When I read of the heartbreaking murder in Brooklyn of an innocent little boy named Leiby Kletzky, I felt sick. (The New York City Police Department did some amazing police work in making their arrest so quickly and professionally.) Without retracing the tragic events, the horrific crime sparked new personal reflections on the morality of the death penalty for a society such as ours.
When I wasn't that much older than Leiby was, I went through a peculiar little reading phase where I started taking an interest in Sociology and criminal science. Based on the little bits and pieces of information I was gleaning from those books, it seemed to me at the time (as a kid) that the death penalty was immoral. As I recall, this opinion was based largely on the fact that it didn't seem to be an effective deterrent. In my mind, there was also the legitimate concern for the rare occurrence of the innocent person being convicted of murder.
As I got older, I came very close to pursuing a law enforcement career. As part of that process, I spent a lot of time with city, county, and federal law enforcement agents. Being there with police as they responded to emergencies had a way of sparking a cynicism and disillusionment with some of my past opinions--such as my opposition to the death penalty. I began to see crime and punishment in what I thought were much clearer terms.
When I finally agreed that God had other plans for me, some of those feelings softened a bit with the passage of time. I think one could say that I went from an uninformed, naive position in which I believed that the death penalty was always wrong to the far extreme in which I believed the sentence was most often just. While it may sound like a cop out (no pun intended) today, I feel like my views have moderated considerably.
Still, when I'm faced with horrific violence such as that committed against little Leiby, I have to admit that I see the death penalty as moral and right. In fact, I would argue that it's a form of self defense that a country and society undertakes to prevent the perpetrator from ever escaping justice and murdering again. I realize that my view may seem hypocritical for a Catholic who honors life from birth to natural death, but I believe the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn't deny me this personal position with regards to the most extreme and heinous cases. The quote below is from paragraph 2267.
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."
I suppose that one of the reasons I posted this was to encourage some thoughtful responses. As a conservative Catholic who embraces the beauty and authority of our church home, do you believe I am in error? If so, why?
Because, as the way I see it, those monsters who murder the innocent children like this are too much of a risk to allow to remain...even in prison.