Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/20/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Church has specific and insightful words on crime and punishment which need to be heard in this critical hour

First, punishment is referable to the common good.  It is a means of protecting the common good.  Second, it is only lawful public authority that has the monopoly on the use of violence or physical coercion.  Third, the public authority has not only the right, but a duty to inflict punishment.  Fourth, there must be a relationship, a fit, a proportionality between crime and punishment.

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/20/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: crime, punishment, jail, authority, justice, prison, State, penal, law, justice, mercy, remediation, common good,


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - All punishment says the traditionalist Joseph de Maistre is painful, but it is inflicted as much for love as it is for justice.  Shocking to modern sensibilities, de Maistre insisted that the scaffold was a kind of altar, and there is no civilization unless there is an altar, suggesting, of course, that civilization requires a scaffold.  

Jeremy Bentham, on the other hand, insisted that all punishment is mischief, and that all punishment in itself is evil, having ultimately no justification in either justice, much less in love, but only in utility.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has a brief excursus on punishment, and it rejects the extremism of de Maistre and the utilitarianism of Bentham.  (Compendium, Nos. 402-405)  The Compendium ties punishment to justice with two ropes: the common good and law. 

Nulla poena sine lege: no punishment without law states an old Roman legal principle.  This principle is clearly adopted by the Compendium.  And since it is a fundamental principle that all law is ordered to the common good of the community, it follows that punishment under the rule of law is justified only with reference to the common good.

In the Compendium's tying punishment to the rule of law and the common good, we must remember the Church's unique vision of the common good--which is neither a collective concept nor an aggregate concept, but a personalistic and teleological, even theistic one.

"The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation.  God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it." (Compendium, No. 170)

Ultimately, the Church seems to be telling us, punishment is justified only in reference to the person, to the good of a political community, and, ultimately, only in reference to God, who is both justice and love. (cf. 2 Thess. 1:6; 1 John 4:8)

"In order to protect the common good, the lawful public authority must exercise the right and the duty to inflict punishments according to the seriousness of the crimes committed." (Compendium, No. 402)

In this succinct statement, we find a number of principles. First, punishment is referable to the common good.  It is a means of protecting the common good.  Second, it is only lawful public authority that has the monopoly on the use of violence or physical coercion, what Max Weber called das Gewaltmonopol or das Monopol legitimen physischen Zwanges.  Where there is law, there is no such thing as vigilantism.  Third, the public authority has not only the right, but a duty to inflict punishment.  Fourth, there must be a relationship, a fit, a proportionality between crime and punishment.

There are four traditional justifications for punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.  The Compendium appears to embrace all four as justifications for punishment. 

For example, the Compendium states that punishment arises out of the State's duty to "discourage behavior that is harmful to human rights and the fundamental norms of civil life." (Compendium, No. 402).  This is a clear reference to deterrence. 

The Compendium also states that public authority has the duty to see that "the disorder created by criminal activity" be repaired "through the penal system." (Compendium, No. 402)  This is a clear reference to retribution or vindication. 

The Compendium further recognizes that punishment has the purpose of "guaranteeing the safety of persons," and this suggests that punishment serves to incapacitate the criminal from harming others. (Compendium, No. 403) 

Finally, the Compendium adverts to the fact that punishment may well be "an instrument for the correction of the offender, a correction that also takes on the moral value of expiation when the guilty party voluntarily accepts his punishment."  This is a reference to rehabilitation, albeit one with a spiritual understanding of man.

The role of the judicial system--as independent from the legislative and executive branches of government--is emphasized by the Compendium as part of the modern rule of law.  There needs to be a division between the law maker, the prosecutor, and the judge.  There ought therefore to be a separation of powers as a means to curb the potential for abuse.

In a State ruled by law the power to inflict punishment is correctly entrusted to the Courts:  "In defining the proper relationships between the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, the Constitutions of modern States guarantee the judicial power the necessary independence in the realm of law." (Compendium, No. 402)

In investigating crimes, prosecuting alleged criminals, sentencing criminals and punishing them, public authority and its officials are to remember two things: truth and the dignity and rights of the accused and convicted, for they enjoy the full dignity and rights of the human person.

"The activity of offices charged with establishing criminal responsibility, which is always personal in character, must strive to be a meticulous search for truth and must be conducted in full respect for the dignity and rights of the human person; this means guaranteeing the rights of the guilty as well as those of the innocent.  The juridical principle by which punishment cannot be inflicted if a crime has not first been proven must be borne in mind." (Compendium, No. 404)

In pursuing their investigations, officials of the public authority "are especially called to exercise due discretion in their investigations so as not to violate the rights of the accused to confidentiality and in order not to undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence." (Compendium, No. 404)

The Compendium prohibits the use of torture, though it does not define the term other than through vague reference to "international juridical instruments concerning human rights."

"In carrying out investigations," the Compendium states, "the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: 'Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim.'  International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances." (Compendium, No. 404)

Not only is torture prohibited, but so is improper detention or incarceration: "Likewise ruled out is "the use of detention for the sole purpose of trying to obtain significant information for the trial." (Compendium, No. 404)

Trials are to be done in an expeditious manner, with the goal of determining truth and effecting justice.  With respect to trials, their "excessive length" is "intolerable for citizens and results in a real injustice." (Compendium, No. 404)

Finally, no judicial system manned by humans is perfect, and errors in investigation, trial, judgment, and punishment can occur.  When public authority becomes aware of these, it must rectify the wrong.  Part of this righting of wrongs demands "that the law provide for suitable compensation for victims of judicial errors." (Compendium, No. 404)

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for June 2015
Universal:
That immigrants and refugees may find welcome and respect in the countries to which they come.
Evangelization: That the personal encounter with Jesus may arouse in many young people the desire to offer their own lives in priesthood or consecrated life.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Politics & Policy

Supreme Court 'unwrote laws of nature' GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declares Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Saying that the Supreme Court tried to "unwrite the laws of nature and the laws of nature's God" when it legalized gay marriage across the nation last week, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also pointed out the fact that President Barack Obama himself ... continue reading


'They will stand behind lying Brian Williams, but won't stand behind people that tell it like it is': Donald Trump fired from NBC for controversial immigrant statements Watch

Image of Donald Trump retired from The Apprentice after announcing his presidential bid.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

NBC has made the decision to cut ties with Donald Trump, over his political view and controversial statements regarding immigration made during his presidential announcement. Donald Trump and NBC have had a relationship, including Trump's produced Miss USA and Miss ... continue reading


When is the best time to take out Social Security? Watch

Image of 100-year-old woman.

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Financial advisers usually advice their clients to take Social Security benefits at the age of 70 for maximum growth. However, it is found that most people don't take that advice, as they are likely to withdraw what they have saved up as soon as they hit retirement. A ... continue reading


IT'S NOT OVER: Freedom of Religion may trump same-sex marriage victories Watch

Image of

By Matt Hadro and Adelaide Mena, CNA/ETWN News

Friday's Supreme Court ruling against the traditional understanding of marriage may pose huge obstacles to the free exercise of religion and conscience across the U.S., the nation's bishops have said in response to the decision. Washington D.C.(CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading


Decisions on same-sex marriage, power-plant emissions now in the hands of Supreme Court Watch

Image of Six major cases, all of them affecting the American Way of Life are in front of the Supreme Court.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Six major cases, all of them affecting the American Way of Life are in front of the Supreme Court. Decisions regarding same-sex marriages, power plant emissions and execution methods will all be rendered by either Friday or early next week. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett's family has strong communist roots, files prove Watch

Image of Valerie Jarrett's father, pathologist and geneticist Dr. James Bowman, has been found to have had extensive ties to Communist associations and individuals.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Does the apple truly fall far from the tree? Recently uncovered files show that Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama and trusted confidant has family ties with those with communist leanings. These uncovered files prove that Jarrett's ... continue reading


Donald Trump surges in popularity polls in New Hampshire Watch

Image of Dismissed by political professionals, who view him as little more than a

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Dismissed by political professionals, who view him as little more than a "novelty candidate," there's no denying Donald Trump's surge in popularity in opinion polls in New Hampshire. The billionaire developer and reality TV show star comes in at second among ... continue reading


Terrorists who pose as journalists will no longer have protection from the U.S. new Pentagon manual states Watch

Image of The new manual from the pentagon is designed to reflect the fact that many fighters do not wear military uniforms or pretend to be trusted civilians to hit targets.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Pentagon has released new instructions on dealing with terrorists, or more specifically, terrorists who pose as journalists or journalists who work with terrorist groups. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The "Department of Defense Law of War Manual" is a ... continue reading


Offensive or not? University of California issues bizarre speech police to tell you what not to say Watch

Image of The University of California administration issues handout that recommend students refrain from using some words.

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

University of California is providing suggestions on what to say and what not to say within the campus grounds. However, the words and statements they deem as offensive, sexist and racist are not simply explicit words with direct negative connotations. According to ... continue reading


President Obama applauds Pope Francis' stance on climate change Watch

Image of Pope Francis will be traveling to the United States September for the first time. His itinerary begins in Washington, where he will meet Obama and speak at Congress.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

United State President Barack Obama has lauded Pope Francis' encyclical,  "Laudato Si," and says he wants fellow world leaders to acknowledge its message about climate change. Published last week, the encyclical calls for humanity to change its approach to ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Genesis 21:5, 8-20
5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13
7 The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 8:28-34
28 When he reached the territory of the Gadarenes on ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 1st, 2015 Image

Bl. Junipero Serra
July 1: Miguel Jose Serra was born on the island of Majorca on November ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter