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Abortion Current Events Ink Slingers Mary P. Pro-Life Issues Respect Life

Love Your Enemies

On Monday, late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of First Degree Murder for killing babies born alive when they were supposed to have been killed in utero (isn’t it absurd that the physical location of the victim makes the difference between a capital offense and a legally-protected “choice”?). On Tuesday, he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. After following the case and reading all the disturbing details of the trial it’s easy to be very, very angry at a man like Gosnell. It’s also easy to wish for terrible things to happen to him. It’s easy to see him as nothing but a monster. But, the perhaps-difficult truth is that Gosnell, like all others who commit grave evil, is still loved by God, and that he still retains his dignity as a human being. This doesn’t mean we can’t be angry; but our anger must be tempered by charity, and respect for that dignity.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our human dignity comes from God’s love for us and his invitation to us to share in that love. We are the only creatures that he made in his image, for our own sake, to know him, love him, and share in his life. Even the worst criminal still bears that image of God in his being, though he may be cut off from God’s grace through his choices. And he still retains the invitation extended by God to love him and serve him, until he takes his last breath. It is because of these truths that the Catechism says that, while the State does have the right to execute some criminals, the Death Penalty should be used only as a last resort.

Most Catholics today enthusiastically support the position that the Death Penalty should be abolished in this country. However, many of us fail to carry this concern for the dignity of criminals beyond the question of whether they should live or die. While we want them to have their lives spared, some of us desire that prisoners be treated poorly or even inhumanely while they live out their sentences. We say we are glad that they are not getting the “easy way out” by being put to death, and hope that they live many agonizing years behind bars. We make jokes about prisoners being violated or otherwise harmed by the other prisoners. We celebrate when we hear of a prison where inmates are humiliated purposefully, just for the sake of humiliation. We spew hatred and vitriol against them in internet comboxes. We complain that they have any access to television or that our precious tax dollars are paying to feed them anything more appetizing (or healthy) than bologna sandwiches.

I’m not suggesting that prisoners need to be given access to cable TV or certain kinds of food in order to be treated in accord with their dignity. Rather, it is our annoyance with any comfort they may have in prison coupled with our glee at any discomfort they may have—in short, our desire to see them suffer— that is an offense against their dignity. We have to ask ourselves what our reasons are for wanting prisoners to be humiliated and treated as harshly as possible, and then compare those reasons to what the Church says about the purpose of punishment.

The Church holds that punishment has a basically fourfold purpose – rehabilitation, defense of society against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. (Take note that retribution is not the same as vengeance). We may legitimately believe it wrong for prisoners to be treated to overly comfortable conditions in prison, because we do not think that justice is satisfied or rehabilitation is facilitated by such a scenario. We may even legitimately support the death penalty in limited cases. But a virtuous and detached concern for justice is a far cry from the vengefulness that often is the real cause of us wanting prisoners to be as miserable in prison as possible, or to be put to death.

Church teaching indicates that when the aim of punishment (especially protection of society) can be fulfilled in ways more in keeping with human dignity, the Death Penalty should not be used. The logical extension of that is that we should always be trying to balance the aims of punishment with the protection of the dignity of the human person – not just when it comes to the question of the Death Penalty. We must always balance our concern for justice with our duty to love. My husband is a law enforcement officer and I see him trying to do just that. He has to fight against the strong temptation in his career to see criminals as less-than-human, as irredeemable. But he also has to keep the common good – the safety of society – at the forefront of his mind. He supports longer sentences for criminals than what they typically receive through our local court system, but he does so because society is not being protected adequately through the “slaps on the wrists” that are handed out far too often for serious crimes. It is acceptable and even laudable to support tough penalties for those who commit serious crimes, as long as we do not do so out of malice toward them.

As the wife of a police officer, I have to fight against the same temptations as my husband. I truly understand and sympathize with people who have a difficult time extending mercy toward those who harm others with their evil choices. I understand wanting them to know nothing but pure misery while they serve their sentences. My emotions don’t always align with what I know intellectually to be the truth. The truth is that criminals are people too. And it’s not enough simply to support their right to life; we have to love them, too. It’s possible to satisfy all the aims of punishment, including retribution and protection of society, without trying to strip them of their dignity. In fact, I think the aim of rehabilitation is more likely to be achieved when prisoners are shown basic human decency and treated like they still have worth even though they have done great evil.

We have great examples of how we should treat prisoners in recent popes. Several have visited the imprisoned, as Jesus told us we should. But some have gone even further in their extension of charity to prisoners. Pope Francis gave a strong witness to the dignity of the imprisoned when he washed the feet of juvenile prisoners on Holy Thursday.  Pope John Paul II forgave his own would-be assassin, in addition to visiting with him in prison. Most Catholics celebrate these examples, but many of us do not ask ourselves enough whether we are living in light of them.

I said above that it might be a difficult truth that Gosnell is loved by God. But at the same time, it is a very comforting truth. If someone like him—who mercilessly killed thousands of innocent babies and showed great indifference to the lives and health of the women who were his patients – is still loved by God and still has a chance at salvation, that means that there is always hope for me, too, no matter what sins I may commit. It is only by God’s grace that I or any one of you reading this is not in Gosnell’s place. None of us is above grave sin. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that I could someday find myself with a large chasm between God’s grace and me. It is comforting to know that even then, God’s image would still be imprinted on my being and he would thus still be reaching out to me across the chasm.

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Abortion BirgitJ Current Events Ink Slingers Pro-Life Issues Respect Life

Gosnell Found Guilty – Now What?

Now is a good time to take a cleansing breath and focus on the impact the Gosnell verdict will have on the pro-life movement. As we are leaping in joy for a conviction, we must keep our wits about us and realize that the same babies, if killed by lethal injection within the womb, would have been legally aborted in clinics all over the country. They still are and will continue to be. The Gosnell saga is just the tip of the horrendous iceberg called ‘choice’ and this one victory should not lull us into complacency. As Rep. Chris Smith aptly phrased it,

“Some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do – what Gosnell did – kill babies and hurt women – is the same.”

Yes, this one monster has been found guilty of some of the horrific charges against him (3* counts of first degree murder for babies and 1 count of involuntary manslaughter for the woman killed via overdose), but there are many others out there doing exactly the same thing.

Much as Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion charges instead of his criminal activity as a mobster, Gosnell was brought down by a drug related raid. What the authorities found, shocked even seasoned law enforcement. No one in authority had cared about what he had been doing to women and babies in the 15 years since the last inspection of his ‘house of horrors’. They didn’t care that he experimented on unwitting poor women, maiming several of them in what is termed the Mothers Day Massacre. Just like they didn’t care that, across this country, dozens of clinics just like his operate without question every day. No one cared that Planned Parenthood referred women to Gosnell because they couldn’t stomach (or perhaps get away with) late term abortions in such huge numbers and scandalous conditions.

Gosnell chargesWhere is the outcry for all of the numerous women, all over the country, who suffered death at the hands of these butchers legally plying their murderous procedures described simply as medical ‘treatment’? What we have been handed is a gift wrapped opportunity to take the ball and run with it. The Gosnell trial finally gave pro-life advocates a more public voice and forced even the meekest network to at least marginally offer coverage. That a liberal news analyst, Kirsten Powers, deserves our deepest gratitude for finally breaking the story wide open and that Fox News offered some decent coverage would have been highly unlikely just a few weeks ago. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and, to mix my metaphors, we must make hay while the sun does shine! Nineteen brave Congressmen who spoke on the House floor,  “See No Evil” (an outstanding Fox News documentary), some other media coverage, #Gosnell Tweetfests, blogging and marathon postings on Facebook have gone a long way in educating more and more people. How shocking, disheartening and surprising to find that there are still many, many good citizens out there who are oblivious to this scandalous affair! When our priest asked for a show of hands of those who knew of Gosnell, only 20% or so of the congregation responded with raised hands.

So, on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, we have been granted a wonderful chance to witness for Life. Coupled with the surprise visit of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in support of tens of thousands of pro-life faithful at the March for Life in Rome yesterday (Mothers Day), we have been blessed with an impressive beginning to the rest of the pro-life journey. What happens next is up to the collective us. Will we rest on our laurels in this partially won victory or will we let this be the catalyst to finally find our voice – a voice of righteous anger and outrage for the atrocities visited upon the innocent, left in our charge by God Almighty? A foot is in the door, so let’s fling it open and throw ourselves into the task of gaining momentum. Let us pray harder, speak louder, love more, and gird up for the ensuing battle. Now is not the time to turn away in horror – not wanting any more reminders. Satan, Planned Parenthood, and liberal media were forced to give us our day in the sun but make no mistake, they will be back with the fury of hell. Let’s be ready. Let’s rise to the occasion. And with God at our side, let’s forever end the most unspeakable act of killing the innocents at the altar of convenience!

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*Read about the baby that Gosnell was not convicted of killing here.

PS. As a Catholic believer in the unfathomable mercy of God, my hope is that Gosnell is kept in prison for the rest of his natural life. May he find true remorse and forgiveness.