A “shameful” book argues for the death penalty

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“This is a horrible collection of half-truths, and misleading information. It is shameful.”

The “horrible collection of half-truths” that Dale Recinella, a Catholic chaplain on Florida’s death row, is referring to is a recently-published book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, written by Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette.

The authors’ support for capital punishment is based on arguments that were debunked long ago: that it is a deterrent, that it is fairly applied, and that there is no risk of executing an innocent person. In fact, the book is so poorly written and researched, it’s surprising that Recinella would feel the need to go public with his criticism. Ignoring it, and letting it fade into obscurity, might seem a better strategy. He says he tried, but after reading it, found he had to speak out.

“I was so outraged from the standpoint of truth and integrity, that I knew I had to say something,” he says. “There are Catholics who are opposed to the teachings of the U.S. Catholic bishops and the last three popes on abandoning the death penalty and they make up a huge part of the audience [of the media outlets that are featuring this book.] In Catholic circles, this abomination has to be rebutted.”

Recinella points to some of the more egregious sections of the book that he finds “horrendously false.” The authors claim that, “Nobody on death row is innocent. The real threat to justice is that so many people who should be getting the death penalty aren’t.” Or “Those who deny that the death penalty deters overestimate the significance of statistical evidence. All these statistics that say it’s not a deterrent are irrelevant.”

There are also bigoted and racist overtones that can’t be ignored. “We shouldn’t be surprised that violent criminals, and especially the worst among them, do not have stellar work histories … they tend to lack the character traits that have moved tens of millions of Americans from modest beginnings into a solid middle class life, thus it is not that poverty has driven these offenders to crime; rather, the same lack of character traits that have led them to crime have also led them into poverty,” the authors argue. Even worse, they write, “Had the lives of all murder victims been valued equally…. the number of black offenders sent to death row would have been higher. . . ”

Recinella has been a licensed lawyer in Florida for more than 30 years, and has been a chaplain for those on death row and in solitary confinement for more than 20 years. He is opposed to the death penalty for legal and spiritual reasons. And because this book flies in the face of facts and faith, he is determined to challenge its authors in any forum available.

“I have an undergraduate degree in mathematical economics, and I can tell you that the conclusions they reach are antithetical to what I consider a truthful use of numbers. And because I have taught so many people of all faiths, or no faith, about the truth about the death penalty, I could see exactly what they were doing. We are at a critical point where the end of the death penalty is clearly in sight and what they have done is sowed the field with weeds and planted half-truths in every possible area,” he says.

As Pope Francis recently said, “Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.” He could have been directly addressing the authors of this book. Because there is little truth in this book, there is little justice or mercy to be found in its pages.

 

 

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