UPDATE: To my very pleasant surprise Fr. McCrae got back to me in an e-mail to apologize for not putting up a couple more of my comments and for not responding to me, explaining that basically it would have given him too many comments to personally handle if he posted and responded to each one. He also said that while he realized (I’m paraphrasing) that one could still be a faithful Catholic and disagree on this topic, he was wary of expressing too much disrespect of the American Bishops on his blog (I don’t think I went very far in that regard but that’s his call – it’s his blog after all).
Fr. McCrae is a gentleman for getting back to me, and if it’s not clear I want to emphasize that his opinions on this matter have not changed my opinions about his orthodoxy as a Priest in any way – and if anything, I’ve gained more respect for him personally.
Original Post: Fr. Gordon McCrae, the innocent Catholic Priest in jail for sexual abuse, has written a post where he argues against the death penalty. I have a lot of thoughts on that, and I’ve posted them in the thread. But I hear one objection all the time. It’s articulated well by a poster named Tom, who writes this:
It is hard to fathom that a Catholic priest in this day and age would pen a full-throated defense of the death penalty. With the overwhelming evidence of innocent people condemned to death rows and later exonerated, it is almost a matter of justice to oppose the death penalty. To anyone who says “the state has never executed an innocent man” I invite you to visit the closest Catholic Church and go in and gaze upon the crucifix.
Before I get to the problem with the innocents are executed objection, I want to get one thing straight: I have never, ever, once, ever heard anybody say that “the state has never executed an innocent man. And I mean NEVER. That would be an incredibly stupid thing to say, especially for a Christian, and Tom is attacking a strawman. I don’t think he’s ever heard anybody say this either. He’s just absorbed this supposed objection, repeated by anti-death penalty activists to make pro-death penalty supporters look bad, through cultural osmosis and parroted it here. Nobody has ever said this, or if they have none of the most intelligent and best supporters of the death penalty have said it, so let’s just get that garbage out of the way now.
Now, to business: Here’s my problem with the “innocents are executed” argument: All you’ve done is provide a defense for getting rid of any form of incarceration or punishment in our justice system entirely, because innocent people are arrested – like Fr. McCrae. Yes, innocent people are executed. Innocent people are jailed too. Should we get rid of imprisonment as a form of punishment (or possible rehabilitation, if that’s your thing)?
Just because there are problems with innocents being executed doesn’t mean that execution is not sometimes a just form of punishment for certain crimes. Eliminating execution because we’re scared of hurting innocents is akin to eliminating kindergarten time-outs because you might make a mistake. The logic is exactly the same, and it’s bad logic.
I used to believe that this was a good objection too, but thinking it over I actually think it fails rather spectacularly. Go figure, I guess.