Letters to the Editor: March 2019
The Most Important Threat
I am not now and never have been a Roman Catholic. Yet I have been an avid reader of the NOR for a number of years, finding much value and often great satisfaction in it. Its principal attraction has always been its willingness to speak the truth on crucial Church and social issues. Dale Vree, former editor, might well have been looking at a very hot stake not so long ago for his exposure of very uncomfortable issues in the Church. Unfortunately, his voice, however courageous, was drowned out by a myriad of defenders of the takeover of the Church (and the nation as a whole) by the “Lavender Mafia.” And we must not forget the many Protestant fellow travelers — Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, et al. — who went along for the ride.
Pieter Vree’s column “An Outcast Among Organization Men” (Dec.) is remarkable for several reasons, not least of which is the risk he takes not just in antagonizing Church hierarchs but — are you ready for this? — in bringing down on his own head the wrath of the California legislature for daring to attack homosexuality. But, you say, they can’t do anything. What about freedom of the press, speech, and religion? I reply, have you looked around lately at what has been happening to those former freedoms? We are frighteningly close to becoming “the land of the queer and the home of the gay.”
The bravery of the NOR and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (Vree’s subject in his Dec. column) stands out as a serious challenge to a further erosion of decency and biblical purity in the Church.
We’ll just have to see what Pope Francis does about all this because, make no mistake, the homosexual takeover is the single most important threat to the spiritual, biblical, and magisterial integrity of the Church in five centuries.
Dennis J. Brown
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
For a long time I’ve wondered why all these priests turn to child molestation. I think the problem might run deeper than we’ve imagined. Child molesters are often serial offenders. They want one victim after another after another. And the Church, with her reputation for serious prohibitions on extra-marital sex, provides the perfect cover. If you believe the late Fr. Andrew Greeley, the molesters targeted the Church in a very organized way.
Please don’t use the misleading phrase child sexual abuse. The Church’s problem is overwhelmingly one of male-on-male homosexual predation and assault. Sociological studies of abuse in secular settings routinely find girls victimized two-to-one over boys, yet the John Jay study (2004) commissioned by the U.S. bishops found the reverse in the ecclesial setting, with boys victimized four-to-one over girls. Moreover, these were mostly adolescent males and even young men, including seminarians. We must never forget that sodomy is one of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.
The problem of homosexual activity in the clergy is not new. St. Peter Damien wrote The Book of Gomorrah in 1049, in which he condemns the toxic sin of sodomy among the clergy of his day. He sent his book to Pope St. Leo IX. We are still afflicted with this same evil, and until we eradicate the homosexual mafia from the Church, the abuse of boys and young men will continue. A new English translation of The Book of Gomorrah by Matthew Hoffman is now available and should be read by every Catholic who cares about the state of our Church.
Men who are afflicted with same-sex attraction and struggle against it deserve our welcome, encouragement, and support. Men who identify as homosexual are not struggling against this perversion but acceding to it. They do not merit our welcome or support any more than unrepentant murderers or human traffickers, for without repentance there can be no mercy.
Gary Yarbrough, M.D.
Ed. Note: Anne Barbeau Gardiner reviewed St. Peter Damian’s Book of Gomorrah (translated and edited by Pierre Payer) in our Nov. 2013 issue (see “Sword of the Saint, Unsheathed”). The clerics of his time heavily criticized Peter Damian for preaching against priestly homosexual activity. He told Leo IX that “perverse men…accuse me of being a traitor and an informer on the crime of a brother,” and they think it “valid to attack me who am on the attack” and “accuse me of presumptuous prattle.” We are witnessing something similar today as this has been essentially the same reaction Archbishop Viganò has received from many of his brother bishops for exposing the cover-up of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual activity.
When Napoleon bragged that he would destroy the Catholic Church, Cardinal Consalvi retorted, “Sire, you expect to destroy the Church when we priests have not managed to do so in 1,800 years.” We can say the same of homosexual priests. No dictators, no sinful priests, and no country can bring about the downfall of the Catholic Church.
Reading about the sex-abuse crisis in the December issue, especially “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, reminded me of two of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions that continue to play out.
The first occurred in La Salette, France, in 1846 when Mary appeared to two shepherd children, Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat. Priests are too involved in political affairs, Mary said, and yet they need our sympathy and support, for their task is a difficult one. She shared ominous warnings about famine and crop failures, and the populace’s indifference as angering God. Her warnings soon came true: ensuing years witnessed recurring crop failures, famously including the potato famine in Ireland.
The second event was a series of apparitions to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa, a deaf Catholic nun in Akita, Japan, in 1973. Mary told Sr. Agnes, via interior locutions from a kitsura wood carving of the Virgin on the altar of her convent’s chapel, which wept human tears almost daily, that her deafness would be cured “in seven years.” As it was. Shortly after the statue ceased emitting tears in 1981, Sr. Agnes regained her hearing. One ominous warning from the Virgin to Sr. Agnes was that “Satan has entered the Church. Bishop will turn against bishop” in the coming years. As they have.
When Pope Francis recently described the sex-abuse crisis as “Satanic,” he was literally correct.
San Jose, California
Matthew Bunson of the National Catholic Register stated that Catholic news in 2018 was dominated “almost from start to finish by the sex-abuse crisis. It was for angry and frustrated Catholics truly an annus horribilis” (Jan. 5). It will be the same in 2019 if the hierarchy doesn’t get the boldness of the Holy Spirit and cast out Satan from its midst. The bishops should use the Exorcism Prayer to cleanse the offending priests, bishops, and others who are involved, as well as the buildings where these things took place: churches, seminaries, etc.
God sent Adam and Eve out of Paradise immediately for their sin, and Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple as soon as He saw them. Our Church needs to be delivered from the Enemy now. She can no longer be held “hostage to the Devil.”
Vineland, New Jersey
A Nuanced Form of Prostitution
Jason M. Morgan’s column “Finding Safety Behind Closed Doors” (Dec.) delves brilliantly into the dark byways of our culture. Sexbots are the predictable end-products of a cold, utilitarian worldview, the use of people and things until they are no longer useful. It is a worldview that has led to over 60 million abortions, untold divorces, clerical sex scandals, and rivers and oceans full of plastic — the disposable way of life. In short, we are in a metaphysical mess.
After reading Mr. Morgan’s column, and knowing nothing about his subject, I googled “sexbots,” and a number of websites came up. I opened one and was “treated” to a YouTube tour of a facility that produces them. The folks who run the facility are young, clean-cut, and articulate. They could have been conducting a tour of a chocolate factory or a toy factory. In fact, the tour was of a factory that makes “dolls” — life-size, beautiful, voluptuous, computer-programmed, female “dolls.” One of the men, who looked like an average fraternity brother, went on to “interview” one of the dolls, asking often double-entendre questions, with some giggles providing background noise — a sort of “just us guys” comedy act.
My reaction to the sexbots and the factory tour was utter disgust. Everything about it was thoroughly degrading — to women to be cast in the role of avatar sex slaves, to men who would even consider using them, and to the people making a profit from this nuanced form of prostitution.
Warren, New Jersey
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
Mr. Filoramo says it perfectly: “a metaphysical mess.” In article after article about sexbots, the tone is the same as that of the video Mr. Filoramo describes. There is an entire metaphysical train wreck under the surface of all the juvenile jokes and blithe predictions that sexbots will cure the shy of their sexual hang-ups. How did we come to see sin in such a casual way?
And, yes, sexbots are little more than rape by proxy. I think it all started with abortion. Once a society has been brutalized into thinking that cold-blooded violence against women and children is worth half a billion dollars a year in federal funding, then there is really no limit to the depravity that might follow. The sexbot user merely acts out the contempt for women that our government has enshrined in law. In a way, it must be almost a relief to the abortion supporter to find that society looks just as twisted outside the abortion clinic as it does inside of it.
In this, too, I suppose sin is looking for reassurance, the sinner trying to find security in his sinfulness. This is true loneliness. The fact that nearly everyone involved laughs it off as funny — or advocates even more complete dehumanization, as with those who preach the merger of the soul and the microchip in the not-distant future — is telling of a disastrous spiritual state.
Thou Shalt Not Murder?
Thank you for publishing Monica Migliorino Miller’s fine article “Is Francis’s Revised Teaching on the Death Penalty a Development of Doctrine?” (Dec.). Some, perhaps much, of the dispute over the licitness of the death penalty rests on the distinction between killing and murder.
The Latin in the Vulgatam Clementinam for Matthew 5:21, in which Christ refers to the law (cf. Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17) and what we generally think of as the Fifth Commandment, is non occides. This seems almost universally translated into English as “Thou shalt not kill.” The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that kill is a word of obscure origin, and it gives as the first meaning “to strike, hit; to beat, knock.” The second meaning is “to put to death; to deprive of life; to slay, slaughter.”
The Greek has the same passage translated as “Thou shalt not murder,” the key verb (transliterated) being phoneuseis. Knowing no Hebrew or Aramaic, I must rely on interpretations of the Fifth Commandment given me by a Jewish friend and as heard from a Jewish scholar in an interview on National Public Radio. In both cases, the key verb in the passage was murder.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines murder (a word of as obscure origin as kill) as “the most heinous kind of criminal homicide,” and in English, Scottish, and U.S. law as “an unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” In common parlance in Catholic tradition, murder appears to be understood as the direct, intentional taking of innocent human life. In any case, killing is the genus, murder is the species. Why have we been given the generic rather than the specific in virtually all English translations? Is it simply that they come from the Latin, with no reference to the Greek? That is hard to believe.
This is not just a Catholic problem. In The New Testament Octapla, all eight of the translations have kill rather than murder. (These are: Tyndale, 1535; the Geneva Bible, 1562; the Great Bible, 1540; the Bishops’ Bible, 1602; the Rheims New Testament, 1582; the King James Version, 1611; the American Standard Version, 1901; and the Revised Standard Version, 1946.)
The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains the rendering of the relevant passage in Exodus thus: “The Fifth Commandment seeks to protect the very sacredness of human life by forbidding murder. Killing in battle or by capital punishment is not an issue here.” As to Matthew 5:21, the Commentary says that what Jesus prohibits is not murder but anger — and that there is an element of hyperbole here.
Why the use of kill as a superficially scandalous rendering of murder? How many have been misled by this mistranslation? We perhaps could have been spared reams of pacifist rhetoric, for instance, an infinite number of bad consciences, and even equivocations on the death penalty.
Does Pope Francis understand the death penalty as killing or as murder? If the former, are we soon to be treated to a “consistent ethic of death,” forbidding war, self-defense, and even accidents? If the latter, will it be necessary to abolish the category of murder, or simply redefine the typical Catholic definition of the term to include the direct, intentional taking of guilty human life? Or will the category of guilt be simply abolished — and innocence with it?
With Francis’s death-penalty revision, we are not faced with a change in doctrine; we are dealing with a change in the way a longstanding doctrine is applied due to a major change in environmental conditions. Francis is basically saying that in today’s world, nations are so advanced in technology and resources that they can prevent imprisoned murderers from harming others without invoking the death penalty. And so, as gravely as the death penalty violates the dignity of the human person, to invoke it in modern circumstances is gravely contrary to Church teaching.
Francis, however, seems unaware that the state is not only obligated to prevent imprisoned murderers from murdering people outside of prison, it’s also obligated to prevent them from murdering people inside of prison — and that includes guards as well as other prisoners. Does Francis imagine that imprisoned murderers never murder inside prison?
As long as an imprisoned murderer does not murder, rape, or deliberately encourage others to do so, it’s obvious that bloodless means are holding him in check, and so it would be the height of opposition to Christ’s doctrine to execute him. But to execute someone for whom the opposite is true is in no way a rejection of His teaching.
Edward N. Haas
Pearl River, Louisiana
Monica Migliorino Miller is correct that inadmissible is not a theological term and that it actually means “not permitted.” The question is: Can the Church withdraw the “permission” she formerly gave the state to carry out the death penalty?
As Dr. Miller admits, our Catholic tradition never made the application of the death penalty “mandatory,” and there are “Christian reasons to ban it.” Indeed, our Lord Himself showed it to be “inadmissible” when He stopped the execution of the adulteress rightly condemned under Jewish law and when He taught us no longer to demand “an eye for an eye” — i.e., “a death for a death.” His tenderness toward the robber suffering capital punishment on the cross next to Him is deeply moving.
For the Church to withdraw her permission today does not amount to a change of doctrine, nor does it amount to tarring former Churchmen with mortal sin. Unlike Moses, Jesus does not command the death penalty, so the Church is not obliged to keep on giving the same “permission” to the state.
In the past, when the Church allowed the state to carry out capital punishment, it was under strict conditions. St. Ambrose said that a magistrate was “excused” if he put a man to death “justly.” The Catechism makes that condition very clear: “the guilty party’s identity and responsibility” must “have been fully determined” (no. 2267).
Unfortunately, Miller cites and has evidently been influenced by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette’s book, subtitled A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. These authors do not want the Church merely to give the state a conditional permission; they actually demand that frequent executions be carried out just to learn whether the result would be a decline in the murder rate. Is this Catholic? Not only Pope Francis but Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, the U.S. bishops, and many Church Fathers would be aghast at hearing them call for the signing of unlimited death warrants as an experiment in crime prevention.
Feser and Bessette simply assume that virtually all those on death row have been “justly” tried and deserve to be killed. It’s easy to make that assumption looking down from an ivory tower. But I have learned how presumptuous it really is. Over the past ten years, I have corresponded with 12 persons on death row, plus two more who spent decades on the row before being released. Before then, I had no idea that prosecutors could suppress exculpatory evidence and suborn perjury with impunity in order to put someone on death row. Let me give just four examples from my own experience of what is going on in “the land of the free.”
Consider my correspondent Ernest N. Lotches, a Klamath Indian who has been on death row in Salem, Oregon, for 26 years. The prosecutor in his case suppressed two pieces of key evidence: that Lotches has thrice been adjudicated a chronic paranoid-schizophrenic, and that right after the killing of security guard William Hall, a young student named Mary Gates told the police that Hall had been the first to fire several shots at Lotches, who was running away (and had done nothing wrong), before the latter fired back and accidentally killed him (the bullet went into Hall’s arm, and a fragment ricocheted and killed him). Was there malice and premeditation? No. Does it make sense for a man suffering from paranoid-schizophrenia to be placed on death row for having shot back when someone fired at him first? His public defender won’t even raise the insanity issue and the suppressed testimony of Mary Gates in the federal appeal.
Next, consider my correspondent Jeffrey D. Tiner. The Oregon court of appeals, in Tiner v. Premo (2017), reversed his capital convictions and death sentences because “had the jury heard evidence that the [state witnesses] were strongly biased against [Tiner], and that the prosecutor had offered [a state witness] a favor in exchange for her testimony, there is reasonable probability that the jury would have acquitted him of aggravated murder.”
There was no forensic evidence inculpating Tiner, and the prosecutor lied to the jury about the exculpatory evidence he was concealing from both the jury and the defense counsel. Amazingly, the same prosecutor is slated to conduct Tiner’s upcoming re-trial. We sorely need the U.S. Congress to pass a law making prosecutors accountable.
The third egregious case is that of Mark Henry Lankford, originally from Texas, a gifted man who once served in the Navy’s intelligence division. He has spent 36 years imprisoned in Idaho, the first 25 in solitary confinement on death row. He is coming up for his third trial in 2019, his two previous convictions having been overturned. His younger brother Bryan committed the murders alone, but being desperate to avoid the death penalty, Bryan implicated Mark, who at the time had been on a camping trip with him. (This is another major problem with the death penalty: out of visceral fear, a killer will accuse another innocent person.)
There was no forensic evidence implicating Mark, who has always maintained his innocence. Later on, Bryan admitted under oath that he himself was the only guilty party. At Mark’s second trial in 2008, however, the prosecutor seduced Bryan with the hope of parole into keeping silent about being the only murderer, and he also suborned perjury from another prisoner by plying him with the promise of money and release. That second conviction was recently overturned for prosecutorial misconduct. A third trial is planned. Although each charge of subornation of perjury carries a maximum of 14 years, the prosecutor remains unpunished.
A fourth case is that of Charles Finney, an African American on Florida’s death row who is certain that a DNA test will exculpate him in the rape-murder case for which he is sentenced to die. But no matter how much he has tried, he has been unable to obtain it. I offered to pay for his DNA test but was told that the kit is “missing.”
Besides these four cases, the NOR published an article of mine about a fifth correspondent, Conan Wayne Hale, whose sacramental confession was secretly taped by a prosecutor and then used in a fallacious manner to put Hale on death row as if he had actually confessed to the crime (“The Confessional Seal & the Sealed Tape,” April 2018). Recent studies by legal scholars find that prosecutorial misconduct is “epidemic.”
The Catechism of the Council of Trent, which Miller cites, states that the Church can allow the state to use the death penalty if the exercise of its authority is “legal and judicious.” That’s a big if ! The plight of those on death row with whom I’ve corresponded raises grave concerns about the overall justice of our legal system. As a result, I agree 100 percent with Pope Francis. The death penalty, especially as it is applied in this country, is “inadmissible.” Permission withdrawn!
Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York
It gives me hope to see the Catholic Church beginning to advocate for prison reform. Putting an end to vindictive mandatory minimum sentences and returning to proportionate punishment terms is a cause the Church should champion as it reflects the Catholic tenets of mercy, forgiveness, and the value of human life.
I am encouraged too that Pope Francis recognizes long prison sentences as “a death sentence in disguise.” His consistent and powerful message about the sanctity of life — for the unborn, the old, the sick, and those in prison — strengthens the Church and shows him to be supremely aware of his role as leader of his needy flock.
Snake River Correctional Institution
I think Monica Migliorino Miller is mostly on point, but she could benefit from the view of someone who has known people facing the death penalty and who is himself serving a natural life sentence.
The death penalty is almost universally applied to those of a lower social class. When is the last time you heard of a multimillionaire being executed? Have you ever? The poor are often killed because they cannot afford a lawyer to game the judicial system. The rich do not suffer from this handicap.
Miller makes reference to human sacrifice. I wonder if executing criminals is any less an act of human sacrifice. In this case, the sacrifice is not made to some god but to the power of the state. In exercising this ultimate sanction, the state affirms its power by destroying a person made in the image and likeness of God.
I have known monsters and good men in prison. Many of the best men I’ve known have murdered somebody. This is not as strange as it may seem. Too often a man takes a life in a moment of passion and extreme emotion. This can happen to almost anybody. I personally never stop thinking about the person I killed, and this has changed my life. I can only hope that my victim has received God’s mercy. In any case, people do change, and most people who have sobered up do want to change. But when that person is executed, the possibility of change is nil. For this reason, death as a penalty is wrong.
As for the monsters lurking around, there are people in prison who present a constant threat to all around them. They can be put away for a time, but they will only hurt or kill somebody at their first opportunity. Perhaps in such cases it would be best if the death penalty were applied, but only after every other resource is exhausted.
As for the alteration to the Catechism, I believe Pope Francis made it with the best intentions. However, mercy and justice must form a balance. Life is simply not as clear as a pious cleric in Rome would like it to be; there are very few easy answers to be had.
Avon Park Correctional Institution
Avon Park, Florida
MONICA MIGLIORINO MILLER REPLIES:
John Lyon provides a well-researched and much-needed clarification of the distinction between what it means to kill and what it means to murder, pointing out that not all killing is immoral, such as killing in self-defense or in a just war. And it’s true that the generic term kill in the Fifth Commandment has given rise to spiritual, theological, and pastoral confusion. It has been misinterpreted to mean that any killing, even of an unjust aggressor, must be immoral, despite the obvious fact that the Church has never condemned all forms of killing.
Edward N. Haas reduces the legitimacy of the death penalty to one of mere technology — due to advancements in the security of modern prisons — as if somehow technology has caught up with the Church’s doctrine that bans the death penalty. Mr. Haas fails to take seriously the arguments Pope Francis employs in his teaching that the death penalty is “inadmissible” — namely, that it inherently violates the God-given dignity of the offender, period! This would mean the Church has been supporting and even practicing an immoral activity. The issue is about the meaning of the punishment itself, irrespective of advancements in prison security.
Only the most wealthy, technologically advanced countries have the kind of prison security Mr. Haas describes. In any case, the moral licitness of the death penalty has never depended on whether prisons are secure. The point is that such prisons have made it more possible for mercy to be extended to heinous criminals, not whether capital punishment is in principle inherently immoral, which is what Pope Francis argued in his change to the Catechism.
Anne Barbeau Gardiner offers an impassioned and provocative argument. I first wish to point out that the authority of the state to carry out the death penalty does not rely on “permission” given by the Church. I have never heard it put that way before. As St. Paul teaches in Romans 13, the state has the authority to punish evildoers because it is an authority given to the civil ruler by God. It is within the state’s own competence to impose the death penalty; it is not an authority the Church gives or withholds, any more than the Church gives nations the authority (or “permission”) to wage wars. The Church approves or condemns, but the Church does not give governments permission to carry out their responsibilities.
Gardiner attempts to discredit my arguments because I relied on the scholarship of Feser and Bessette, which she indicates somehow weakens my position. However, my quoting them doesn’t mean I accept all their conclusions. Their book is valuable for its rigorous, detailed, historical overview of the Judeo-Christian tradition on the death penalty, which clearly — indeed, irrefutably — shows that the Church never taught that the execution of those guilty of heinous crimes is in principle immoral, much less “inadmissible.”
I made it quite clear that I am in perfect agreement with the consequences of Francis’s revision — namely, not applying the death penalty for the sake of mercy. As Gardiner well demonstrated, due to the non-infallibility of our judicial system, those actually innocent of crimes of which they have been accused have been tragically executed. She also gives strong examples of prisoners on death row who should never have been given a death sentence due to flaws in their defense or personal circumstances that mitigate their culpability — circumstances judges should have considered. Yet such injustices, however horrific, are not an argument in favor of the objective immorality of the death penalty. They are perhaps an argument as to why it shouldn’t be practiced.
We must deal with the very argument Francis advanced as to why the death penalty is inadmissible — namely, that such punishment is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” As I pointed out in my article, it has been the teaching of the Church that only the lives of the innocent are “inviolable.” The question becomes whether Francis’s extension of inviolability to the non-innocent is a legitimate extension within the development of doctrine. I believe that his change to the Catechism, and the manner in which he argues for this change, is at least troubling and a move that bears examination and further discussion.
Finally, I very much appreciate the letters from prisoners Steven Moos and Alexander Clayton. We need to listen to them. I have had a very tiny taste of their suffering as I too have spent time in jail for my defense of the unborn, most recently this past summer. I know from my limited experience behind bars that the system is shot through with injustices of all kinds. Indeed, I believe that when people study law with the intent to become an attorney or a judge, part of that education should be that they spend time in jail. Only then can they know exactly the kind of punishment they will be in a position to impose. The emphasis is on how long a sentence is — as if the time itself spent in jail were the punishment. The punishment is not simply the time but the environment, and prosecutors and judges should know what it means to condemn someone to that environment.
Having said this, all the enormous flaws that accompany human institutions and practices do not make the death penalty intrinsically immoral. Many horrific abuses and injustices come, for instance, with going to war, but these things do not make war itself inherently immoral. I tried to provide an objective evaluation of the Pope’s decision and his arguments. The result of the papal alteration may be truly proper, but how we got there also matters.
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