Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hussein and Punishment as Vengeance

From Touchstone Magazine's "Mere Comments" section

December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein has been executed by his own people for his crimes against them. The Vatican has protested the execution.

In 1976 Richard Herrin murdered Bonnie Garland. He confessed to the murder and intent to murder. As undergraduates at Yale they were lovers. She broke up with him after graduation. He broke into her house at night, took a hammer to her head as she slept, and smashed it open like a watermelon.

Both Herrin and Garland were members of the Catholic community at Yale. The Catholics there immediately sprang to the defense of Herrin, placing him in the Christian Brothers while he awaited trial by the order of a judge with ties to the Christian Brothers, raising money for the defense, and finding a psychiatrist who would function not as an expert witness but as a defense lawyer, presenting an analysis that would help Herrin.

Despite the confession of intent to murder, Herrin was convicted only of manslaughter, and was given a sentence of a minimum of eight and 1/3 years (in a very comfortable cell), to the outrage of the Catholic Community who thought that NO ONE SHOULD EVER GO TO JAIL, NO MATTER WHAT THE CRIME. They argued that Bonnie was dead, that ruining another young life – Herrin’s – would not bring Bonnie back, so why punish him.

Sister Ramona, Herrin’s chief defender, extended this argument to Eichmann.

After the collapse of Nazi Germany, Vatican officials helped war criminals escape justice. Franz Stangl, a Catholic SS officer, had first worked in the euthanasia program, with which many Catholics cooperated, and then supervised the mass murder of 900,000 Jews at Treblinka. As trains arrived at the camp, Jews, men, women, and children, were off-loaded, told to strip, and then driven naked by guards with whips to the gas chambers. Stangl found his way to the Vatican and got help from Bishop Alois Hudal, whose Nazi sympathies were well known to all. Stangl moved to Argentina and lived under his own name until Simon Wiesenthal found him. There had been high officials at the Vatican in 1945 who did not think that mass murder should be punished.

Willard Gaylin wrote a book about the Garland murder, The Killing of Bonnie Garland. He was astonished at the lack of moral sense among the Catholics he interviewed in the 1970s. I highly recommend the book. It describes the moral vacuum among Catholics who tolerated the sexual abuse of children.

Among Catholics, even at the highest levels, there is a lack of moral revulsion at the most heinous crimes, such as Herrin committed on a small scale and Hussein on a large scale, feeding his victims into wood choppers or to packs of starving dogs. As Gaylin discovered, there is little or no sympathy for the victims, a great deal of sympathy for the criminal, and a strong dislike of those who call for vengeance.

Underlying this attitude Gaylin detects a faulty concept of justice: “Obviously for all of these people there exists a specific concept of justice that only looks forward; it is concerned with what purpose would be served by punishment in the future. It starts with the death of the victim, and looks forward from there. It is an incomplete and imperfect consideration of justice. A worthy concept of justice would demand that we look backward as well as forward. This concept of justice would require a respectful consideration of punishment.”

Gaylin describes the dangers of private vengeance, and continues, “The state must punish not just because it might serve some other purpose, not because it will do some good to some future other, but simply because the killer of our child deserves to be punished.”
Righteousness demands that the guilty be punished, and the governor wields the sword to punish evil-doers.

Gaylin writes: “in both these major institutions, the Church and the state, there is a role for the concept of evil, whether it is called sin or crime. There is a concept of payment, whether it is called punishment or penance,” but “for the most part the clerics involved with Richard were peculiarly disinterested in the concept of penance.”

Repentance is the first word of the gospel message, but it has been strangely absent from Catholic discourse for many decades. The gentle way in which sexual abusers were handled, the desire to protect criminals from their just punishment by the state, the strong sympathy for universal salvation which John Paul II evinced, all reveal a fundamental change in the Catholic attitude to sin and repentance, crime and punishment. Forgiveness is impossible without repentance, and repentance must include a desire to set right the evil that we have done, if only by accepting punishment for it.

Whence this change? Psychology has been far more influential in the Catholic Church than Scripture in the assessing responsibility, and “compulsions” can remove responsibility from any act. In reviewing the personnel files of sexually abusive priests in Boston , I have noticed that psychological jargon becomes more and more prominent over the decades.

But of course the group that wants to get rid of the idea of responsibility and sin and repentance and punishment are unrepentant criminals and sinners, and the Catholic clergy has harbored an extraordinary number of those in recent decades. Cui bono if punishment is rejected as barbaric? – Those who have committed the most heinous crimes against God and man.

Posted by Lee Podles at 10:35 AM Permalink Comments (111) TrackBack (0)

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