punished crime more and more severely. New York's imprisonment rate, for example, has sextupled. In a span of a little more than 30 years, "America first embraced punishment levels lower than Sweden's, then built a justice system more punitive than Russia's."

“Mr. Stuntz readily acknowledges what many legal scholars do not: America's current lock-'em-up philosophy has dramatically helped to reduce urban crime. Since 1991, violent-crime rates have declined roughly a third nationwide and as much as two-thirds in a few cities (New York among them). Even so, Mr. Stuntz counts these declines as a pyrrhic victory, given that violence per capita in the U.S. today remains significantly higher than in 1950. And he is unwilling simply to assign all the credit for recent crime drops to increased punishment. He wonders, for example, why crime rates began falling only around 1991—two decades after prison populations started steeply rising.

“To unravel such complexities, Mr. Stuntz tries to place America's contemporary criminal-justice problems in their historical legal context. He first looks at the 14th Amendment's effort in 1868 to ensure that newly freed slaves received "the equal protection of the laws"—a promise that fell apart a few years later when the Supreme Court eviscerated the equal-protection guarantee and left generations of Southern blacks to be victimized by Klan violence. Mr. Stuntz argues that narrow equal-protection jurisprudence helps to explain why, nearly a century later, Chief Justice Earl Warren began spinning constitutional restrictions from the 14th Amendment's other important provision, the Due Process Clause.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Criminal World Expansion

In a world whose prince is “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44, and entire verse is worth a read), where worldly truth is relative and subjective; the proliferation of criminal gangs—whose ability to provide for the worldly treasures promoted as life’s only true reward is faster and greater—is surely to be expected; and it will only be through the too-hidden truth that Catholics know and treasure, delivered by those who they respect, that criminal/carceral world growth can be turned back, redeemed, and transformed.

An excerpt from the article in the Washington Post reporting on criminal world growth.

“WASHINGTON — The gang problem in the United States is growing and there are an estimated 1.4 million members in some 33,000 gangs, the federal government said Friday.

“Gangs are collaborating with transnational drug trafficking organizations to make more money and are expanding the range of their illicit activities, engaging in mortgage fraud and counterfeiting as well as trafficking in guns and drugs, according to the national gang threat assessment for 2011.

“Gang membership “continues to flourish” and gang leaders are striking new alliances with other criminal organizations for profit, FBI agent Jayne Challman told reporters during a briefing at FBI headquarters.

“The gang member estimate of 1.4 million was up from 1 million two years ago, a 40 percent increase, but the report attributed the rise in part to improved reporting by law enforcement agencies….

“Gang membership is increasing most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country and many communities are experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian and Caribbean gangs, said the report, which is based on federal, state and local law enforcement data.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Satan & Catholics

Liberal/progressive Catholics tend to disregard Satan as a holdover from the Dark Ages, but Catholics who study their faith know the truth, that the fallen angel is as active as ever, as written about in The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“In Freedom: To do What?, Georges Bernanos, the great French Catholic writer, observes: “There is in man a secret, incomprehensible hatred, not only of his fellowmen, but of himself. We can give this mysterious feeling whatever origin or explanation we want, but we must give it one. As far as we Christians are concerned, we believe that this hatred reflects another hatred, a thousand times more profound and lucid: the hatred of the ineffable spirit who was the most resplendent of all the luminaries of the abyss and who will never forgive us his cataclysmic fall”.

“He is referring of course to Satan.

“One manifestation of the hatred, according to the Catechism, is that “often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.” This points us to two dimensions of the problem.

“On the one hand, we have lost the truth. Jesus was quite blunt in describing those who opposed him: “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

“These words are all the more incisive because the person speaking is the Incarnation of Truth. Here is also the key to our existence: standing in the truth. On the other hand, we fall into serving the creature rather than the Creator. If we serve the Creator, then and only then, do we really grasp what being human is all about. In America, we talk superficially – and glibly – about doing things “for the children,” as well we might since the United States has the worst child abuse and largest number of child deaths in the industrialized world.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Crime Data & Politics

Data on crime is one of the most vetted statistical recordings of human behavior in our country and also one of the most abused data sources politicians use to promote their preferred policies, as this article from the Washington Post reveals.

An excerpt, with links at the jump.

“In the battle over the administration’s jobs bill, Vice President Biden this week has been making the startling case that more people will be murdered or raped if the legislation is not passed. His argument is that in cities such as Flint, Mich., the murder and rape rates have soared as the police force has been cut back for budgetary reasons.

“When challenged by a reporter from a conservative publication about his charge (see video below), Biden stood his ground and said without more money, “murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.” As he put it, “Go look at the numbers.”

“Okay, challenge taken. What do the numbers show?

“The Facts

“Flint is certainly a violent city, ranked number one in many categories. The website of the Flint Police Department only gives data through 2008, but both the FBI and the Michigan State Police have more recent figures that are provided to them by the Flint police. The numbers are not precisely the same because of different reporting requirements, but they are roughly the same—and show a different picture than reported by Biden.

“The Flint website for 2008 shows the same figures that Biden cited: 35 murders and 91 rapes.

“Here’s what the FBI shows:


“City of Flint: 32 murders, 103 rapes

“Surrounding area: 37 murders, 239 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 8.6; rape 55.5 percent


“City of Flint: 36 murders, 91 rapes

“Surrounding area: 44 murders, 235 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 10.3; rape, 55.1


“City of Flint: 53 murders, 92 rapes

“Surrounding area: 58 murders, 225 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 13.8; rape 53.7

“More important than the raw figures is the rate per 100,000 individuals. Murder did go up—though the rate did not double from 2009 to 2010, as Biden claimed. But rape has gone down. Biden actually asserted it had tripled.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Medieval Prison

In perusing the book, The Medieval Prison: A Social History, I came across the following:

“Largely as a response to their persecution under the Romans, early Christian apologists developed a basic imaginary of the prison. Martyrological narratives set in and around Roman jails introduced literary “sweet inversion” of despair into hope, of physical suffering into spiritual empowerment, and of secular coercion into divine grace. In this way, theodicy helped disseminate incarceration as a leitmotif of Christian spirituality, first among ascetics and later in monastic circles. As we shall see, self-imposed incarceration became a common metaphor for the angelic life and soon assumed purgatorial qualities...

“The Martyrological literature conveying the experiences of Christian confessors presents the prison as a place of personal trial and eschatological triumph, and incarceration as a process of spiritual growth, potentially culminating in revelation. Thus, rather than precipitating apostasy, the harsh conditions of the Roman jail accelerated religious perfection: a classic “sweet inversion.” In the emphatic words that Prudentius (348-405?) attributed to Fructuosus, the martyred bishop of Tarragona (d. 259),

"Prison to the Christian faithful is the path to glory,
Prison propels to the heavens’ summit,
Prison unites God with the blessed."

“As a new locus of holiness, the prison attracted substantial attention from early Christians, whether laymen or clergy…

“In the words of Tertullian (140-230): “The prison serves the Christian as the desert served the prophet…Even if the body is confined, even if the flesh is detained, everything is open to the spirit.”

“By comparing the prison with the desert, Tertullian linked Christian asceticism with the formative experiences of the Israelites and Christ’s spiritual training….The metaphor subsequently found its way into monastic spirituality, which spawned a distinct new strand of carceral language. Thus, according to the Desert Mother Syncletica (d. ca. 400),

"In the world, if we commit an offence, even an involuntary one, we are thrown into prison; let us likewise cast ourselves into prison because of our sins, so that voluntary remembrance may anticipate the punishment that is to come.”

Geltner, G. (2008). The medieval prison: A social history. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (pp. 83-85)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Domestic Violence

Women who are in prison for killing their husbands after a clear public record has documented the domestic violence visited on them and a determination that the battered woman has tried all of the other means to protect herself—restraining orders, previous calls to police, etc.—should not be in prison for what is often pure self defense, and this story from the Daily Beast examines a prison support group for those women.

An excerpt.

“When Brenda Clubine killed her husband in 1983, there were 11 restraining orders against him and a warrant for his arrest. He’d put her in the ER more than once—tossing her across the room, fracturing her skull, and puncturing her lungs. But “domestic violence” was scarcely on the public radar back then: local police considered it a problem to be worked out in private; there was no hotline to call and few shelters to escape to. So when Brenda says her husband locked her in a hotel room and told her to hand over her wedding ring—so it would be “harder to identify her body”—Brenda knew she had only one option: she had to kill him first.

“Her husband, a retired cop who was twice her size, lay down on the bed, and Brenda saw her chance. “Everything started flashing before my eyes,” Brenda, now 63, remembers. “I started thinking about my son, and I thought, how could I have ended up here?” She grabbed an open wine bottle and swung it toward him, but he grabbed it. She backed up and swung again—connecting with his forehead. “All I remember from that point is grabbing my keys, my ring, my shoes, and running six miles down Colorado Avenue home.”

“Brenda would spend 26 years in prison for her husband’s murder—the blow to his head shattered his skull. At her trial, a judge would not permit a psychologist to testify about her mental state, nor friends or doctors who’d witnessed the physical scars of her abuse. Battered women’s syndrome, at the time, was still an untested theory (it remains highly controversial). So Brenda would face a sentence of 17 years to life—trading, as she puts it, “one prison for another.” But Brenda, who was once a licensed vocational nurse, would also change the way lawmakers think about domestic violence in this country—where one in four women is a victim of abuse.

“Clubine is one of half a dozen women featured in a new documentary Sin by Silence, which premieres on Investigation Discovery on Oct. 17—the directorial debut of filmmaker Olivia Klaus. Set on the sprawling brick campus of the high-security California Institution for Women, the state's oldest women’s prison, it tells the story of the prison support group Clubine founded—aimed at women like her, who’ve been imprisoned for killing the men they once loved.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Prison Time is a Disease and Crime is not Criminal's Fault

Two more tomes suggesting that respectively, are reviewed in the Washington Post.

An excerpt.

“Ernest Drucker, an internationally recognized public health scholar, professor and physician, contends that mass incarceration ought to be understood as a contagious disease, an epidemic of gargantuan proportions. With voluminous data and meticulous analysis, he persuasively demonstrates in his provocative new book, “A Plague of Prisons,” that the unprecedented surge in incarceration in recent decades is a social catastrophe on the scale of the worst global epidemics, and that modes of analysis employed by epidemiologists to combat plagues and similar public health crises are remarkably useful when assessing the origins, harm and potential cures for what he calls our “plague of imprisonment.”

“As with any metaphor, the comparison falls short in both obvious and subtle ways. But Drucker is relentless in his pursuit of a paradigm shift, pointing out that even the most obvious differences may be less significant than we may imagine. Biology isn’t everything, he explains, even when fighting medical plagues. Many non-biological, social factors frequently determine who lives and who dies.

“In the case of mass imprisonment, it is possible to calculate potential years of life lost and to measure who is most at risk. It is also possible to identify the precise time of the initial outbreak, the means of transmission, intergenerational trends and the ways in which the epidemic has become self-sustaining over time.

“Drucker traces the moment of outbreak to the war on drugs. Beginning with the Rockefeller drug laws adopted in New York state in the 1970s, followed by President Ronald Reagan’s declaration of war in 1982, our nation set out to incarcerate millions of Americans for relatively minor crimes and drug offenses. Such arrests go a long way toward explaining how the “infection” has spread. Arrests and convictions for drug offenses, Drucker writes, “are the most important agent of transmission that creates new cases of incarceration.”

“Even in the South Bronx, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden communities in New York, only 3 percent of convictions are for felonies. The relatively minor offenses of vagrancy, loitering and drug possession account for half of all arrests, with marijuana possession becoming the most frequent drug charge.

“These seemingly minor arrests are the means by which young people contract the virus of imprisonment, which soon becomes a full-blown disease — one they struggle to overcome for the rest of their lives. A criminal record virtually guarantees a lifetime of discrimination in employment, housing, education and public benefits. Millions are locked out of the mainstream society and economy, increasing the likelihood that they will commit more serious crimes. In this way, the epidemic of incarceration has become self-perpetuating, like a plague….

“William J. Stuntz thinks he has an answer. A Harvard Law professor who died earlier this year, Stuntz argues in “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice” that the stunning surge in imprisonment of poor people of color can be explained by two factors: a dramatic spike in crime in the 1950s and ’60s, coupled with profound changes in how our democracy is structured. Urban residents, he observes, once had far more control over police and prosecutors and could exert more influence in the jury box. When those who bear the costs of both crime and punishment exercise significant power over those who enforce the law, a more balanced and empathetic approach to crime is the predictable result.

“Stuntz contrasts the experience of early European immigrants with that of African Americans to make his point. When European immigrants flooded our nation in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a crime wave followed, but it did not lead to mass imprisonment. The communities populated by recent immigrants held tremendous power. Then, as now, district attorneys and trial judges were elected at the county level, not at the city level, but suburbs were sparsely populated. As Stuntz puts it, back then, “cities contained the votes that mattered.” Spared harsh prison sentences and afforded considerable support, the young men who had left Europe for the United States eventually found work and turned away from crime.

“When African Americans flooded Northern cities during the Great Migration — fleeing Jim Crow segregation, white lynch mobs and severe poverty in the South — they faced a radically different political and economic landscape. Although they found work at higher wages, they were shut out of jobs and careers that offered any hope of rising paychecks and responsibility.

“They also confronted a changed political map. White flight and suburbanization resulted in a dramatic shift of power away from urban neighborhoods to counties. “This shift in local populations mattered enormously,” Stuntz notes, “because prosecutors and judges are usually elected at the county level.” The result was that predominately white suburban voters, who do not have to cope with high crime rates but who hold negative stereotypes of the urban poor, exercised far more power over urban criminal justice than in the past.

“Stuntz concludes that “one reason black criminals from poor neighborhoods have been treated with so much more severity than criminals from white immigrant communities in America’s past is because the former are more easily categorized as The Other, as a people whose lives are separate from the lives of those who judge them.” His answer to the “othering” of black America is to grant urban residents far more power over the criminal justice system than they have today.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

The 15 Decade Rosary

The rosary—as it has been for centuries—is at the center of the private devotions buttressing liturgical practice, and in this Month of the Rosary, it is timely to summarize reflections on it, and the larger truth it expresses, devotion to Christ through Mary.

I have turned to many resources in this study over the past few years since I began praying the rosary on a regular basis, and lately I have found much that resonates with my private devotions in the works of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort, and his marvelous books, The Secret of the Rosary, and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (I would recommend you seek out the older editions in hardback) are crucial guides.

One aspect that leapt out in my study is that the five decade rosary I have been using is not the fullest expression of the rosary of tradition, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

"The Rosary", says the Roman Breviary, "is a certain form of prayer wherein we say fifteen decades or tens of Hail Marys with an Our Father between each ten, while at each of these fifteen decades we recall successively in pious meditation one of the mysteries of our Redemption."

The birth of the rosary as a feast day of the Church is powerfully connected to Catholic martiality by one of the great martial popes, Saint Pius V, who called forth the knights and armed men of Europe to fight in a decisive battle, noted by the Catholic Encyclopedia.

“On the day of the Battle of Lepanto, 7 Oct., 1571, he was working with the cardinals, when, suddenly, interrupting his work opening the window and looking at the sky, he cried out, "A truce to business; our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given the Christian army". He burst into tears when he heard of the victory, which dealt the Turkish power a blow from which it never recovered. In memory of this triumph he instituted for the first Sunday of October the feast of the Rosary.”

Saint Pope Pius V wrote in the Papal Bull of 1569 Consueverunt Romani—two years before the battle of Lepanto.

“And so Dominic looked to that simple way of praying and beseeching God, accessible to all and wholly pious, which is called the Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which the same most Blessed Virgin is venerated by the angelic greeting repeated one hundred and fifty times, that is, according to the number of the Davidic Psalter, and by the Lord's Prayer with each decade. Interposed with these prayers are certain meditations showing forth the entire life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, thus completing the method of prayer devised by the by the Fathers of the Holy Roman Church.”

This aspect: “showing forth the entire life of Our Lord Jesus Christ” at each praying of the fifteen decades is very powerful, and is not enjoyed by praying only five, which results in a somewhat disjointed approach I had never noticed before praying the full fifteen.

Enjoy this Month of the Rosary and pray a fifteen decade rosary, which are hard to find but I found one at, where else, 15 Decade Rosaries, a wonderful apostolate.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Living on Death Row

If you have to be in prison, especially in super-max, it is a good place to be, according to this article from the Atlantic Magazine.

It also points out that California is long overdue for capital punishment legislation that reduces the time it takes to carry out legal execution verdicts to a somewhat reasonable period, while still protecting the rights of the accused and convicted, and Texas comes to mind as one state that seems to have accomplished that by restricting the ability of lawyers to file numerous appeals.

An excerpt from the Atlantic article.

“AS AN ORANGE COUNTY jury debated in 2009 whether the white supremacist Billy Joe Johnson should live or die for murdering a fellow gang member, he asked to be sent to death row. Not because he felt any sudden remorse for the five people he’d killed over the years—“I commit crimes when people piss me off,” he once explained, matter-of-factly—but because Johnson believed he’d have better living conditions, including liberal phone privileges, a bigger cell, and daily human interaction, at San Quentin’s death row than he would at Pelican Bay, one of the state’s toughest maximum-security prisons, where he was serving a 46-year-to-life sentence, primarily in solitary confinement.

“He also knew that the odds were good that he might never be executed. Bogged down by constitutional challenges and appeals, California’s system takes an average of 20 years to move a prisoner from conviction to execution.

“Experts on both sides of the death-penalty debate have long agreed that California’s system is the nation’s costliest and least efficient. This June, a landmark report by Paula M. Mitchell, a professor at Loyola Law School, and Arthur L. Alarcón, a senior judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, unearthed new data that reveal just how bad the system is.

“Their report showed that since the current death-penalty statute was enacted in 1978, taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on only 13 executions, or roughly $308 million per execution. As of 2009, prosecuting death-penalty cases cost upwards of $184 million more each year than life-without-parole cases. Housing, health care, and legal representation for California’s current death-row population of 714—the largest in the country—account for $144 million in annual extra costs. If juries continue to send an average of 20 convicts to San Quentin’s death row each year, and executions continue at the present rate, by 2030 the ranks of the condemned will have swelled to more than 1,000, and California’s taxpayers will have spent $9 billion to execute a total of 23 inmates.

“I was stunned by the report,” said Loni Hancock, a Democratic state senator from Oakland and a member of the senate budget committee. Hancock had spent the previous five months agonizing over deep cuts to California’s general budget, and “it broke my heart,” she said. “That’s when I decided the time had come for Californians to reconsider the death penalty.”

“In late June, Hancock introduced SB 490, the first bill to propose replacing death sentences with no-parole life imprisonment, only to withdraw it eight weeks later when she realized she didn’t have the votes to get it out of committee. Now anti-death-penalty activists are taking their case to the people. Buoyed by the Alarcón-Mitchell report and the media coverage it garnered, California Taxpayers for Justice kicked off a ballot-initiative drive in October to get the required 504,760 voter signatures in time for the 2012 general election.

“Law-enforcement groups want to keep the penalty in place. “We share the frustration of death-penalty opponents,” says Cory Salzillo, the legislative director of the California District Attorneys Association. “But we should pursue remedies to fix the problems rather than repeal it altogether.” (Hancock’s own stepson, Casey Bates, is known as an aggressive prosecutor in Alameda County’s District Attorney’s office, with several murder convictions under his belt. He declined to comment on SB 490, but Hancock told me: “We haven’t talked about it.”) To many advocates for victims, the initiatives are an insult. “You can’t take justice away from the victims’ families, not after everything they’ve gone through,” contends Harriet Salarno, the president of Crime Victims United of California, which she founded after her daughter’s murder. “No-parole life sentences will never give them the closure they seek. Sure, the death penalty is costly, but that’s because it’s not executed efficiently. Look at Texas and Virginia. They limit the years of appeals. We should copy them.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Regensburg and Remembering

It was one of the most powerful talks in relation to the war on terror—which many consider World War IV—given by an international leader and it was delivered by the Holy Father.

This article from the Ethics and Public Policy Center looks at what has happened since.

An excerpt.

“In the flood of commentary surrounding the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I found but one reference to a related anniversary of considerable importance: the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture. That lecture, given the day after the fifth anniversary of 9/11 at the pope's old university in Germany, identified the two key challenges to 21st century Islam, if that faith of over a billion people is going to live within today's world in something other than a condition of war. On the fifth anniversary of Regensburg, therefore, it's worth reviewing what the Pope proposed, not least because the 9/11 anniversary commentary assiduously avoided the question that the Holy Father courageously confronted: the question of what-must-change in Islam in the future, to prevent an ongoing global war of Islam-against-the-rest.

“Benedict XVI made two proposals at Regensburg.

“Islam, he suggested, must find a way to affirm religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by reason and that includes the right to change one's religion—and it must find this "way" from within its own religious, legal, philosophical, and theological resources. The question is not one of surrender to certain secularist conceptions of public life, any more than it was when Catholicism confronted political modernity and found a solution in the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. The solution has to come from within, in what Christian theology would call a "development of doctrine."

“Secondly, Islam must find a way—again, from within its own religious and intellectual resources—to affirm a distinction between religious and political authority in a just state. This need not and indeed cannot mean a radical "wall of separation" between the two, based on some (mis)conceptions of the American constitutional order. It might mean something like what the Catholic Church did during the late 20th century, when Catholic scholars reached back into the fifth century and rediscovered a traditional distinction between priestly and imperial authority: a tradition whose deepest roots go back to the Lord's own distinction between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God [Matthew 15.21].

“Despite there being largely ignored during the 9/11 anniversary, these do seem to be the two key issues. An Islam that affirms religious freedom, including conversion from one faith to another, and that buttresses that affirmation through its own religious self-understanding and the arts of reason, is an Islam with which "the rest" can live at ease, and in enriching ways. An Islam in which religious and political authority are distinct, if related, is an Islam in which a genuinely civil society can begin to take root—and a robust civil society is one barrier against the corrupt authoritarianism that has bedeviled Islamic countries for centuries. A robust civil society in which there is room for religious freedom and multiple political perspectives is also essential to realizing the promise of today's "Arab Spring"—which could give birth to a hot summer and a bitter winter if its chief accomplishment is to effect a change from secular political authoritarianism to religiously-warranted political authoritarianism.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Evolution of Criminality

Like any business model, the business of crime evolves according to the needs of its customers and government sanctions, as this story from the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

An excerpt.

“In many ways, the reputed drug dealers on Grandview Place were good neighbors.

“Their two-story, red-brick home in the New York City suburb of Fort Lee, N.J., looked perfectly ordinary with its white trim, gable porch and manicured shrubbery. Neither noise nor sketchy visitors were an issue, authorities say.

“The only sign that something was amiss was the rented van that would disappear into a lower-level garage each day. The driver's job: To deliver immigrant workers from the inner city to package heroin in thousands-upon-thousands of glassine envelopes stamped with catchy logos like "LeBron James" and "Roger Dat."

“The Fort Lee operation represented the new, more serene face of the ever-thriving heroin trade in the New York City area, the drug's national epicenter, according to the Manhattan-based narcotics investigators who shut it down.

"It can still be a violent, dirty business, but it's changed," said Bill Cook, a longtime investigator with the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for New York City.

“Absent are scenes out of films like "American Gangster," with kingpins flaunting their wealth, settling turf wars with brazen gunplay and serving a clientele of strung-out junkies queuing up to buy low-grade product.

“The new business model calls for more discretion and discipline, and better branding and quality control. The heroin is purer and the users more mainstream, including college students and professionals who snort rather than shoot up. Many have seamlessly transitioned to heroin after first getting hooked on prescription painkillers belonging to the same opiate family.

“Compared to past eras marked by images of junkies cooking the drug with a dirty spoon, heroin "doesn't have the same stigma attached to it," said John Gilbride, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office.

“Authorities say more abuse by a broader customer base has taken a devastating human toll that's difficult to measure. Rehab centers have told them that more people are seeking treatment, and there have been recent reports of fatal heroin overdoses by teenagers on Long Island and Westchester County.

“That hasn't discouraged retailers - mainly Dominican immigrants supplied with Colombian heroin by Mexican cartels - from steadily expanding their operations throughout the city and its suburbs.

"There are more mills, and they're better at what they do," Cook said.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nonviolent, Non-serious Offenders?

That’s the story on those being released from state prisons to local jails as a result of a federal court ruling, but, as with all things, the devil is really in the details, noted in this story from the San Francisco Chronicle.

An excerpt.

“Gov. Jerry Brown and others who supported the dramatic shift in California's sentencing law that took effect this week have said it will send only those convicted of nonviolent or non-serious crimes to county jails instead of state prison, a change designed to save the state money and reduce inmate crowding.

“Yet a review by The Associated Press of crimes that qualify for local sentences shows at least two dozen offenses shifting to local control that can be considered serious or violent.

“Among them: Involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, killing or injuring a police officer while resisting arrest, participating in a lynching, possession of weapons of mass destruction, possessing explosives, threatening a witness or juror, and using arson or explosives to terrorize a health facility or church. Assault, battery, statutory rape and sexual exploitation by doctors or psychotherapists are also covered by the prison realignment law and carry sentences that will be served in a county jail instead of state prison.

"These crimes include a variety of offenses that would strike many civilians as far from trivial," Public Policy Institute of California researcher Dean Misczynski wrote in a recent analysis of the new law.

“A list of 500 criminal code sections to be covered by the law was compiled by the California District Attorneys Association and posted late last month to its website. In response to a request by the AP, the state attorney general's office confirmed the association's review was accurate but said defendants with a previous felony conviction or those charged with enhancements would still be sent to state prison.

“Among those who could be affected by the new law if convicted is Dr. Conrad Murray, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. Legal experts said he would serve his maximum four-year sentence in a Los Angeles County jail instead of state prison.

“The length of sentences won't necessarily change, but the realignment law does offer significant differences for inmates.

“Parole will disappear for offenders who serve their terms in county jails, including Murray, if he is convicted. Offenders who serve their full sentences behind bars will not be supervised once they are released. Parole officers will not be tracking their movements or making sure they comply with conditions such as substance abuse treatment.

“Judges also have the discretion to impose "hybrid" or "split sentences" in which offenders serve part of their sentence in county jail and the rest on what is being called "mandatory supervision," overseen by probation officers.

“Offenders convicted of more significant crimes still are likely get lengthier sentences, even if they are served in jail instead of prison, said Scott Thorpe, chief executive officer of the state district attorneys association. But sentencing more serious offenders to jail rather than state prison will likely force counties that already have crowded jails to release less serious offenders who are serving time for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft, forgery, counterfeiting and drug crimes.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Prisoners to Counties & Crime Rates

California has to reduce its prison population and has chosen to redirect about 30,000 prisoners to local control.

Virtually everyone in the law enforcement field knows that this will increase crime rates, as this article in the Los Angeles Times notes.

An excerpt.

“The Los Angeles Police Department will remove 150 officers from patrol and other assignments to deal with the fallout from a state-mandated plan to reduce prison overcrowding, a move that Police Chief Charlie Beck said will slow response times to 911 calls.

“Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined forces Monday to criticize the state's attempt to relieve severe prison overcrowding, saying it has unfairly saddled the LAPD with a burden that the department does not have the resources to address. They warned that it poses a risk to public safety and threatens to reverse the falling crime rates Los Angeles has experienced in the last decade.

“The plan, which went into effect Saturday, shifts responsibility for thousands of inmates and ex-convicts from state to county agencies.

“As part of that change, the LAPD and other local police departments will have to assume a leading role alongside the county's probation officers in keeping tabs on an escalating number of ex-convicts who otherwise would have been under the watch of the state's parole department or behind bars, Beck said. By year's end, the LAPD is expected to be tracking 4,200 people, according to figures released by the mayor's office.

“Unlike the state's parole officers, county probation staff are not typically armed nor are they adequately trained to deal with potentially violent ex-inmates, Beck said. As a result, Beck said, LAPD officers will need to take on much of the workload — for example, making house calls to check on whether the newly arrived offenders and parolees are in compliance with the terms of their release.

“Beck declined to speculate on how much longer it would take officers to respond to emergency calls. To minimize the effect, Beck said he would try to place officers who are on desk jobs or in specialized assignments back into the field.

“That could prove difficult, however, because Beck has already made several rounds of such moves and the number of officers available is limited. The LAPD has about 9,900 officers

“Beck speculated that the increased number of ex-convicts walking city streets could lead to about 3,000 more serious crimes committed — about a 3% rise. The city has experienced a long and steady decline in all categories of crime over the last decade.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Focus on Criminal Justice

The Supreme Court will do so over the next term, as reported by the New York Times.

An excerpt.

“WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, which has been focused in recent terms on the rights of corporations and on curbing big lawsuits, returns to the bench on Monday with a different agenda. Now, criminal justice is at the heart of the court’s docket, along with major cases on free speech and religious freedom.

“The docket seems to be changing,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told reporters at a judicial conference in August.

“A lot of big civil cases are going to arbitration,” he said. “I don’t see as many of the big civil cases.”

“Still, the shift in focus toward criminal and First Amendment cases will soon be obscured if, as expected, the justices agree to hear a challenge to the 2010 health care overhaul law. That case promises to be a once-in-a-generation blockbuster.

“In the meantime, the justices will hear an extraordinary set of cases that together amount to a project that could overhaul almost every part of the criminal justice system.

“The court will decide whether the police need a warrant to use advanced technology to track suspects, whether jails may strip-search people arrested for even the most minor offenses, whether defendants have a right to competent lawyers to help them decide whether to plead guilty, when eyewitness evidence may be used at trial, and what should happen when prosecutors withhold evidence.

“The Supreme Court has positioned itself to improve the quality of the criminal justice process from beginning to end,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Catholic Social Teaching

The marvelous book, Church State and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine, gets a wonderful review from Ignatius Insight, and while it is a book I have only begun to delve into, I have learned enough that it has joined the social teaching canon of my apostolate The Lampstand Foundation.

An excerpt from the Ignatius review.

"The concept of justice as order in the soul of the individual needs to be rediscovered today." — Benestad, 144.

"Nowadays, service to others is often presented as the distinguishing characteristic of a Catholic university; but without linking that service to the prior task of seeking truth and achieving some order in one's soul through prayer, a sacramental life, acceptance of the Catholic creeds, and the practice of Christian morality. It seems naïve to me, and even Pelagian, to think that Christ-like service can be informed and embrace without a foundation in Christian doctrine and a basis in learning." — Benestad, 284.


“We have been waiting for this remarkable book for a long time, one that knows not just episcopal and papal thought but the whole history of theology, political philosophy, and philosophy at large. This book has roots not only in the Greeks and Romans, but also in Scripture and the great theologians of the Church. And it is aware of the pitfalls of language and ideas that often steer Christian thinkers into the heady, dangerous realms of ideology. Dr. Brian Benestad knows his Locke and Hobbes, his Marx, and the more modern liberal relativist theories associated with Rawls and other American writers.

“Benestad, at the University of Scranton, is the best qualified and able of American scholars to write an overall understanding of Catholic Social Thought, which has tended to become a rather narrow and isolated body of knowledge. Benestad's mentor, whom he often cites and whose collected essays he edited, was the late Father Ernest Fortin, A.A. Fortin, along with Heinrich Rommen, Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, John Courtney Murray, and Charles N. R. McCoy, was certainly the most critical and acute mind in the intellectual circles of his time. Fortin covered the whole gamut of thought from Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, to the Fathers of the Church, Aquinas, Aquinas, Dante, and into the modern world. Fortin was familiar with Strauss and Bloom and their critiques of modernity.

“This book is more than the "introduction" of its sub-title. It is nothing less than a critical, philosophical reflection on the whole tradition of what is loosely called "social thought or doctrine." It knows its way through the relation of reason and revelation. Its range includes economics, environmentalism, universities, political institutions, war, life and family questions, subsidiarity, and culture. Metaphysics is always just below the surface.

“Benestad, to be sure, unlike Plato, Aristotle, and the current pope, does not have much to say about music. But he makes remarkable use of classic literature and novels to illustrate virtues and vices. He is obviously a broadly learned man in the tradition of liberal education. This overlook of social thought is doubly necessary as many of the basic words and notions that are found in modern thought and in political usage are anything but neutral or friendly to what Catholicism is and what it holds.


“Thus, a major effort of Benestad is to clarify what is meant by "justice," "rights," "social justice," "values," and "dignity," the language that even the popes and bishops have, sometimes incautiously, chosen to use to explain Catholic positions in the public order. Each of these words has an ancient or recent history that is anything but self-evident. Different philosophies make each concept in effect equivocal, not meaning at all what other users mean.

“Each concept or word needs to be carefully distinguished. We need to see that what Hobbes meant by "rights" was not what Aristotle meant by justice. Among these words and phrases, perhaps none is more necessary to rethink than that of "social justice," a very modern phrase from the late nineteenth century that cannot, in spite of heroic efforts to do so, easily be reconciled with classic political thought or Christian terms. The phrase is inspired largely by modern liberal thought that presupposes human autonomy with no relation to natural or divine law.

“Benestad does a remarkably fine job in tracing the roots and implications of this phrase and how it might be properly used so that it does not bear its ideological baggage from Locke or Rousseau. A major reason that Catholic thought has not had the impact that it should is because words like justice, values, rights, and dignity come from Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Weber, and Kant. They do not mean what it looks like they mean from a tradition of Aquinas or Aristotle. Benestad, to his credit, is well aware both that these words are the meat of modern discourse and the source of considerable confusion. The book is a constant effort to relate rights to duty, dignity to being, values to objective norms, and justice to virtue.

"Indeed, it might well be said that the major effort of Benestad is to show how no concept of justice as some sort of rearrangement of society can stand by itself apart from the classical emphasis on the need of individual virtue. We cannot have a "just" society if we do not have "just" people who know that justice is not a subjective "right" or "want" but something that is objectively "due."

“Aristotle's political philosophy had been well aware that regimes reflect the virtue of the people that composed it. He knew we cannot have a good regime and un-virtuous citizens. Modern thought has largely rejected this to claim that vice and disorder can be cured simply by change of regime. It doesn't and cannot happen that way, even though some regimes are better than others.

“Benestad is completely familiar with what is known as modern Catholic social thought from the work of Leo XIII on. He knows of Pius XI and Pius XIII, John XXIII, and Paul VI. He is aware that in John Paul II and Benedict we have something in the Church that has perhaps never existed before: two popes, one following the other, both working together, who are themselves first class scholars and (particularly in the case of John Paul II) charismatic leaders of world historic significance. The world has done its best to refuse to acknowledge their genius and the truth of their lives and teachings. In this sense, our intellectual problems are initially moral ones.

“Benestad is well aware of the extra-ordinary genius of the present pope. His appendix is devoted to Caritas in veritate, the pope's third "social" encyclical. At one level, it is amusing to realize that the Catholic Church has been headed since Leo XIII at the end of the nineteenth century by men of superior intellect, but more recently by men the equals of any minds or their own or any other time. How little this intellectual foundation of the Church is appreciated within the Church and culture is a judgment on the quality of the lived faith and ongoing intelligence of our time.

“The book contains four parts with twelve chapters. The first part concerns "the human person, the political community, and the common good." Part two covers "civil society and the common good, three mediating societies (family, Church, and universities). Part three brings us to private property and the universal destination of goods. Finally, part four is on the international community and justice. It is in this latter section that Benestad deals sanely with war and international institutions.

“One thing that particularly struck me about this book is that Benestad always makes his own judgment on the issues that he presents. The reader always knows where he stands on the issues, and why. He is quite critical of many of the politicized American episcopal initiatives in the social order, none more so than that of Cardinal Bernadin's confused "seamless garment" doctrine. Often such documents bear ideological traits that never should be there.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Capital Punishment Support II

Following up on yesterday’s post, this comment from Dr. Feser’s article is really superb.

The comment:

“CS Lewis often pointed out the Christianity was added to and a completion of natural law and good paganism.

“Therefore much of The Good, most, was taken for granted as being obvious, spontaneous, inborn.

“The anciently conceived Good was a unity of virtue, truth a beauty.

“So modern 'thinkers' arrive on the scene having rejected the vast submerged iceberg of the natural and the spontaneous, and having isolated virtue (ethics) from the true and the beautiful, and they tackle an issue like the death penalty by considering it on the assumption that all previous generations were evil fools and a few minutes of sensible consideration should be able to supersede them.

“And so we discover that the death penalty is evil, and all of humanity before a few decades ago, and ninety something percent of humanity now, is evil...


“I look around at the world of careerists, expedience merchants and intellectual pygmies who make these amazing moral discoveries such as the evilness of the death penalty, these pundits and pub debaters who claim to have superseded the justice of the ages (the great philosophers, the Saints and martyrs)- and am simply stunned at the mismatch.

“It really is bizarre that the most self-indulgent and hedonistic generations to inhabit the planet should regard themselves as *moral* experts and exemplars - of all things!”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Capital Punishment Support

There is a marvelous article by Dr. Edward Feser at The Public Discourse supporting capital punishment.

An excerpt with links at the jump.

“Most critics of capital punishment pay little attention to the question of “punishment,” focusing almost exclusively on their argument with “capital.” This is a fatal mistake, for as it happens, anyone who agrees that punishment as such is legitimate cannot fail also to agree, if he thinks carefully about the matter, that capital punishment can be legitimate, at least in principle. Of course, some critics of capital punishment reject punishment of any sort, but Christopher Tollefsen (who, in a recent Public Discourse article, claimed that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral) presumably would not.

“Traditionally, the aims of punishment are threefold: retribution, or inflicting on a wrongdoer a harm he has come to deserve because of his offense; correction, or chastising the wrongdoer for the sake of getting him to change his ways; and deterrence, discouraging others from committing the same offense. Retribution is necessarily the most fundamental. Strictly speaking, we cannot correct someone who doesn’t deserve correction; at most we might try to affect his behavior (via drugs, say) in a sub-personal manner that doesn’t appeal, as true correction does, to his sense of desert and shame. We also cannot justly inflict a punishment on someone for purposes of deterrence unless he deserves that punishment. That retribution is fundamental doesn’t entail that those with the authority to do so must always exact retribution on an offender. It does, however, mean that retribution may be exacted, all things being equal (though of course things are not always equal); it also means that retribution—inflicting a harm that is deserved—must always be part of any act of punishment, even if it is not the only part.

“Now, what a wrongdoer deserves as punishment is a harm proportionate to his offense. If we allow that someone guilty of stealing $100 deserves to be punished, we must also acknowledge that he ought not to be punished by having $100,000 taken from him, or by having merely ten cents taken from him; he has not done anything to deserve the harsher punishment, but he does deserve more than the lesser punishment. In short, the punishment should fit the crime. This does not mean that a wrongdoer should have the same wrong inflicted upon him that he has committed against others—that rapists should be raped, or that arsonists should have their houses burned down. Sometimes inflicting such punishments would be impossible (a mass murderer cannot be executed multiple times), or would do more harm than good. The point is rather that the gravity of the punishment should reflect the gravity of the wrongdoing. Hence those guilty of large thefts should be punished more severely than those guilty of small ones, those guilty of inflicting serious bodily injury should be punished more severely than those merely guilty of theft, and so forth. This principle of proportionality might, in some cases, be difficult to apply practically, but we cannot plausibly reject it without rejecting the notions of desert and punishment along with it.

“If wrongdoers do deserve punishment, and if punishment ought to be scaled to the gravity of the crime (harsher punishments for graver crimes), then it would be absurd to deny that there is a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate, at least in principle. Even if it were claimed that a single murder would not merit it, it is not difficult to imagine crimes that would. Ten murders? Ten murders coupled with the rape and torture of the victims? Genocide? If wrongdoers deserve punishment and the punishment ought to be proportional to the offense, then at some point we are going to reach a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate at least in principle. To claim that no crime could justify capital punishment—to claim, for instance, that a cold-blooded genocidal rapist can never even in principle merit a greater punishment than the lifelong imprisonment inflicted on a bank robber—is implicitly to give up the principle of proportionality and, with it, any coherent conception of just punishment.

“Obviously, questions might be raised about whether capital punishment is advisable in practice, even if it is allowable in principle. Enough has been said, however, to show that it is not intrinsically wrong to resort to it, at least not if punishment as such is legitimate. (For a more detailed defense of capital punishment along similar lines, see chapter 4 of David Oderberg’s Applied Ethics.)

“Now, why does Tollefsen think that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong? He appeals to what he calls the “Essential Dignity View” of human beings, according to which “human beings … possess dignity, or excellence, in virtue of the kind of being they are; and this essential dignity can be used summarily to express why it is impermissible, for example, intentionally to kill human beings: to do so is to act against their dignity.” On this basis, Tollefsen concludes that “it is always wrong intentionally to kill a human person,” from which it follows that capital punishment is wrong.

“It is one thing merely to assert that capital punishment is against human dignity; it is quite another actually to show that it is. To be sure, it is plausible to say that to kill an innocent person is to act against his dignity. It is also plausible to say that imprisoning or fining an innocent person is contrary to his dignity. Suppose, however, that someone claimed that imprisoning or fining even a guilty person would be contrary to his dignity. I assume Tollefsen would disagree; certainly he should. The reason is obvious: A guilty person deserves such punishment, but an innocent person does not. So if a guilty person can, consistent with his dignity, deserve imprisonment or a fine, why could he not also deserve capital punishment, if his offense is grave enough?”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Holy Mother of Life

The Holy Mother of God is a powerful protector, and this wonderful story from The Catholic Thing reveals some of her work in Brooklyn.

An excerpt.

“The Chiaroscuro Foundation recently released New York City abortion data by zip code in the form of a map. Since it took us a while to have the map developed, we have actually had the data for some time. As we thought about it and discussed it, it occurred to us that the zip codes with particularly low abortion rates were perhaps even more interesting than the zip codes with particularly high rates. We wondered why some zip codes, such as 11219 in Brooklyn, came in substantially lower than many other parts of the city. We decided to see if we could find anything interesting in some of these places.

“So I searched for a Catholic church in 11219 and found Regina Pacis. I contacted the pastor, Msgr. Marino, and asked to meet. When I arrived the following Monday morning, I drove around the neighborhood a bit before going to the church. It isn’t a terrible neighborhood, but it isn’t a well-to-do neighborhood either. With such a low abortion rate, I had expected it to be somewhat more upscale. As I arrived at the church, I was even more curious than before about what Msgr. Marino might think of the low rate of abortion in his neighborhood.

“And then I saw it: the Chapel of Mary Mother of the Unborn.

“It all started in 1989, when Msgr. Marino was parochial vicar at Regina Pacis. He went to have dinner with a cousin upstate who had married a Jewish woman. The conversation turned to abortion, and things got so heated between Fr. Marino and his cousin’s wife that she asked him to leave. On his way home, he was heartbroken to think that he, a Catholic priest, was unable to defend the Church’s teaching on abortion adequately, even among family. He thought and prayed about it for days, and eventually came up with the idea of developing a response that would not be anti-abortion, but pro-life: a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Unborn.

“After being treated a bit dismissively by his pastor and his bishop, Msgr. Marino got official recognition for the title of Mary Mother of the Unborn from Rome. He wrote a prayer and had it approved by his bishop, found a statue, and converted the old baptistery at Regina Pacis into the chapel of Mary Mother of the Unborn. And so it began.

“Next to the statue, which is perched atop the baptismal font, is the Book of Life: prayers written for women who are expecting; couples who are having a hard time conceiving; couples mourning the loss of an unborn child through miscarriage; women mourning their abortions; parents wrestling with the anguish of an adverse prenatal diagnosis; mothers, fathers, grandmothers giving thanks for safe delivery. Nearly seventy large books have been filled with handwritten prayers since 1989. The walls are adorned with pictures of babies born in answer to prayer to Mary Mother of the Unborn. Every year, on the Feast of the Annunciation, Msgr. Marino brings the statue up to the church and blesses all the pregnant women of the parish, all the newborns, and all those mourning the loss of a child.”