Saturday, September 19, 2009

Murderers and Redemption

I've been reading St. Therese's The Story of a Soul. It is important for me to read it because I tend to thrive on abstract, academic, rational kinds of reading, and this is true of my spiritual reading. Recently in a conversation with one of the deacons at our parish, I realized that I need to tap into a more emotional and deeper spiritual relationship with God. St. Therese is a great start for that pilgrimage. (And my son's football game was at St. Therese the Little Flower parish today, which is a nice reminder to stay on this track for a while.)

St. Therese wrote something that has a great deal of applicability to today's headlines. Romell Broom raped and killed a fourteen-year-old girl in 1984. His recent execution at the Lucasville prison in Ohio by lethal injection was halted because the executioner could not get a vein. On a local radio talk show both the host and a caller referred to Broom as an "animal" without any second thoughts on that viewpoint.

What Broom did was an horrendous evil. He caused a tremendously painful, humiliating death to an innocent teenage girl, Tryna Middleton, as well as the on-going agony of her mother, Betsy. Broom's attorney made the outrageous statement: "There's still a state that wants to execute Romell Broom even though he's been through this horrific, tortuous two-and-a-half hour battle with the executioners on Tuesday, and it's our hope that we can convince the courts that once the state has tried once to execute this man and has failed, that they can't try again." The attorney seems to be conveniently forgetting the horrific, torturous battle Tryna Middleton faced at the hands of Broom.

However, it is important to remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the death penalty:

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT

We should focus on this line:

...rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself...

This is the dance of justice and mercy. People must take responsibility for their actions, society must be protected from dangerous people, but criminals must also be urged toward redemption. Broom is created in the image and likeness of God, no matter how deformed, how defiled, that image has become.

St. Therese can help us here:

I'd heard of a criminal who had just been condemned to death for some frightful murders. It seemed that he would die without repenting. I was determined at all costs to save him from hell. I used every means I could. I knew that by myself I could do nothing, so I offered God the infinite merits of Our Lord and the treasures of the Church. I was quite certain that my prayers would be answered, but to give me courage to go on praying for sinners I said to God: "I am sure You will forgive this wretched Pranzini. I shall believe You have done so even if he does not confess or give any other sign of repentance, for I have complete faith in the infinite mercy of Jesus. But I ask You for just one sign of his repentance to encourage me."

This prayer was answered. Daddy never allowed us to read any newspapers, but I thought I was justified in looking at the stories about Pranzini. On the day after his execution I eagerly opened La Croix and I had to rush away to hide my tears at what I read. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head beneath the guillotine's blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.

I had been given my sign, and it was typical of the graces Jesus has given me to make me eager to pray for sinners. It was at the sight of the Precious Blood flowing from the Wounds of Jesus that my thirst for souls had been born. I wanted to let them drink of this Immaculate Blood to cleanse them of their sins and the lips of my 'first child' had pressed against the Sacred Wounds! What a wonderful reply to my prayers! After this striking favour my longing for souls grew greater every day. I seemed to hear Jesus say to me what He said to the Samaritan Woman: "Give me to drink." It was a real exchange of love: I gave souls the Blood of Jesus and offered Him these purified souls that His thirst might be quenched. The more I gave Him to drink, the more the thirst of my own poor soul increased, and He gave me this burning thirst to show His love for me. (St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, translated by John Beevers, pp. 53-54)

St. Therese was concerned about Pranzini's soul. But St. Therese was not simply concerned about Pranzini's soul; she thirsted to save his soul. She calls him her "first child." How difficult for me to conceive of doing that. But we should turn to St. Therese to help us to thirst for the salvation of souls -- all souls. This includes the likes even of Romell Broom.

1 comment:

bill bannon said...

The Catechism of Trent is entirely more Biblical on capital punishment than the current catechism (which see on the 5th commandment). Hence from 1800 til 1850, the extensive papal territory in the middle of Italy at that time executed 517 criminals
(see Bugatti/papal executioner/wiki).

The problem though is while we should pray for Broom's salvation (I pray for murderers monthly specifically...and daily for all in mortal sin specifically) our little saint did not ask that he be spared the punishment he deserved and which the Church thought he deserved up til 1952 when Pius XII who had modern penology (life sentences and more invulnerable prisons) available to his generation still affirmed the death penalty as did Aquinas and countless others throughout the centuries.
And by the way, an Avignon Pope Clement VII sentenced three Knights Templar to life sentences but Philip the Fair interfered in the matter. sentences are not modern and in a sense ancient life sentences were more secure since now districts courts insist on prisoners having the right to phone calls and mail and it is through both that even the NY Times reported hundreds of murders have been ordered from prison of people out on the streets of California in the Times case....a reality not at all faced by John Paul II in any of his comments on the death penalty nor faced by the US Bishops which shows the drawback of the mono-directional magisterium version of they never have to deal with intelligent objections.

In short Genesis 9:5-6 actually gives gentiles in the persons of Ham and Japheth symbolically the command to execute murderers from God Himself speaking in the 1st person singular and it is repeated in the New Testament in Romans 13:3-4 which goes totally unmentioned in Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II who by the way in section 40 of that encyclical says that some of the violence of the old testament was from an as yet unrefined culture and did not rise to the refinement of the sermon of the mount. The problem with his saying that is that after the sermon on the mount God in Acts 12 has an angel kill Herod Agrippa without warning and leave his body for the worms and in Acts 5 Peter is the vehicle of God's power but through Peter's tongue (as in the Moses/Dathan and Abiram case) of Ananias and Sapphira being killed for having lied to God.....all of that after the refinement of the sermon on the mount. Again, our leaders do not face enough intelligent feedback prior to writing when the level of their writing is the simple ordinary magisterium (they do not need our feedback at the higher level of the infallible).