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July 3, 2018

Two interesting takes on the Catholic faith and criminal justice by two persons newly prominently in political discourse

Images (13)Long-time readers know I have long been interested in this various connections between various religious faiths and various criminal justice issues.  Thus, I found quite interesting this recent commentary by the newest "star" in Democratic political circles, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  (As most readers likely know, Ocasio-Cortez defeated in a recent primary a senior congressional representative and is now the Democratic nominee in New York's 14th congressional district.) This commentary is in thee Jesuit publication America, and the piece is headlined "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Catholic faith and the urgency of a criminal justice reform," here is how it ends:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration?  Is it punishment?  Rehabilitation?  Forgiveness? 

For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration.  No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary.

By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself.  That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes — the imprisoned.

As I was thinking about posting this Ocasio-Cortez commentary on the intersection of Catholic faith and criminal justice, a helpful reader reminded me that another newly prominent person in political (and legal) circles has spoken interestingly about these intersections.  Specifically, SCOTUS short-lister Judge Amy Coney Barrett co-wrote an interesting article back in 1998, titled Catholic Judges in Capital Cases, which explores whether and how Catholic judges can and should be involved in enforcing the death penalty as members of the judiciary.  That article runs 48 pages and has so much nuance that it merits a full read by all.  But its essentials can be reasonably captured with quotes from  part of the introduction and the full conclusion:

Amy-barrett-faith-attack[W]e believe that Catholic judges (if they are faithful to the teaching of their church) are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty. This means that they can neither themselves sentence criminals to death nor enforce jury recommendations of death. Whether they may affirm lower court orders of either kind is a question we have the most difficulty in resolving. There are parts of capital cases in which we think orthodox Catholic judges may participate - these include trial on the issue of guilt and collateral review of capital convictions. The moral impossibility of enforcing capital punishment in the first two or three cases (sentencing, enforcing jury recommendations, affirming) is a sufficient reason for recusal under federal law. But mere identification of a judge as Catholic is not a sufficient reason. Indeed, it is constitutionally insufficient....

Catholic judges must answer some complex moral and legal questions in deciding whether to sit in death penalty cases. Sometimes (as with direct appeals of death sentences) the right answers are not obvious. But in a system that effectively leaves the decision up to the judge, these are questions that responsible Catholics must consider seriously. Judges cannot-nor should they try to-align our legal system with the Church's moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church's standard. Perhaps their good example will have some effect.

July 3, 2018 at 10:53 AM | Permalink


The Catholic Church killed a million people to impose its dogma. This dogma was a money making scheme that funded the untold luxuries of the Vatican. So, this hand wringing is ironic.

Monks served as judges. They imposed their Scholasticist beliefs on the common law. The later plagiarizes the catechism and the formats and content of St. Thomas Aquinas. They roasted rational dissenters in open flames to do so. The common law has changed perhaps, 20%, over the past 800 years. Nothing from the 13th Century is in any way acceptable today.

Here is a question. Did law students who took philosophy in college not notice the origins of the common law in Catholic dogma and writings? That similarity was self evident to anyone who passed 10th Grade World History.How do they sit in law school and consume this false swill without saying a word, despite being Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist? Do their professor not deeply offend their patriotism and allegiance to the constitution by forcing these false religious beliefs on the legal system?

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 3, 2018 1:51:32 PM

Above The Law rates Barrett's chances as nil.


"But with just eight months on the bench, it would be a stretch to say her star has already risen — and the White House recognizes this."

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 3, 2018 2:02:07 PM

I saw that Daniel, and I am still expecting Kavanaugh to be the pick (with Thapar as my long shot with a real chance).

Posted by: Doug B | Jul 3, 2018 5:13:15 PM

All my instincts shout at me that Kavanaugh is bait. Trump likes to do the unexpected--he reveled in all the stories about how the White House was in chaos and disorganized. So to me Kavanaugh is inside the beltway ball, designed to make the insider think that he cares about them and is paying attention while he goes off and does something that makes everyone reel.

Of course, if my instincts were so good I probably would not be commenting on your blog but living it up on a yacht in the Aegean Sea...

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 3, 2018 6:11:21 PM

Should Barrett actually get the nomination, this law review article will become very big news.

Posted by: career AFPD | Jul 3, 2018 10:22:44 PM

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Posted by: Peter from Vermont | Jul 4, 2018 9:53:53 AM

"Executive clemency is supposed to act as fail-safe protection against an unjust execution...Governor Kasich should show leadership and grant clemency to restore faith in the integrity of Ohio’s criminal justice system." - Supported by Catholic Mobilizing Network

Posted by: peter | Jul 4, 2018 10:18:10 AM

re Ray Tibbetts

Posted by: peter | Jul 4, 2018 10:20:46 AM

The latest rumor is that Rand Paul is going to black ball Kavnanugh. Fun times.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 4, 2018 2:40:35 PM

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