And Anthony, and Stephen, and David, and John Paul …
… and it’s worth noting at the outset that the following opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect any official positions of CTA, its staff or underwriters, or really anyone but myself.
To say that I felt uneasy last week reading about a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court may not seem worth noting. Lately, I feel as though if I’m not registering disapproval of our Federal Government in one way or another, I’m just not fulfilling my duties as a concerned citizen or as a Catholic. But as a pro-life pacifist (a term not nearly as redundant in our society as it ought to be) I ought to have been pleased when the Court chose to limit the application of the death penalty. Yet for some reason, it troubled me.
When an issue tugs at my sense of moral disquiet like that, I take it as a sign that I need to ponder, pray, and perhaps expand my social conscience a bit. The Supreme Court had ruled, five votes to four, that the death penalty is not justifiable for someone who had raped a child. I would agree with that, only because I believe that capital punishment is never justifiable for any crime; I believe only God can truly make such irrevocable judgment.
Maybe it’s because the arguments of the majority opinion are so familiar to me. The unreliability of witness testimony, the irreversible finality of the punishment – we who work at opposing capital punishment have been making these very same points for years. So maybe it’s a reaction of impatience with Justices who can see the truth of this line of reasoning but then apply it so narrowly.
The suggestion that the rape of a child amounts to a “lesser” crime than murder also feels wrong to me; those of us to have been spared the lifelong pain of childhood sexual abuse would, I think, be hard pressed to make that kind of value judgment. The rape of a child is, I think, the most repugnant and reprehensible of crimes – an act of momentary selfish gratification at the expense of the most vulnerable of victims. It’s an act of violence against our natural inclination to protect and nurture our young, to put the interest of our future ahead of our immediate needs.
Which does seem to be a rampant attitude in our society, come to think of it.
Maybe the problem I have with this decision, with this issue, is that we’ve made pedophiles a kind of societal scapegoat. They’re easy to hate and to demonize; we can require they register themselves, and we can dictate where they can or can’t live. And we can by and large conveniently ignore the fact that these people were, more likely than not, once victims of sexual abuse themselves. But since we don’t know how to help them, we’d rather lock them all up. Or execute them, if we could.
So maybe this Supreme Court decision is a challenge to us as a society: a call to a more compassionate response; a time to reevaluate how we value our children and our future; to better understand the cycle of evil, wherein victim becomes victimizer; and finally to find our way to an appropriate, effective, compassionate response.
I have no idea what such a response might be, though; and maybe that’s what troubles me too.