Jonah Goldberg - a fellow Conservative with whom I usually agree - has issued me a challenge. Well, OK, not me personally, but death-penalty opponents in general.
In a recent column, Goldberg writes,
"Death-penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.
But when the murderer is white or racist or his crimes so incomprehensibly ugly, the anti-death-penalty crowd stays silent. It’s the smart play. If your long-term goal is to abolish the death penalty, you want to pick your cases carefully."
"But the simple fact is, if the death penalty is always wrong, it’s wrong in the politically inconvenient cases too."
His point being, that we death-penalty opponents will remain silent in the case of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass murder. We will remain silent because James Holmes is "a man many Americans are aware of, informed about, and interested in". Goldberg wants to hear "why the inequities of the criminal-justice system require that his life be spared".
My opposition to the death-penalty comes from my belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church, statements made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
Jonah Goldberg is not a Catholic and this argument will probably not convince him; I've heard the arguments of the pro death-penalty folks and I find their arguments unconvincing as well. It's doubtful that I could explain to Goldberg why Holmes deserves to live, just as it is equally doubtful that Goldberg can explain to my satisfaction why Holmes should be executed.
I am not suggesting that Holmes go unpunished. Life without parole isn't a "slap on the wrist" by any means. Surely, we can seek justice without vengeance.
One of Holmes victims, Pierce O'Farrill has stated publicly that he forgives the shooter.
"Of course, I forgive him with all my heart". "When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him--he's just a lost soul right now."
Contrast that with the words of Jordan Ghawi, brother of one the 12 people killed in the massacre, who believed he might try to avenge his sister's murder. Explaining why he did not attend Holmes' first court appearance, Ghawi said,
"I was afraid that I may try to get my hands on that man."
Is it likely that Ghawi will find peace after Holmes execution? I don't think so.