Thursday, October 16, 2008


Just in time for Right to Life Month the state of Ohio has executed a man who is accused of some pretty heinous crimes. The whole drama took on the scent of a made for T.V. movie as the pathetic man accused the state prison system of making him obese and, he hoped, making it cruel and inhumane punishment to execute him because the procedure might not work well and painlessly on so much flesh.

Well, be that as it may, it occurred without a hitch, at least not an earthly hitch, and the man is experiencing his eternal consequences whatever they may be. There are two comments in Tuesday’s paper about this death that are deserving of comment. The first concerns his parting words in an article entitled, “Cursing onlookers, Cooey executed.” When the warden asked him if he had anything to say he replied, “ You **** haven’t paid any attention to what I’ve had to say in the past 22 and half years, why are you going to pay attention to what I have to say now?”

Of course, maybe they tried. Who knows? But that lingering comment reminds me of one of the primary reason we are, in general, opposed to the death penalty. As horrible as this man may be, forever now he has lost the chance to redeem his soul. And worse than that is that somebody is responsible for his loss of opportunity. The scriptures said today about others who prevent God’s children from the chance of entering heaven, “This generation will be charged with their blood! Woe to you . . . you have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.” Heavy stuff.

Just as disturbing is the way that it was reported. Painting the man in the most vile terms possible (and arguably justifiably so) it then went to describe the almost pleasant way that he died. “Died peacefully . . . needles inserted gently . . . inserted without difficulty . . . he exhaled with a faint noise . . . and he was dead.” All very clean. All done. We’ve cleaned up the spot on the floor. I find it creepy that there was very little solemnity or notice that a man’s life was taken – even if you believe it was justifiable. Very every life taken lightly the next life is less valuable. I want Cooey’s death to be respected because I want your and my life to be held in high esteem.

Please do not assume because I may be cautious on capitol punishment that I am soft on crime. If someone stole from the parish I would be the first to call the police and persecute (I mean prosecute) to the fullest extent of the law. But (and this may actually sound cruel too I realize) I have always been disappointed in movies where the “bad guys” died in the end. If they die, that’s it. No more punishment. No more consequences (at least in this world). One of the best movies to counter this was “The Shawshank Redemption” where one of the villains who was tormenting our protagonist was so badly injured that he would be in a wheel chair eating his lunch through a straw for the rest of his miserable life. That is punishment. But it would also give him a chance to have a change of heart and soul.

Thanks for reading. This was bothering me and I needed to share. I’m sure not all of you will agree but that is why there is a comment section and a little button above that says, “Start your own blog.” ;)


Here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz. (Good job Katherine!)

CPPS Society of the Precious Blood
CSC Congregation of the Holy Cross
CSJ Congregation of Saint Joseph
CSSP Holy Ghost Fathers
MM Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
O de M Mercedarians
OFM Order of Friars Minor (Fransicans)
OSB Order of Saint Benedict (Benedictans)
SJ Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
SM Society of Mary (Marianists)
SSS Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament

FDC Daughters of Divine Charity
HM Sisters of the Humilty of Mary
HMSS Mercidarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
IHM Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
OCD Discalced Carmelite Nuns
OP Sisters of Saint Dominic (Order of Preachers)
OSST Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity
OSU Ursuline Sisters
PCC Poor Clare Nuns
PCPA Poor Cares of Perpetual Adoration
PSDP Little Sisters of the Poor
SC Sisters of Charity
SJSM Sisters of Saint Joseph of Saint Mark
SND Sisters of Notre Dame


Anonymous said...

Great post, Father.

Have you seen "The Green Mile"? That's another Stephen King movie, but one that deals with death row. In that movie, there is a very cruel guard who is even cruel to one of the inmates after he has been put to death. The others confront him on this behavior and in a show of respect for the deceased they say, "He's paid what he owed, he's square with the House again." It's one of my favorite scenes; even though the death occurs through capital punishment, there is dignity granted to each person.

I'm torn on the issue of Capital punishment, but partially because of the way it takes place in this country. But that's a longer story so I'm not going to get into it now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, A well-balanced reflection on this issue. The victims and their families may think that the death penalty will bring them peace, but I doubt that it does. If the death penalty is appropriate, it should be enacted for reasons other than the feelings of the victims. Your point about time for repentance is extremely important. Some prisoners do repent, whether they are sentenced to "life" or are executed. In a non-captal punishment situation (my aunt having had a stroke which rendered her silent for three years), she really changed from being a very irritating and angry person to someone who was at peace before she died. I'm sure it was a real penance for her to be silent for those years before she died--and it worked. Returning to the "capital punishment" issue, it is nevertheless interesting that those who have inflicted such horrendous suffering on others now complain that they might have to suffer in the process of their dying.

frival said...

I have to admit, this was probably the last issue on which I was able to understand the Church's position. I'd been raised on the idea that justice was preeminent and justice as decided by a jury of peers was sacrosanct. Then I read Evangelium Vitae. Then I started to see evidence of large numbers of people sent to death who were innocent. Suddenly mercy triumphed over justice and I realized that as fallible as we are we can't have the right to kill someone no matter what he or she has done. If we didn't start their life, we don't have the right to end it.

Since then my views on the issue have firmed considerably and been formed more by theological consideration than political or emotional expediency. Not only was he some mother's little child once, he will always be Someone's son. I don't have the right to do that, and I wouldn't want it.

We won't even go into how long it took me to wrap my head around the idea that we must pray for them and hope that somehow in His Mercy God has found a way for them to confess their sins and do penance. Praying for people who make you angry/sick/sad can be hard, but we simply don't have a choice.

Anonymous said...

Father, thanks for posting this. It is very timely for me, because I've been thinking about capital punishment myself lately.

I'm a librarian, and the other day a book on capital punishment came across my desk. It had profiles of prisoners that had been executed, with photos, biographical info, descriptions of their crimes and trials, their last meals, their last words. The crimes were invariably horrid and made me angry. But I was also confronted with the fact that these were real people, with names, faces, and lives. Looking at their photos was difficult; I kept thinking, "These aren't statistics, they're people."

Reading their last words was difficult too. Many were poignant as they expressed remorse, conversion, and being at peace with their deaths. Others were furious and hateful--and it was these that were most painful.

The experience troubled me greatly, and I'm glad I had it. Because generally, I've stayed at a comfortable distance from the issue. I've accepted that the death penalty is wrong and should only be used rarely, if at all. But looking at that book, and all those faces... that has given much greater force to my conviction. The wrongness of capital punishment is more real to me... not just a moral idea.

Anonymous said...

To which murderer of human life was God speaking in the inarguably ominipotent statement: "Thou shalt not kill"? Life is God's, period. He put His mark on Cain to underline that.

I wish JP II had said more to it, but he did say that there was no justifiable reason to kill anyone who is incarcerated these days. If (alleged) criminals are safely away from the general populace, that is the most that is required, lest we steal a person's last chance to make good with God. We will answer for that theft, and for calling vengeance "justice" or even "closure." I am nearly as unnerved by an eye-for-an-eye survivor who maliciously desires to be present at another person's death, as I am by a wanton killer him- or herself; they seem too similar on the inside.

Exactly, Frival --followers of Christ don't have a choice on praying for others' last mercies.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Isn't 22 1/2 years plenty of time to repent? Just wondering.
I am not anti death penalty but I do believe it should be used less than it is.

uncle jim said...


au contraire, mon frere

frival said...

Uncle Jim, you're going to need to work a lot harder than that to prove your point rather than just assert it. I'm honestly left wondering if you intended to prove your assertion or merely argue it because there are an some gaping holes you don't address. And really, saying Father doesn't allow comments and then leaving a comment on his blog is a well into the realm of dishonest.

uncle jim said...


actually, it was meant to engender some more discussion

i came across that blog entry and thought other readers of fr v might like to see it

while he apparently couldn't find the comment box here at fr v's, i thought maybe some of you would like to comment there on his

Captain John Fallucco said...

Look, the man kidnaped, raped and killed two innocent girls. Then after that constantly plead to push back his death sentence showing he still only cared about himself, thats all he's ever cared about. If people turely want to do something in their lives they do it, they don't save it for sound bite. He had plenty of chances to reedeem himself and what you call a soul, fact of the matter is he spent it making arguments to push back his death. I wouldn't feel the least bit sorry for him, especially since he only cared about himself.

frival said...

I apologize, uncle jim. For some reason I thought you wrote that post; I should have checked more closely. *sigh* Too many things, too little time.

Odysseus said...

I think 22 and one half years is plenty of time to repent. Actually, those who receive the death penalty are fortunate in one sense. They know the time and place. They can confess contritely, receive absolution, and die "cleaner" than many a struggling, aspiring Christian, who may die in an accident with mortal sin on his soul.

While God said "Do not kill", he then went on to enumerate dozens of reasons and circumtances in which you could kill someone. The commandment is Do Not Murder. People have always had the right to defend themselves from monsters liek this. Today my children and I are safer than we were when he was alive.

Deo Gratias.

Anonymous said...

Defending one's family from harm is one thing, indeed. We weren't talking about a maniacal murderer on the loose, tho', were we?

People (ANY) who believe killing is their God-given right, despite God's order NOT to, are not yet Christians. "You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, but I (Jesus) tell you:" ___________."

Whereas Jesus fulfilled the Law, one cannot have any real share in Christ if holding the Beatitude-less O.T. in one hand-- but a scimitar, gun, scalpel, noose, switch or hypo in the other.

When did you see Christ hold anything but ragged human nature in His hands? He died for sinners --out of love for them.

Melody K said...

Just this week in our state it was found through DNA testing that a man who was imprisoned for a rape/murder of a woman for 19 years was in fact not guilty of that crime. (The DNA test was not available at the time of his trial). How many times can we be absolutely, 100% sure of the guilt of a person? Even in a case where there is no doubt, by killing them we lower respect for all life and end any opportunity for repentance (and I am not arguing that repentance should not have already occurred. But can we place a time limit on grace?)

Anonymous said...

True, Melody --human error is massive (and wealthy criminals have *better* lawyers, yes?).

I think if it happened to be our brother or son who was about to be put to death just as he earlier judged by his own light (not God's) and found someone else dispensable (and certainly, honest people can only say that there but for the grace of God go any of us --we have all done stupid things and been saved from consequences, and some of the stupid things might well have led to just as great a horror; we will find out for sure one day), we'd want no time limit on grace.

Murdering an incarcerated person -- even less humane than the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel -- has never ever proved to prevent other criminal acts. There is nothing good to say of it. It is nothing but more murder and more family suffering. We like the illusion of control-- the sub-delusion of thinking if we can get rid of people we think are unlike us, then the world will be a better place. Yeah? Show me that world, please.

Some of us judge one of God's children in the womb as unworthy of life. Some of us judge one of God's children in the nursing home as unworthy of life. Some of us judge one of God's children in the jail cell as unworthy of life. Some of us judge the other side of our own country as unworthy of life. We no longer bother to wonder what God Himself, the Author of life, would want. He already told us, and Jesus underlined it with every act an every word of His human life, and punctuated it with a new commandment. Then there are His last seven words to consider.

Only our national status quo has convinced us of the right to kill for the good of one/all. We should all know by Confirmation that there is no grey area in which we can play God.

I know this is rough. I'm sorry. But are we aware that there is a spiritual battle going on, which is far worse than anything in the world? It at least behooves us to err (if one considers it that) in favor of Jesus' (and Mary's) way.


Odysseus said...

-Murdering an incarcerated person -- even less humane than the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel -- has never ever proved to prevent other criminal acts.-

It is undeniable that the dead man can commit no further criminal acts. And many prisoners commit numerous heinous crimes behind bars, and yes, they do attack those outside. It is not hard. Imprisoned gangsters have people killed and raped outside of their prisons all the time. They are NOT safely put away behind bars. It is just another arena.

Sorry. All this anti-death penalty stuff is a fad. The Church has always and will always support the state's right to protect itself, regardless of the statements of certain popes against this form of punishment.

Fr. V said...

"Sorry. All this anti-death penalty stuff is a fad."

Rob - Even if I do not always agree with you (though mostly I do) I always enjoy the repartee. There is some definate truth in what you say. Sometimes it is hard to be pro-life of the seemless garment variety at times. Babies are one thing, babies rapers (for example) are another.

Before I could jump on the capitol punishment bandwagon again however I would first like to see a major overhaul of our penal system. Then again, I'd also like someone to give me an unlimited budget at the parish and everyone to love me and my decisions at all times. Is that asking for so much?

If it were absolutely necessary I could shoot my horse. I couldn't have injected a man strapped down on a table with poison to kill him and therefore could not ask someone else to do it in my name.

Rob - if anyone could find a flaw in my thinking (and there are plenty I know) you will find it here.

Looking forward to it!

Anonymous said...

It's pretty rare for anyone but mob bosses to kill/rape/pillage from prison, but even that is not done at random. I'm far more afraid of adherents of cowboy-Christianity that easily pictures Jesus (or Mary!) gurneyside, or warside, nodding approval over anyone's killing. Christ didn't willingly die for the Godly, you know, and it wasn't only His tormenters on Golgotha for whom He asked the Father's forgiveness.

To incarcerate someone, even if for life, is the holiest we can do for the real criminals. For the innocent ones who couldn't buy a better lawyer, our humaneness will count even more. It is our holiness that is asked of us in this life, not our judgment. There are people who have done terrible things, yes. There are new ones every day, because Jesus told us how to change the picture, but we didn't listen. Re-read the Beatitudes with questions of killing in mind. Jesus knows what He is saying. That is our blueprint.

Odysseus said...

-I would first like to see a major overhaul of our penal system.-

Agreed. I have no problem with moratoriums on capital punishment by governors. If the system isn't fair, it isn't fair.

-To incarcerate someone, even if for life, is the holiest we can do for the real criminals-

I can't think of anything worse than being sodomized for the rest of my life by brutal criminals.

There is an erroneous idea out there that we should not use the detah penalty because Jesus wouldn't. Would Jesus sentence a man to being sodomized for forty years? That is your other option. Jesus wasn't in the sentencing business (though, according to this book I read, he will be someday). He forgave sins. This does not equate with removing penalty for sin. If you really think we shouldn't punish criminals, then we should let them go free. Obviously, you don't think that. So, if the Lord would agree with punishment, and differing levels of punishment for different crimes, why would he be against the death penalty and in favor of lifelong incarceration? That doesn't seem very forgiving to me.

If punishment is acceptable, and differing levels of punishment, then the Death Penalty is simply one more level of punishment. If I deserve life in jail for robbing banks, why does a child-raper get the same sentence. How is that fair and just?

Rich Leonardi said...

As horrible as this man may be, forever now he has lost the chance to redeem his soul.

Regardless of how one comes down on the question of the death penalty, Samuel Johnson's words are instructive: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

frival said...

Regardless of how one comes down on the question of the death penalty, Samuel Johnson's words are instructive: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

...or it may be the final push which sets the person firmly in his sin. Our job as Christians isn't to say "tough luck buddy, figure it out in a week or your time's up" - that's God's prerogative. Our job is to spend our every last effort to convince them Deus caritas est.

Odysseus said...

-Our job is to spend our every last effort to convince them Deus caritas est.-

Yes, but it is not the state's job, and I suspect it is here that our philosophies truly diverge.