Friday, January 31, 2003

The Dignity of the Offender

A friend of mine, who is a prosecuting attorney, chided me for my comments on Mr. McCaffrey and his attorney below. He says:

"Welcome back to blogging. I enjoyed reading your commentary today. With respect to its contents, I respectfully dissent.

The role of a defense attorney is not well understood. People often equate it with merely getting criminals off on technicalities. The reality, however, is that both defense attorneys and prosecutors, whether they themselves realize it or not, are actually there to uphold and defend what are ultimately eternal truths, i.e., the Moral Law and the Dignity of Man. This occurs most dramatically and eloquently at hearings on sentencing, which, when done properly, can overflow with Beauty and Truth before finally ending with a Just result.

Where the crime is grave, the prosecutor's role, in part, is indeed to impress upon the Court and the public the magnitude of the Evil the defendant has done.

Very significantly, however, this is not the role of the defense attorney. On the contrary, the defense attorney should endeavor to impress upon the Court and the public the dignity of the defendant, lest this important truth be obscured by the seriousness of the offense or by the anger of the victims.

The defense attorney at sentencing is there to say Good things about someone who in some cases has done some very Bad things. Admittedly, "this is a very sad day for my client" is not a particularly effective way to proceed in this regard, in my opinion. Rhetorical mediocrity, however, does not necessarily represent narcissim, self-pity, or any of the other moral defects identified in your commentary, either on the part of the attorney, or, less still, on the part of the client."

OK, I admit I read perhaps too much into the attorney's fatuous statement. And I certainly want to recognize the dignity of the person, even those persons guilty of heinous crimes. But I also think there is such a thing as misplaced compassion. It seems to me that the attorney in this case was seeking to elicit false compassion for Mr. McCaffrey, in order to win him a more lenient sentence. But the fact is that, in this case, McCaffrey is not deserving of leniency. In his case compassion does not equal leniency. He is, in fact, already enjoying leniency, considering he has been sentenced to only 15 years when he admits to the serial molestation of numerous boys on numerous occasions.

Why do so many attorneys, in their necessary efforts to uphold the dignity of the accused and/or guilty, resort to trying to make their defendants out to be victims? That is what is truly ignoble.

What's the opposite of moral astuteness?

Perhaps moral obliviousness? (If there's actually such a word.)

Whatever it is, Tom Royce, the attorney for Vincent McCaffrey, a Chicago ex-priest sentenced yesterday to 15 years for possession of child pornography, (sorry, but the above link requires free registration) exemplified a degree of moral obtuseness I've rarely seen paralelled. His reaction: "This is a sad day for my client..."

Hello? A Sad Day for his client? The client who admitted, in addition to the possession of child porn he was actually sentenced for, to abusing over a dozen boys on hundreds of occasions!

While I don't think that victims' healing is primarily a matter of seeing justice or retribution exacted on the perpetrator, nonetheless I cannot imagine the reaction of victims and their families to hearing the sort of narcissistic self-pity exhibited by this predator and his attorney.

There is, I suppose, some cold comfort in seeing the perpetrator punished, but it seems to me that Mr. McCaffrey still has not really seen the magnitutde of the evil he has done.

I'm Back, and With a New Look!

After a long "vacation", I'm back to blogging! While I was chastened by my experience last fall, I'd say that I'm battle-scarred but wiser. One thing a little time and distance has given me is a chance to look back and see what I wrote last year with a more objective eye. Most of what I wrote I'm proud of, but some of it, I have to admit, doesn't show me at my best.

This time around, I'm going to try to stick closer to the purpose I originally stated when I started this blog. That is, to go beyond commenting merely on the events of the day and "examine what Dr. Russell Kirk would have called 'The Permanent Things'." The Permanent Things are ultimately the only things worth talking about. Also, I recognize the truth of something my friend Fr. Robert Sirico told me: It's relatively easy to react against and refute or poke fun at the inanities propagated by liberals and AmChurch modernists. It's harder to pro-actively address our nation and society's need for perennial Truth in a positive and creative way. But, of course, the latter will have far more lasting impact and importance than the former. So I intend to aim for this higher mark in the future.

But don't worry: my new resolve doesn't mean I'm going to get all "serious". I intend to re-introduce such features as the NCR Watch. While I firmly believe that liberal Catholicism is a dead end and is in the process of withering away, we have to keep an eye on it: it can still do a lot of damage as it flails about in it's death throes. I also intend to introduce several other semi-regular features. My imagination has not been idle in my blog hiatus.

Most of all, I'm going to continue to do what I have always tried to: To witness to the truth of Christ as revealed in and through the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; to witness to the wonder and privilege of the priesthood which the Lord has graciously given me, and to proclaim the joy that is living for and in Christ.