Monday, September 24, 2012

Don't Let Them Kill Terry Wiliams. End the Death Penalty!

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is preparing to murder Terry Williams on Oct 3, 2012. 

17 States and Wash DC have abolished the death penalty.

More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

"A Pennsylvania judge will conduct a hearing on Sept. 20 to determine if mitigating evidence of child sexual abuse was withheld from Terrance Williams' defense at the time of his death penalty trial.  Williams' attorneys say that the victim in the underlying murder was the man who abused Williams as a child.  (Phil. Inquirer, Sept. 14, 2012). On Sept. 17, the Board of Pardons voted 3-2 in favor of clemency for Williams, but a unanimous recommendation is needed for the governor to grant a commutation." ( )

The Catholic Church is against the death penalty. "Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life.”A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005

Pope John Paul II has declared the Church's near total opposition to the death penalty. In his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" (The Gospel of Life) issued March 25, 1995 after four years of consultations with the world's Roman Catholic bishops, John Paul II wrote that execution is only appropriate "in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady immprovement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Read John Grisham's non fiction book, An Innocent Man.  

In 1982, in America Magazine, Mary Meehan articulated reasons why the Death Penalty is immoral and ineffective.

Fr. Rick

Ten Reasons To Oppose the Death

From November 20, 1982
the cover of America, the Catholic magazine
O ver 1,000 state prisoners are on death row in America today. A Justice Department official recently said that many of them are exhausting their appeals and that we may soon "witness executions at a rate approaching the more than three per week that prevailed during the 1930's."
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, there is an effort to restore the death penalty as a punishment for certain Federal crimes. A bill to accomplish this was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 13-to-6 vote last year when conservatives lined up for the death penalty and liberals declaimed in vain against it. Yet one need not be a certified liberal in order to oppose the death penalty. Richard Viguerie, premier fundraiser of the New Right, is a firm opponent of capital punishment.
Some of the arguments against the death penalty are essentially conservative, and many others transcend ideology. No one has to agree with all of the arguments in order to reach a decision. As President Reagan has said in another context, doubt should always be resolved on the side of life.
Nor need one be "soft on crime" in order to oppose the death penalty. Albert Camus, an opponent of capital punishment, said: "We know enough to say that this or that major criminal deserves hard labor for life. But we don't know enough to decree that he be shorn of his future—in other words, of the chance we all have of making amends."
But many liberals in our country, by their naive ideas about quick rehabilitation and by their support for judicial discretion in sentencing, have done much to create demand for the death penalty they abhor. People are right to be alarmed when judges give light sentences for murder and other violent crimes. It is reasonable for them to ask: "Suppose some crazy judge lets him out, and members of my family are his next victims?" The inconsistency of the judicial system leads many to support the death penalty.
There are signs that some liberals now understand the problem. Senators Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), in opposing the death-penalty bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, are suggesting as an alternative "a real life sentence" for murder and "heinous crimes." By this they mean a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole. And if we adopt Chief Justice Warren Burger's proposal about making prisons into "factories with fences," perhaps murderers can pay for their prison room and board and also make financial restitution to families they have deprived of breadwinners.

With these alternatives in mind, let us consider 10 good reasons to oppose the death penalty.

1. There is no way to remedy the occasional mistake. One of the witnesses against the death penalty before the Senate committee last year was Earl Charles, a man who spent over three years on a Georgia death row for murders he did not commit. Another witness remarked that, had Mr. Charles faced a system "where the legal apparatus was speedier and the death penalty had been carried out more expeditiously, we would now be talking about the late Mr. Charles and bemoaning our error."
What happens when the mistake is discovered after a man has been executed for a crime he did not commit? What do we say to his widow and children? Do we erect an apologetic tombstone over his grave?
These are not idle questions. A number of persons executed in the United States were later cleared by confessions of those who had actually committed the crimes. In other cases, while no one else confessed, there was great doubt that the condemned were guilty. Watt Espy, an Alabamian who has done intensive research on American executions, says that he has "every reason to believe" that 10 innocent men were executed in Alabama alone. Mr. Espy cites names, dates and other specifics of the cases. He adds that there are similar cases in virtually every state.
We might consider Charles Peguy's words about the turn-of-the-century French case in which Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly convicted of treason: "We said that a single injustice, a single crime, a single illegality, particularly if it is officially recorded, confirmed...that a single crime shatters and is sufficient to shatter the whole social pact, the whole social contract, that a single legal crime, a single dishonorable act will bring about the loss of one's honor, the dishonor of a whole people."

2. There is racial and economic discrimination in application of the death penalty. This is an old complaint, but one that many believe has been remedied by court-mandated safeguards. All five of the prisoners executed since 1977—one shot, one gassed and three electrocuted—were white. This looks like a morbid kind of affirmative action plan, making up for past discrimination against blacks. But the five were not representative of the death-row population, except in being male. About 99 percent of the death-row inmates are men.
Of the 1,058 prisoners on death row by Aug. 20,1982, 42 percent were black, whereas about 12 percent of the United States population is black. Those who receive the death penalty still tend to be poor, poorly educated and represented by public defenders or court-appointed lawyers. They are not the wealthy murderers of Perry Mason or Agatha Christie fame.
Discriminatory application of the death penalty, besides being unjust to the condemned, suggests that some victims' lives are worth more than others. A study published in Crime & Delinquency (October 1980) found that, of black persons in Florida who commit murder, "those who kill whites are nearly 40 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks."
Even Walter Berns, an articulate proponent of the death penalty, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that capital punishment "has traditionally been imposed in this country in a grossly discriminatory fashion" and said that "it remains to be seen whether this country can impose the death penalty without regard to race or class." If it cannot, he declared, then capital punishment "will have to be invalidated on equal-protection grounds."
It is quite possible to be for the death penalty in theory ("If this were a just world, I'd be for it"), but against it in practice ("It's an unjust, crazy, mixed-up world, so I'm against it").

3. Application of the death penalty tends to be arbitrary and capricious; for similar crimes, some are sentenced to death while others are not. Initially two men were charged with the killing for which John Spenkelink was electrocuted in Florida in 1979. The second man turned state's evidence and was freed; he remarked: "I didn't intend for John to take the rap. It just worked out that way."
Soon after the Spenkelink execution, former San Francisco official Dan White received a prison sentence of seven years and eight months in prison for killing two people—the Mayor of San Francisco and another city official.
Anyone who follows the news can point to similar disparities. Would the outcome be much different if we decided for life or death by rolling dice or spinning a roulette wheel?

4. The death penalty gives some of the worst offenders publicity that they do not deserve. Gary Gilmore and Steven Judy received reams of publicity as they neared their dates with the grim reaper. They had a chance to expound before a national audience their ideas about crime and punishment, God and country, and anything else that happened to cross their minds. It is hard to imagine two men less deserving of a wide audience. It can be argued, of course, that if executions become as widespread and frequent as proponents of the death penalty hope, the publicity for each murderer will decline. That may be so, but each may still be a media celebrity on a statewide basis.
While the death penalty undoubtedly deters some would-be murderers, there is evidence that it encourages others— especially the unstable who are attracted to media immortality like moths to a flame. If instead of facing heady weeks before television cameras, they faced a lifetime of obscurity in prison, the path of violence might seem less glamorous to them.

5. The death penalty involves medical doctors, who are sworn to preserve life, in the act of killing. This issue has been much discussed in recent years because several states have provided for execution by lethal injection. In 1980 the American Medical Association, responding to this innovation, declared that a doctor should not participate in an execution. But it added that a doctor may determine or certify death in any situation.
The A.M.A. evaded a major part of the ethical problem. When doctors use their stethoscopes to indicate whether the electric chair has done its job, they are assisting the executioner.

6. Executions have a corrupting effect on the public. Thomas Macaulay said of the Puritans that they "hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators." While wrong on the first point, they were right on the second. There is something indecent in the rituals that surround executions and the excitement—even the entertainment—that they provide to the public. There is the cat-and-mouse ritual of the appeals process, with prisoners sometimes led right up to the execution chamber and then given a stay of execution. There are the last visits from family, the last dinner, the last walk, the last words. Television cameras, which have fought their way into courtrooms and nearly everywhere else, may some day push their way right up to the execution chamber and give us all, in living color, the very last moments.

7. The death penalty cannot be limited to the worst cases. Many people who oppose capital punishment have second thoughts whenever a particularly brutal murder occurs. When a Richard Speck or Charles Manson or Steven Judy emerges, there is a tendency to say, "That one really deserves to die." Disgust, anger and genuine fear support the second thoughts.
But it is impossible to write a death penalty law in such a way that it will apply only to the Specks and Mansons and Judys of this world. And, given the ingenuity of the best lawyers money can buy, there is probably no way to apply it to the worst murderers who happen to be wealthy.
The death penalty, like every other form of violence, is extremely difficult to limit once the "hard cases" persuade society to let down the bars in order to solve a few specific problems. A sentence intended for Charles Manson is passed instead on J.D. Gleaton, a semiliterate on South Carolina's death row who had difficulty understanding his trial. Later he said: "I don't know anything about the law that much and when they are up there speaking those big words, I don't even know what they are saying." Or Thomas Hays, under sentence of death in Oklahoma and described by a fellow inmate as "nutty as a fruit cake." Before his crime, Mr. Hays was committed to mental hospitals several times; afterwards, he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

8. The death penalty is an expression of the absolute power of the state; abolition of that penalty is a much- needed limit on government power.
What makes the state so pure that it has the right to take life? Look at the record of governments throughout history—so often operating with deception, cruelty and greed, so often becoming masters of the citizens they are supposed to serve. "Forbidding a man's execution," Camus said, "would amount to proclaiming publicly that society and the state are not absolute values." It would amount to saying that there are some things even the state may not do.
There is also the problem of the state's involving innocent people in a premeditated killing. "I'm personally opposed to killing and violence," said the prison warden who had to arrange Gary Gilmore's execution, "and having to do that is a difficult responsibility." Too often, in killing and violence, the state compels people to act against their consciences.
And there is the point that government should not give bad example—especially not to children. Earl Charles, a veteran of several years on death row for crimes he did not commit, tried to explain this last year: "Well, it is difficult for me to sit down and talk to my son about 'thou shalt not kill,' when the state saying, 'Well, yes, we can kill, under certain circumstances.' " With great understatement, Mr. Charles added, "That is difficult. I mean, that is confusing to him."

9. There are strong religious reasons for many to oppose the death penalty. Some find compelling the thought that Cain, the first murderer, was not executed but was marked with a special sign and made a wanderer upon the face of the earth. Richard Viguerie developed his position on capital punishment by asking what Christ would say and do about it. "I believe that a strong case can be made," Mr. Viguerie wrote in a recent book, "that Christ would oppose the killing of a human being as punishment for a crime." This view is supported by the New Testament story about the woman who faced execution by stoning (John 8:7, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone").
Former Senator Harold Hughes (D., Iowa), arguing against the death penalty in 1974, declared: "'Thou shalt not kill' is the shortest of the Ten Commandments, uncomplicated by qualification or exception....It is as clear and awesomely commanding as the powerful thrust of chain lightning out of a dark summer sky."

10. Even the guilty have a right to life. Leszek Syski is a Maryland antiabortion activist who says that he "became convinced that the question of whether or not murderers deserve to die is the wrong one. The real question is whether other humans have a right to kill them." He concluded that they do not after conversations with an opponent of capital punishment who asked, "Why don't we torture prisoners? Torturing them is less than killing them." Mr. Syski believes that "torture is dehumanizing, but capital punishment is the essence of dehumanization."
Richard Viguerie reached his positions on abortion and capital punishment independently, but does see a connection between the two issues: "To me, life is sacred," Mr. Viguerie says. "And I don't believe I have a right to terminate someone else's life either way—by abortion or capital punishment." Many others in the prolife movement have come to the same conclusion. They don't think they have a right to play God, and they don't believe that the state encourages respect for life when it engages in premediated killing.
Camus was right: We know enough to say that some crimes require severe punishment. We do not know enough to say when anyone should die.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who's Mitt Calling a Moocher?

  It Takes One to Know One By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF  Sep 19, 2012  Op-Ed Columnist

As I watched a video of Mitt Romney scolding moochers suffering from a culture of dependency, I thought of American soldiers I’ve met in Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t pay federal income tax while they’re in combat zones, and they rely on government benefits when they come back.
Even if they return unscathed, most will never pay lofty sums in federal income taxes. No, all they offer our nation is their lives, while receiving government benefits — such as a $100,000 “death gratuity” to their wives or husbands when killed.
Maybe I’m being unfair, for I’m sure that when Romney complained in that video about freeloaders, he didn’t mean soldiers. But the 47 percent (more accurately, 46 percent) of American families whom he scorned because they don’t pay federal income taxes includes many other modestly paid workers or retirees who have contributed far more meaningfully to America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the one where Romney spoke in May.
What about the underpaid kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school? What about young police officers and firefighters? What about social workers struggling to help abused children?
One lesson is the narcissism of many in today’s affluent class. They manage to feel victimized by the tax code — even as they sometimes enjoy a lower rate than their secretaries and ride corporate jets acquired with the help of tax loopholes.
While self-pitying Republicans focus on federal income taxes (mostly paid by the rich), what’s more relevant is the overall tax bill — including state, local and federal taxes of all kinds. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the majority of American families pay more than one-quarter of incomes in total taxes — and that may be more than Romney pays.
Romney is a smart man and, his friends say, a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, so what possessed him to say these things? There’s an underlying truth there — we do have a problem with entitlements and with freeloaders — and he inflated it beyond recognition. Perhaps he has passed so much time in a Republican primary bubble, hearing moans about the parasitic 47 percent, that he didn’t appreciate how obtuse and arrogant such comments appear.
The furor also reflects the central political reality today: the Republican Party has moved far, far to the right so that, on some issues, it veers into extremist territory.
Jeb Bush noted earlier this year that even conservative icons like President Ronald Reagan wouldn’t fit easily into today’s Republican Party. President Richard Nixon, who founded the Environmental Protection Agency, would be a lefty. This year, Republican primary voters have been further purging the party of centrist remnants, like Senator Richard Lugar, a foreign policy heavyweight who deserves America’s thanks for helping make us safer from loose nukes.
When I was growing up in Oregon, it was Democrats who were typically the crazies. Gov. George Wallace (“segregation forever”) tapped into populist resentments in his presidential campaigns. Lyndon Larouche was a cult leader seeking the Democratic nomination.
Oregon’s senators then were Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, both Republicans of a kind that barely exist today. Hatfield was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, and Packwood supported abortion rights. Oregon’s governor at the time, Tom McCall, was a Republican and a leading environmentalist.
I called up Packwood and asked him if he and Hatfield would be Republicans if they were starting over. “We both wondered about that,” he said.
Packwood noted that the Republican Party once attracted union support, black support, urban and bicoastal support. “Historically, the Republicans have been geniuses at throwing away advantages,” he said.
The Republican shift shows up in polling. In the 1960s, more than two-thirds of Democrats and Republicans alike expressed trust in government. That has fallen to about one-third for Democrats — and to just 5 percent for Republicans.
For me, the saddest polls are those about facts. A Dartmouth poll this year found that Republicans believe, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.”
The same poll found that Republicans believe, almost by a 3-to-1 ratio, that President Obama was born in another country. Democrats also suffer from self-deception (such as a reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president), but today’s Republicans seem disproportionately untethered to reality.
Another illustration of radicalizing self-delusion comes when the son of a governor and corporate chief executive says that “everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work.”
Romney has proved himself right: We manifestly do have a problem with people who see themselves as victims even as they benefit from loopholes in the tax code.
One is running for president.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Baptist and Archbishop Chaput speak out for the Poor

A Mormon, 2 Catholics and a Protestant go into a homeless shelter

What would it look like if the faiths of all the candidates in this presidential election caused them to rally around poverty?
By Bill Leonard

Friday, September 14, 2012
Religiously speaking, this presidential election is a fascinating moment in our national life, and for multiple reasons.
First, one party nominated a Mormon and a Roman Catholic as president and vice president respectively, the first time in American history that a major party ticket has excluded a Protestant! This is not the first time a Mormon has sought the presidency. The father of the present Republican nominee unsuccessfully pursued that party’s nomination in 1968. Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844, the same year he was assassinated by a “gentile” mob in Nauvoo, Ill.  
Second, the ideological orientation of the two Roman Catholic vice presidential candidates could not be more disparate. Yet, both the Republican and the Democrat have been reprimanded by American bishops for their views on economics and sexuality, respectively. (Ironically, the bishops have found themselves chastened over similar issues.)
Third, the Democratic nominee (the country’s first African-American President) is a Christian, long schooled in that faith by the African-American church. Yet many question his Christian profession in surveys indicating some 40 percent of the public still believes him to be a Muslim.
These electoral events bring together four individuals with diverse religious identities, many reflecting contradictory approaches to personal and communal faith. As election-day looms, what in their traditions might unite them, with long-term implications for the party that captures the presidency?
What if these candidates made a concerted response to poverty, a major imperative of each of their respective faiths? Yet each campaign seems strangely silent regarding poverty and the poor. As one commentator recently noted, talking about poverty in this election year is “not a political winner.”
But what if the candidates took their distinct religious traditions seriously enough to make alleviating poverty a “winner” for everyone?
Consider, for example, the Mormon text, Doctrine and Covenants 119:4: “Those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”
Suppose the Mormon candidate, inspired by his faith tradition, agreed to encourage those making more than $250,000 annually, who would receive additional tax relief through his administration, to give at least 10 percent of their income to benefit poverty-alleviating agencies for perhaps the next four years?
And what if the Roman Catholic vice presidential candidates asserted: “We know we are miles apart on many religio-political questions, but our faith commitment unites us in common concern for poverty. We affirm the recent statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing dismay that poverty has been so small an issue in the 2012 campaigns. With our bishops, we recognize that some 12 million Americans are unemployed, while some 10 million exist as the ‘working poor.’ As candidates for vice president, we will follow our faith to work in behalf of the poor in America.”   
And what if the Democratic presidential candidate recalled the words of the Protestant preacher, Martin Luther King Jr., who organized the “Poor Peoples’ Movement” in 1968, the year of his assassination: “People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, 'We are here; we are poor; we don't have any money; you have made us this way...and we've come to stay until you do something about it.'"
What if this president affirmed his own faith-based commitment to “do something about” poverty in 2012? This could involve conversations and strategies related to government programs, nonprofits, and religious communities, all revisiting together the growing needs of the impoverished among us.
In the end, whoever gains the presidency, might “a preferential response to the poor” become a real “political winner” for everyone?   
Suppose we accept the assertions of the Mormon, the two Catholics and the Protestant that they are indeed persons of faith. And if they are, let’s ask them to take seriously another ancient text, claimed by all three of their traditions: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead” (James 2: 15-17).
Matter of fact, if the rest of us ever-squabbling-faith-based-sinners should take those words even half-way to heart perhaps a renewed effort to attack poverty and its horrible affects  together would have political, ethical and yes, even spiritual implications for an entire nation. I’d vote for that, by God, no picture ID required.
EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: As part of our mission to provide credible and compelling information about matters of faith, Associated Baptist Press actively seeks a diversity of viewpoints in its columns, commentaries and other opinion-based content. Opinions expressed in these articles are not intended to represent ABP editorial policy and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABP's staff, board of directors or supporters.

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies at the School of Divinity, Wake Forest University. His "Can I Get a Witness?" column appears biweekly at
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© 2012 Associated


As we enter another election season, it’s important to remember that the way we lead our public lives needs to embody what the Catholic faith teaches -- not what our personalized edition of Christianity feels comfortable with, but the real thing; the full package; what the Church actually holds to be true. In other words, we need to be Catholics first and political creatures second.

The more we transfer our passion for Jesus Christ to some political messiah or party platform, the more bitter we feel toward his Church when she speaks against the idols we set up in our own hearts. There’s no more damning moment in all of Scripture than John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.”

The only king Christians have is Jesus Christ. The obligation to seek and serve the truth belongs to each of us personally. The duty to love and help our neighbor belongs to each of us personally. We can’t ignore or delegate away these personal duties to anyone else or any government agency.

More than 1,600 years ago, St. Basil the Great warned his wealthy fellow Christians that “The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothing you store in boxes belongs to the naked.”

St. John Chrysostom, Basil’s equally great contemporary, preached exactly the same message: “God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts,” and “for those who neglect their neighbor, a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire in the company of the demons.”

What was true then is true now. Hell is not a metaphor. Hell is real. Jesus spoke about it many times and without any ambiguity. If we do not help the poor, we’ll go to hell. I’ll say it again: If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.

And who are the poor? They’re the people we so often try to look away from -- people who are homeless or dying or unemployed or mentally disabled. They’re also the unborn child who has a right to God’s gift of life, and the single mother who looks to us for compassion and material support. Above all, they’re the persons in need that God presents to each of us not as a “policy issue,” but right here, right now, in our daily lives.

Thomas of Villanova, the great Augustinian saint for whom Villanova University is named, is remembered for his skills as a scholar and reforming bishop. But even more important was his passion for serving the poor, and his zeal for penetrating the entire world around him with the virtues of justice and Christian love.

Time matters. God will hold us accountable for the way we use it. All of us who call ourselves Christians share the same vocation to love God first and above all things; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’re citizens of heaven first; but we have obligations here. We’re Catholics and Christians first. And if we live that way -- zealously and selflessly in our public lives -- our country will be the better for it; and God will use us to help make the world new.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Cardinal Carlo Martini, S.J.: Last Words

Translated final interview with Martini