Posted by: littletoe | December 30, 2008

Questions of Justice


* Warning * Catharsis alert!

In my last post I mentioned that my husband and I were involved in a serious accident on Christmas Eve.  If you’re into those sorts of details, I posted them to my “family” blog at  Now that the shock is wearing off, and the depression is setting in and I’ve had an opportunity to chat with the state patrol officer who responded, I have a few questions.  Moral questions.

I found out that the person who hit us had several open containers in his vehicle and in his home (where they found him passed out in his bed after he had fled the scene.)  He was so inebriated he couldn’t be left alone after the officers were done with him.  In the course of their investigation, the officers discovered that his license had been suspended in another state.

Finding this out makes me want to hunt him down and kill him.  I believe he is dangerous and I believe he is a future threat.  I believe that a person like this has no regard for his own life or anyone else’s.  He’s like a terrorist that way.  I believe he only cares about his drinking.

So….this made me wonder about the Catholic teaching about the death penalty.  My understanding is that the death penalty is allowed but only as a last resort.  The death penalty should not be used as punishment but only when it is the only way to protect innocent (or more innocent) members of society.  The least amount of force necessary to restrain the criminal from causing further harm should be used.

So here are my questions.  At what point would a perfectly Catholic society no longer be required to build and staff jails to contain drunk drivers, who I consider to be a deadly menace to innocent people?  I was told by the officer that the guy who hit us did not go to jail because they’re too crowded.  I am one of the voters who voted against expanding the county jail last time they asked.  Not that I really regret that since drunk drivers don’t stay there.  I really think they should get ONE chance to kill someone and then get locked up FOR LIFE.   In other words, you’re out on the second strike.  I believe they should have the luxury of one “wake up call”, even if it kills someone.  Trust me, right now that’s a painful amount of mercy to come up with.   The problem is that there are too many of them.

So then I started thinking we ought to take them out and shoot them, like mad dogs, because their behavior is sociopathic.   We would never think of casually turning a murderer loose, yet that is what we do all the time with drunk drivers.   My guess is that a good Catholic would not support the take-’em-out-back-and-shoot-’em solution, so what to do?  Why do we allow these people to offend over and over again?  Why would their offense be less than criminal neglect?

Could someone help me out here?  I doubt any moral theologians peruse my blog, but I’m curious if as a society Catholic morality compels us to expose ourselves over and over to these people who have no regard for their own lives or ours.



  1. We turn murderers loose all of the time too…unfortunately. It is enough to make one tear ones hair out trying to sort out where Christian charity fits into all of this.

    You let me know if you get it all sorted out. I am still trying to get someone to give me a good answer for my problems with taking a hard stance against the death penalty. I would love to be against the death penalty except for one tiny “detail.” The single greatest predictor of whether or not someone will commit murder is whether or not they have already murdered someone else. If we put murderers behind bars for life, that doesn’t stop them from killing. Once they are behind bars they only kill the people we don’t like… robbers and rapists. Well it seems to me that THEY are people too and they shouldn’t have to live with murderers in their community any more than my neighbor wants to. I don’t think robbery should carry a death sentence and we are subjecting prisoners to that possibility when they are sentenced to live with people who have killed before. I happen to think that robbers and rapists are JUST as vaulable as my neighbor….although admittedly I like my neighbor more.

    Prisons for only those who have commited capital offenses seem to me to be the only way around my problem and I haven’t every heard ANYONE suggest that.

  2. Thanks for the comment, SS. I really thought this one would go out to the ether! I’ve been pondering what you said and have come to the conclusion that the robbers and rapists that are behind bars (at least in our culture) can know ahead of time that a result of their crime, whether right or wrong, will be that they will face a different kind of danger in prison. Maybe people could be grouped according to their crime? Woe to the rapists and child molesters, though!

    I think my problem is that there are certain crimes with high recidivism; drunk driving and child molestation come to mind. What do we do when we run out of space? Do we bankrupt ourselves in order to protect ourselves from something worse than poverty? Do we just suck it up, hoping it won’t be us or someone we love?

    I wonder if I will see the man who hit us in court. I would like to look at him and see if there was anything in his eyes that made me think he was really sorry and intended with all his heart never to do that again OR if there was nothing there but unbridled self-absorption. In a perfectly Catholic society, could we bring in an exorcist and see if that helped? And if not, THEN could we execute him?

    I guess I need to start praying for him. I’m really struggling with thinking about all the anonymous (to me) drunk driving fatalities in our country, feeling like no one cares and that they died in vain, that these criminals don’t even acknowledge the gift of forgiveness that they keep on receiving. But then you read stories about how undeserved forgiveness converts criminals, but you never read about how society was improved by someone taking the mad dogs out back and shooting them. What is a good Catholic to do?

  3. What is a good Catholic to do? Pray. Fast and sacrifice for… Go and visit (if we are able), write, love, (Yes, even for those who we have just cause to dislike and have shown no sign of remorse.) Personally, I don’t know what else to do. I can’t find any indication in any authoritative writing that doing such things necessarily makes us feel better or suddenly get filled with loving feelings (although sometimes that does happen) but it’s what’s required of us nonetheless.

    Drat those corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

  4. Good old fashioned frontier justice did have it’s merits! No good answers to your dilemma, want to have a drink and talk about it? LOL.

  5. Sure, I’d love a drink and a little more catharsis! I have a feeling I’ll be needing that for some time. *sigh*

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