Seeking Perfect Justice in an Imperfect World

Thirty-two States currently support the death penalty as a punishment for heinous crimes. Although this is cited as a deterrent to such behavior, even the threat of death would not prevent many morally corrupted sociopaths from engaging in criminal activity. The truth of the matter is that these social misfits are not only fearless, but their conscience is maliciously lax. They lack the ability to empathize with others, and their compassion quotient tests out to be zero. People are viewed as objects to be manipulated and used to gratify their base instincts, not God’s creatures with an immortal soul. If someone frustrates or blocks their pursuit of evil, that person may be murdered. To the criminal, who orders or carries out this execution, murder is viewed as a matter of business. This simple rationalization justifies such behavior in their dog eat dog, hard cruel world. Guilt or remorse for the serious violation of God’s laws doesn’t even enter into the equation. This gives a hardened criminal a license to do anything as long as he can avoid being caught.

Because these hardened criminals have no fear of God or eternal damnation, it makes sense that the State, which has thrown out Christ the King as its leader, would hardly be viewed in a fearful light as well. Rather, an intelligent, arrogant sociopath knows that the law has loop holes and that with the right connections, he can “beat the rap” or manipulate the system so that he only serves a short sentence. This would hardly deter him from engaging in future criminal activity. Because his ill-gotten goods, power, and favors may far outweigh the severity of the punishment, it only makes sense that this remorseless, lost soul might want to continue in his wrong doing. And why shouldn’t he? In his perverted mind, he believes that the rewards for being a criminal far exceed the liabilities associated with his anti-social behavior — at least in this world it can appear to be so.

A good example of the above is James “Whitey” Bulger who was ranked as number two on the FBI’s most wanted list. After sixteen years “ on the lam,” Whitey was finally arrested and returned to Boston to face criminal charges. James Whitey Bulger was born to Irish, Roman Catholic parents on September 3, 1927. Although he was reared in a Catholic family and neighborhood, his criminal activity began early in life and continued throughout his eighty-three years. For those of us who are traditional Catholics, one has to wonder why this cradle Catholic, who was brought up in a Catholic environment, became such a despicable human being.

When Whitey Bulger was apprehended, he was living with his girl friend, Catherine Greig. Womanizing was just one of the sins that never troubled this man, whose conscience is maliciously lax. The charges against Whitey Bulger are many: racketeering, murder (19 counts), conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, narcotics distribution, and money laundering were just a few. Interestingly, when Whitey was arrested, he didn’t resist, even though he owned at least thirty guns of various sorts and was noted for his bad temper. His cohorts expected that if Whitey was ever caught, he would go out “in a blaze of glory,” which never materialized. The failure to do so was out of character for a man who lived his life so violently. But Whitey Bulger is now eighty-three years of age, in poor health, and far removed from his youth and middle age years. Even though he was well endowed with weaponry, $800,000 cash, and unknown bank accounts scattered throughout the world, he was arrested without resistance and was compliant in returning to Boston to face criminal charges. Is it possible that this fire branding sociopath became tired of running? Has he become more reflective on the purpose of life and the trouble that he has caused over the course of his eighty-three years? Given his background, we could rightfully assume that he was a baptized and confirmed Catholic. In fact, Whitey is the Godfather to the two sons of his mobster friend, Kevin Weeks, who was married in the Catholic Church. Might his Catholic roots, with the Grace of God, be responsible for the change in his demeanor? Maybe yes; maybe no. Most likely, Whitey may have been just too tired and exhausted to put up a real struggle. But Whitey is an old man now who will soon be facing his Maker. Maybe — just maybe, his cradle Catholic upbringing might have spawned some thinking about this while he still has time on this planet. The answer to this we may never know.

One thing is for sure, however. The capture of James Whitey Bulger and his current trial have aroused a blood lust, demanding revenge for his long list of criminal offenses. There are those who are particularly vociferous in their condemnation of Whitey. He has aroused their utmost anger, tantamount to that which one feels for serial killers, child rapists, and perverts who take pleasure in torturing those who are helpless. For those who have been victimized by this brazen criminal, their intense hostility is understandable.

The public can rant, rave, make victim impact statements in a court of law, and demand the death penalty. Those who have been victimized can insist on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” in their quest for justice. No matter what they do or say, however, Whitey Bulger will never be able to undo the evil that he has done or make restitution to those whom he has victimized. In other words, perfect justice for the misery that this man has inflicted on others can never be achieved. Even if he is convicted of all nineteen murder counts, Whitey can only be executed once, not nineteen times. Moreover, there is concern that Whitey could receive some special treatment regarding his sentencing in exchange for information about corruption at the local, state, and federal levels, which may have enabled him to operate his criminal enterprises for so long. If this should occur, what fairness is there in that? So much for perfect justice, and getting what Whitey truly deserves for what he has done right here on earth.

It will be up to an all-just God to carry out the sentence that Whitey should receive when he stands before Him during the particular judgment. Should he fail to make things right with the Almighty before he dies, this sad reality would lead to the loss of Whitey’s soul. Being condemned to the fires of hell would be far more frightening and painful than any justice that could be applied on this planet. For those who have been victimized, God is the only solace that makes sense in an imperfect world with an imperfect system of justice. The failure to recognize and accept this can only lead to greater resentment, bitterness, hatred, and the inordinate desire for vengeance, which are the works of the devil and could cause them to lose their own souls in the process. Allowing Whitey to corrupt us, especially if we happened to be one of his victims, is not what anyone would intend. However, the failure to control our own negative feelings, which are directed toward this career criminal, could lead to this end if we are not careful.

As hard as this may seem, James Whitey Bulger should be pitied, rather than vilified. Charity dictates that we forgive and trust in God to rectify the injustices that he has heaped upon us. The words of St. Paul (Romans, 12, 16-21) especially come to mind here: “Do not avenge yourself, beloved for it is written Vengeance is Mine: I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him drink, for by doing so, you will heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

The preceding does not mean that Whitey Bulger should not be tried in a court of law and sentenced by the State. Rather, it emphasizes that if we seek perfect justice, this must be left to God and we must trust that He will fulfill His promise. God promises that if we treat our enemy charitably, we will be “heaping coals of fire upon his head.” What better form of justice could there be! However, there is another part of this equation, which also must be taken into consideration. If we behave charitably towards the ilk of Whitey Bulger, God will certainly recognize this and handsomely reward us for “overcoming evil with good.” God’s reward will more than restore that which has been taken away from us in this life. Remember, God promised us that He would not be outdone in being generous toward those of us who follow His laws. It is His generosity for behaving charitably, which will tip the scales of justice in our favor.

James Whitey Bulger will get what he deserves when he faces the ultimate Law Maker and Enforcer to whom we shall all be accountable. God said that every iota of His law must be fulfilled and that the refusal to do so would lead to eternal damnation. This promise, not worldly justice, is the perfect justice that we seek. However, unless we restore Christ the King to His rightful place in our secular world, the above will provide little solace to those who are the victims of unscrupulous criminals. In short, there is no earthly tribunal that can undo or restore what Whitey and other career criminals have taken away. Only God, in His infinite wisdom, can fill this void and provide us with the strength to follow His dictates, especially when the world around us is screaming for vengeance for James Whitey Bulger and the men like him.

  • GeneDe

    This is a very good article and points to what our Catholic Faith commands us to do, even to those that hurt, abuse, or even attempt to take our lives. Having said that, I must say that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And part of that makeup are the passions built into our beings. It is only “natural” that victims of creeps like Bulger feel a deep down need for some type of revenge. But that revenge might take the form of seeing that he gets what he deserves and no more: justice, albeit imperfect as the good doctor mentions. In fact, as Scripture points out, we should do good to those that are rotten to us. But our natures are fallen, and it can take heroic resolve and restraint to keep our base instincts in check. This is something that Bulger did not do, and the results are there for all to see. The Fifth Commandment: thou shalt not kill, simply means that we should not murder. We can kill in self-defense or to protect others, and the state has the right to take a life in order to protect the commonweal from the likes of a certain criminal and his brutal acts. The progressives say that the Popes are against the death penalty– some were or are. But the Church teaches, as I wrote above, that the state can take a life of a criminal under certain circumstances. I think that the bottom line here is that the sanctity of life in these days is about that of a chicken. Our country has allowed the MURDER of over 50 million of our brethren, and it continues, with more horror stories appearing on a daily basis. The culture of death in not only being carried out by mob hit men, but also by those in three-piece suites and well-heeled, well-educated females that place careers above the bringing forth of life as they were designed to do. Why should we be surprised by the likes of a Bulger, a Capone, a Frank Nitti, Murder Inc., etc?

  • Tomas de Torquemada

    I’m an unapologetic proponent of the death penalty, particularly in such unimaginably horrific cases as the Wichita Massacre and the murders of Channon Christian and Hugh Newsom Jr.

    The best thing to do with garbage is to burn it.

  • Matthew Bellisario

    This article is not upholding the traditional Catholic understanding of the death penalty. For one, the State always..always has the right to sentence a penalty commensurate with the crime. It is not only a right, it is a duty. It is not done for “vengeance” of the victims, and this is a canard many people are using today to try and abolish the death penalty. It is first and foremost to restore the moral order of society. It is retributive in nature first and foremost. It also has a medicinal effect, first being aimed towards society, and secondly if possible for the medicinal restoration of the perpetrator. Of course when someone goes on a killing spree, usually the death penalty is warranted if the person is truly guilty and acting by his own freewill.

    The false argument which also assumes that the longer the person lives the higher the percentage is that they will repent and convert is also incorrect. Prisons usually do not foster virtuous living, quite the opposite. As Aquinas tells us, nothing will bring a man quicker to repentance than his death. This whole campaign to vilify the death penalty is getting old. I have this idea. Why don’t the bishops write a letter for every innocent life that is snuffed out by abortion every day. When they get that corrected, then maybe they will have the wits to address the lives of the guilty who heinously murdered innocent people and took the moral order of society into their own hands, causing chaos and mayhem.

  • Matthew Bellisario

    Here are just a couple of sources to reference.

    Those who truly understand the nature of punishment, never see it as being something against the dignity of human life, if the punishment is carried out by a legitimate authority and is commensurate with the crime committed. The punishment, even the death penalty actually fosters human life. The old Roman Catechism tells us, “There are some exceptions to the extent of this prohibition to killing. The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment, such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the state is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent life (The Fifth Commandment, 4).”

    This quote from the article is also not a good argument, “In short, there is no earthly tribunal that can undo or restore what Whitey and other career criminals have taken away. Only God, in His infinite wisdom, can fill this void and provide us with the strength to follow His dictates, especially when the world around us is screaming for vengeance for James Whitey Bulger and the men like him.”

    Here is what a traditional Catholic theologian would say in response. The great moral theologian Ralph McInerny once wrote, “Some have said that retribution is no longer part of the church’s view of punishment. This is false. Some will speak as if there is an equivalence to be made between the life of a guilty and condemned murderer and an unborn child, and seek, on that basis, to link opposition to abortion and opposition to the death penalty. This too is nonsense, incubated in a society which, permitting some citizens to take the lives of other innocent citizens, sees a moratorium on the death penalty as a moral imperative…But keep in mind that protecting society is only the secondary purpose of punishment. If, however rarely, the state’s right to take the criminal’s life is legitimately exercised, only recourse to the primary purpose of punishment–redressing the wrong–can justify it. It will not do to say that locking Adolph Eichmann up will prevent him from continuing with the Final Solution and give him a chance to repent. By his crimes, Adolph Eichmann had forfeited own life. One life compared with six million seems risibly disproportionate, but it is the most that could be exacted from Eichmann, and it justly was.”

  • Thank you, Matthew, for your comments. Of course, the publishers of this site are for the traditional teaching that the State has the right of the sword in capital cases. To those who say that the Church formally condemns this right of the State, I point out — among other things — the fact that, for as long as they existed, the Papal States had capital punishment. Until well into the nineteenth-century, the Pope, as head of state, sanctioned it in his realm.

    Further, there is something very merciful about giving a man the opportunity to face death rather than languish in a prison for God knows how long. MANY a condemned criminal made his peace with God in these circumstances, as can be seen in the article on this site on Saint Vincent Pallotti: http://catholicism.org/saint-vincent-pallotti.html

    Thank you for your references.

    I do not think Dr. Lavin’s point here was to oppose the death penalty as much as it was to say that perfect justice is not attainable in this world.

    Personally, I think the only decent argument AGAINST the use of capital punishment in our days is that the modern State is so completely unaware of the due limits of its own power. This, of course, does not alter the Church’s traditional teaching on the subject.

  • Matthew Bellisario

    Thanks for the response, and I agree that if one was to oppose the use Capital punishment it would be due to the incompetence of the State. My main point is that this is not one of the problems of modern society we really need to be concerned with. In the US we have very few people being executed, and the super majority are guilty as charged and have received a just punishment. We have bigger fish to fry rather than seeing an article on the death penalty every week by different bishops or theologians. In my opinion it is not really relevant, and we need to be worried about abortion, contraception, and the coercion by the State to accept such atrocities. In other words, the State is not breaking any moral laws by having the death penalty, while it is in supporting abortion and other intrinsic evils.

  • As a death penalty defense lawyer, I can state that very few persons accused of murder are true psychopaths. Of those who are, fMRI research suggests their brains process stimuli differently. The sad truth is psychopaths may have an underlying brain malfunction from an early age with very little chance of a cure.

    In my opinion, the death penalty is not a deterrent, simply because the last thing people are thinking of when the murderous impulse strikes is the likelihood of getting caught, tried and executed. Criminals in general seem to have a hard time thinking beyond the next several minutes.

    That said, I am not the typical crusading defense lawyer, and do not agree with those who claim the Church is against the death penalty. The reality of innocent people being condemned (as shown by DNA exonerations) is frightening enough to make the death penalty problematical, as Illinois’ experience showed. That state maintained a moratorium for years, and finally abolished it in 2011.