Saturday, November 08, 2008

my post-election homily

Continuing my practice of the 3-year cycle (how to give a homily on the same readings three times in a row), here is my third homily on the "Caesar readings" from Sun Oct 19 (here are the first and second). This also serves as a post-election homily. Let me know what you think. (works consulted: Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles Chaput and Randy Alcorn's blog)

In our Gospel today, the plan of the Pharisees and Herodians seemed fool-proof. First, in an act of false humility, they compliment our Lord’s truthfulness and his disregard for opinion or status. Then, they ask him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They figured that if he said “Yes,” then they could discredit him among the Jews as one who advocated Roman rule. But, if he said “No,” then they could report him to the Romans for inciting anti-taxation sentiments. He answered not “Yes” or “No”, but this: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This was much more profound than they expected: “When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.” But what did Jesus mean by this?

Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, CO, this year wrote a very helpful book in understanding this very thing, I highly recommend it to all of you. It is entitled, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. I wish I had recommended it to you all sooner, but even though the Presidential election has passed it remains very helpful in understanding the role of Catholics in political life, especially as we move forward. In the book, Archbishop Chaput argues that the very health of our American democracy demands that Catholics engage the political realm with the full breadth of their religions convictions and beliefs. Good citizenship is not one that divorces faith from the public square but instead fights for it respectfully but vigorously and without apology. This is consistent with the Christian roots that are foundational to America’s existence. We can’t separate our private convictions from our public actions without diminishing both. Faithful Catholics make good and faithful citizens. In the words of the Archbishop, “How we act works backward on our convictions, making them stronger or smothering them under a snowfall of alibis.”

The pro-life movement, this past Tuesday, I think suffered a crushing blow. Our president-elect has promised institutions like Planned Parenthood that the first thing he will do as president is pass the Freedom of Choice Act which will eliminate all restrictions on abortion, including informed consent, parental notification, required counseling and ultrasounds, and even the use of taxpayer money to fund abortions. This is cause for much dismay… but we Catholics have never relied solely on political figures to accomplish our good works. We must continue to engage the political realm with our beliefs in healthy debate. And we must take a closer look at paying unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to St. Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Let us pray fervently for our President-Elect that he may come to the knowledge of the truth of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. And let us remember that circumstances change: “Do not boast about tomorrow,” Proverbs says, “for you do not know what a day may bring forth (Proverbs 27:1). But, our Savior does not change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore we must “Trust God; don't worry; be at peace,” St. John’s Gospel tells us.

Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, [and do not] be afraid. (John 14:1-3, 27)
This passage emboldens us to continue to fight for the unborn and to follow the command of God in the Old Testament: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). Who but us will speak up for them, a whole class of society with no human rights, with no voice, and one that is snuffed out at the rate of 4000 per day?

In Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Chaput explains that every four years, around election time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops releases a Faithful Citizenship document, instructing Catholics on how to exercise their faith in political life. But many, he says, have criticized these documents for being too complex, for trying to tackle every angle of every issue all at once, for only serving to confuse the faithful and allow those who would put all social issues on the same moral plane to do so. The fact is, there exists a hierarchy of truths and those that directly affect life must always be on top. Now, this year’s Faithful Citizenship document, I think, is the best one so far. But, we also have a document from our bishops, which celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year, called Living the Gospel of Life. And this document doesn’t get enough attention. It is not too soon to look ahead to the midterm elections only two years away and even the next presidential election as much as we would like to take a well-deserved breather! Therefore, let us take a look at this document, especially paragraph 23. This is a little lengthy, but please pay close attention:

Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues… Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all those areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages. But being “right” in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the “rightness” of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as “the temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then these [issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, etc.] fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. [But] all direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.
These lessons from our bishops must guide the way we vote in the future. Remember, voting is a political act, to be sure, but it is also a moral act with moral implications and therefore involves faithful Catholics in a very real way.

Between elections though, we must continue to render unto Caesar by praying for our President-elect as I explained before. We owe him our respect and our prayers, our respect for the law, obedience to proper authority, and service to the common good. And Archbishop Chaput explains that respect

is not subservience, or silence, or inaction, or excuse making, or acquiescence to grave evil in the public life we all share. In fact, ultimately, everything important about human life belongs not to Caesar but to God: [we render unto God] our intellect, our talents, our free will; the people we love; the beauty and goodness in the world; our soul, our moral integrity, our hope for eternal life. These are the things that matter. These are the things worth struggling to ennoble and defend. And none of them [come] from [Caesar] or anyone who [succeeds] him.
Finally, “Our task,” St. Ignatius of Antioch teaches us, “is not one of producing persuasive propaganda. Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.” Therefore let us beg God for “the courage and endurance not only to speak but also to will what is right, so that [we] may not only be called Christian, but prove to be one.”


phatcatholic said...

holy crap, that para. 23 is freakin amazing. i wish i would have known about that paragraph a long time ago. it says perfectly what i have been trying to say with no effect for the last two weeks.

dudleysharp said...

Archbishop Chaput's major death penalty errors
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Archbishop Chaput relies on the claims of anti death penalty folks when discussing the secular issues. This is a disservice to his flock, as well as to the truth.

In addition, the fact that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty is just the beginning of Pope John Paul II's death penalty errors within "Evangelium Vitae", which also suffers from biblical, theological and traditional death penalty errors that were the basis for the Catechism amendments.

One good example is Archbishop Chaput's essay

All of the facts he uses are either false or unproven anti death penalty claims.

He must do better. He can start, here.

The Death Penalty in the US: A Review
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request

In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make an effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

Innocence Issues

Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 130 inmates have been "released from death row with evidence of their innocence", in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).

The number is a fraud.

Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers. This is easily confirmed by fact checking.

Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent -- an 83% error rate in for the claims of death penalty opponents. Other studies show their error rate to be about 70%. The totality of reviews points to an 80% error/fraud rate in these claims, or about 26 cases - a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the nearly 8000 sentenced to death since 1973.

The actual innocents were all freed.

It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900. Nonsense. Even the authors of that "23 innocents executed" study proclaimed "We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had." While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries. However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be one of the most accurate criminal justice sanctions in the world.

Under real world scenarios, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

Deterrence Issues

16 recent US studies, inclusive of their defenses, find a deterrent effect of the death penalty.

All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some. The studies finding for deterrence state such. Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence. It cannot.

Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware. Many factors are involved in such evaluations. Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction -- execution -- deterred none. No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some. Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

Racial issues

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.

It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases. Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders. This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.

Hardly. Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment. Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders. White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.

Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

Class issues

No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts. The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973. Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups? Not to my knowledge.

Arbitrary and capricious

About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial. That would be about 64,000 murders since 1973. We have sentenced 8000 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible. I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available. Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the US.

Christianity and the death penalty

The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical 'proof text' in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus' admonition 'Let him without sin cast the first stone,' when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) -- the Mosaic Law prescribed death -- should be read in its proper context. This passage is an 'entrapment' story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment." A thorough review of Pope John Paul II's position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

Cost Issues

All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

Polling data

76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right (Gallup, May 2006 - 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)

71% find capital punishment morally acceptable - that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll). In May, 2007, the percentage dropped to 66%, still the highest percentage answer, with 27% opposed. (Gallup, 5/29/07)

81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives." (Gallup 5/2/01).

81% of Connecticut citizens supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (Jan 2005).

While 81% gave specific case support for Timothy McVeigh's execution, Gallup also showed a 65% support AT THE SAME TIME when asked a general "do you support capital punishment for murderers?" question. (Gallup, 6/10/01).

22% of those supporting McVeigh's execution are, generally, against the death penalty (Gallup 5/02/01). That means that about half of those who say they oppose the death penalty, with the general question, actually support the death penalty under specific circumstances, just as it is imposed, judicially.

Further supporting the higher rates for specific cases, is this, from the French daily Le Monde December 2006 (1): Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:USA: 82%; Great Britain: 69%; France: 58%; Germany: 53%; Spain: 51%; Italy: 46%

Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with 50% of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty actually supporting it under specific circumstances, resulting in 80% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006.


Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.

copyright 1998-2009 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites see Death Penalty (Sweden)