Death Row & Capital Punishment

The former is not serving the latter and that makes for a dysfunctional system, as this editorial from the New York Times reports.

An excerpt.

“How has it gone on this long?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked a lawyer for the State of Florida during oral arguments in March on a condemned inmate’s appeal. The legal issue in that case had to do with how states define intellectual disability, but Justice Scalia was troubled that Freddie Lee Hall had been on Florida’s death row for more than three decades.

In that same session, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the last 10 people executed by the state had spent an average of 24.9 years on death row.

“Do you think that that is consistent with the purposes of the death penalty,” Justice Kennedy asked the state’s lawyer, “and is it consistent with sound administration of the justice system?”

Last Wednesday, in an unrelated case, a federal judge in California answered that question with a resounding no. The state’s death-penalty system is “so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay,” wrote United States District Judge Cormac Carney, that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In a remarkable ruling overturning the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced in 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend’s mother, Judge Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, pointed out that of the more than 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, 13 have been executed. More than 40 percent of the rest have been on death row for at least 19 years, and the backlog is growing.

The judge found that the delays are primarily due not to inmates’ repeated appeals, as is often assumed, but to the state’s own foot-dragging and underfunding of its indigent defense system.

California law provides for an automatic appeal of all death sentences, but it takes three to five years before death-row inmates — all of whom are indigent — are even assigned a lawyer. It takes four more years for the lawyer to go through the voluminous trial record and file an appeal, and two to three years for the State Supreme Court, which hears only 20 to 25 death-penalty appeals per year, to schedule oral arguments.

Tack on another three to five years for state habeas corpus petitions, which bring claims that often don’t arise in the first appeal, such as ineffective assistance of counsel. Add 10 for federal habeas corpus claims, and the result is what Judge Carney charitably called a “completely dysfunctional” system.

Retrieved July 21, 2014 from

Priests, Women’s Ordination, & Celibacy

I believe that women should be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church and my research on this subject is that Christ also taught this by his actions and words.

I also believe that celibacy is an attribute of priesthood Christ taught, which this article from Chiesa, referring to remarks recently attributed to the pope, explains well.

An excerpt.

Although I have not enjoyed the privilege of meeting you in person, I would like to revisit your statements concerning celibacy contained in the account of your conversation with Pope Francis, published on July 13, 2014 and immediately disputed in their authenticity by the director of the Vatican press office. As an “old professor” who for thirty years taught Church history at the university, I would like to bring to your attention the current state of the research in this field.

In particular, it must be emphasized in the first place that celibacy by no means dates back to a law invented 900 years after the death of Christ. It is instead the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke that report the words of Jesus in this regard.

Matthew writes (19:29): “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”

What Mark writes (10:29) is very similar: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold.”

Luke (18:29ff.) is even more precise: “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Jesus does not address these words to the masses, but rather to those whom he sends out to spread his Gospel and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God.

In order to fulfill this mission it is necessary to free oneself from any earthly and human attachment. And seeing that this separation signifies the loss of what is taken for granted, Jesus promises a “recompense” that is more than appropriate.

Retrieved July 19, 2014 from

St. Mary Magdalen

Today is her feast day, and to commemorate it, here is an excerpt from my recent book about her.

“One of the cornerstones of the argument that only men can be priests comes from the documentation of the facts on the ground during Christ’s ministry on earth, where the Church has consistently maintained that the leader of the apostles was Peter and it was upon him that the Church was built by Christ and because only men were chosen as apostles, only men can be ordained as priests.

“Yet, Brock (2003) makes a good case that Mary Magdalene was the first apostle:

“Apostolic authority, without question, was a key issue in the early Christian churches. It insured that the one carrying the gospel message was a bona fide messenger. The criteria by which various early Christian authors attributed apostolic authority to certain followers of Jesus and not to others in early Christian documents provide insights into the politics of various factions of the early church. For example, Mary Magdalene was so esteemed among some early Christians that they bestowed on her the honorific title, “apostle to the apostles,” and yet for others she holds no apostolic status at all and is instead known as a reformed prostitute, a concept for which there is no biblical basis.

“What did it take to be an apostle and were women included in that group? Hippolytus, an early Christian bishop and martyr of Rome (ca. 170-ca. 236), wrote:

“Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ and by their obedience rectify the sin of the ancient Eve….Christ showed himself to the (male) apostles and said to them…“It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.” (pp. 1-2) Brock, A. G. (2003). Mary Magdalene, the first apostle: The struggle for authority. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

“If this is true, and I believe it is, because I cannot see how God approves the unequal status of women which the world has proclaimed since time immemorial.” (pp. 29-30)

Lukenbill, D. (2014). Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, & Criminal Reformation. Sacramento, California: The Lampstand Foundation.

Capital Punishment is Rare

One of the central elements in Pope John Paul II’s support for capital punishment as expressed in the Catechism’s section #2267, is that it should be rare, and this article from The New York Times indicates just how rare it really is.

An excerpt.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that California’s use of capital punishment was unconstitutional because the system was excessively arbitrary.

The arbitrariness that United States District Court Judge Cormac Carney highlighted is not that too many prisoners are being executed with insufficient due process, but that prisoners on death row are rarely executed, and when executions do occur, it is only after a lengthy and unpredictable delay.

This is unconstitutional, he argues, because a system “where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed” is so arbitrary as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s protections against “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Judge Carney’s ruling calls into question a delicate political equilibrium that allows the public both to demand that their lawmakers pledge fealty to the death penalty when running for election, while not actually having to stomach the enormous number of executions that a systematic program of capital punishment would entail. The result is that death penalty statutes remain on the books in most states as death row continues to expand, yet relatively few are actually executed.

Some numbers put all this in perspective. The F.B.I. reports there were 14,827 cases of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter in 2012, of which 11,298 occurred in jurisdictions that have the death penalty. Research indicates that around one-fifth to a quarter of these homicides were for capital-eligible crimes, suggesting there were around 2,500 capital-eligible homicides in 2012, which is both high by global standards and much lower than in previous decades.

Yet there were only 45 executions last year. When fewer than one in 50 capital-eligible homicides leads to the death chamber, it is clear that capital punishment is rare.

Retrieved July 18, 2014 from

Women’s Ordination

I recently received and previewed two books I noted in postings on another blog,

I received Sr. Sara Butler’s 2007 book, “The Catholic Priesthood and Women” and, while it is well written, covers virtually the same territory that the Church has concerning women’s ordination, all three points (1. Christ called only men—he also only called Jews, and additionally, however, it is obvious—to me—with an objective reading of the Gospels that Mary Magdalene was of equal status with the apostles. 2. the Apostles affirmed it. 3. Tradition continued it.) all three have been well-disputed and—in my opinion—well-disproved by theological research, but Sr. Sara’s book is still of value as she writes from the perspective of someone who once supported women’s ordination.

I also received Phyllis Zagano’s 2013 book, “Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest” which is an excellent textbook presentation of mysticism from the perspectives of the major faith traditions introduced by members of their particular traditions and she introduces that of Christianity.

Catholics & the Catechism

During our period of study prior to becoming Catholic, my wife and I came to treasure the Catechism and I quickly learned that it was not as familiar to many of those teaching us about the faith as it should have been, so this article from The Wanderer is not necessarily a shock, though I am still surprised, after 20 years in publication, it is not more familiar to Catholics.

I think a large part of the reason it is not used is that too few priests or bishops ever mention it—also noted in the article.

An excerpt.

The title and subject of this article were suggested to me by a conversation I recently had with three Catholic friends — a man and two women in a parish where I often visit. I have known them for a long time, but not perhaps as well as I thought I did. I will call them John, Mary, and Susie.

John is a retired engineer. Susie, unmarried, is a retired hospital matron. Mary, who has scientific qualifications, is a widowed mother of a family. All three are faithful, if confused, practicing “cradle” Catholics. However, just how confused I only realized for the first time after we were talking about the Church and the faith the other day.

The ladies began with some criticisms, no doubt not entirely unmerited, of the way they had been taught the faith as children. You had to believe everything you were told without asking any questions. Then they moved on to the state of things today, and I quickly realized that they hadn’t a clue about what has been happening in the Church over the last 50 years or what should or should not be believed today.

This particularly applied to relations with other Christians. Mary, for example, asked me whether, if she moved to a village where there was no Catholic church she could worship regularly at the Anglican church. Surely if so many of them are such good Christians, their ideas can’t be all that wrong?

Like so many confused Catholics, she didn’t understand that the Church does not claim to have a monopoly of virtue. What the Church does claim, in the words of Vatican II, is to have the fullness of divine truth and means of grace and it is this, come what may, which Catholics must uphold at all costs if we are to be faithful to our Lord’s call.

When I mentioned a copy of the CCC or Catechism of the Catholic Church as the best way of discovering what the Church wants us to believe and do, none of the three had heard of it. Or if they had heard of it they had forgotten about it, which suggests that it is something rarely if ever talked about in the average parish or mentioned from the pulpit.

Earlier this year, during Lent, I had a somewhat similar experience in my home parish. I was taking part in a small lenten discussion group. Again it was a question of faithful practicing Catholics, but this time better informed ones. There were no doctrinal aberrations or doubts about what should be believed. But there were some uncertainties.

Retrieved July 12, 2014 from

Woman Theologian Appointed to Head Pontifical University

This is a major step by our Holy Father for women in the Church, reported by Vatican Insider, and one in which advocates and opponents of women’s ordination, can both find positional support.

An excerpt.

She was the first woman to obtain a permanent position as a professor at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University Antonianum, the Roman university run by the Order of Friars Minor; she was the first woman to be appointed a dean, which is equivalent to the position of department head and now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Pope, she is the first woman to become a rector of a pontifical university in the Eternal City. The Vatican congregation for Catholic Education – headed by cardinal Zenon Grocholewski for the period 2014-2017 – has nominated Franciscan Sr. Mary Melone, an expert on St. Anthony of Padua, to lead the pontifical university.

Sr. Mary (birth name Maria Domenica) Melone was born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1964. After finishing school with a specialization in classical studies, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina where she took her temporary vows in 1986 and then professed her perpetual vows in 1991. In 1992 she graduated with a degree in teaching and philosophy from the Libera università Maria santissima assunta (LUMSA) with a thesis on “Corporeity and intersubjectivity in Gabriel Marcel’s works”. She then studied theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum, where she had been a student from 1983 to 1987, obtaining a degree in 1996 and then a PhD with a thesis on “The Holy Spirit in Riccardo di San Vittore’s De Trinitate”, published in 2001. She was Extraordinary Professor at the Faculty of Trinitarian and Pneumatological Theology from 2002 to 2008 and head of the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences “Redemptor Hominis”…

“I don’t give much importance to these kinds of labels, female theology,” Sr. Melone said in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, published on the occasion of her election as dean of Theology. “Above all I don’t like comparisons, although I recognize that in the past there may have been a reason for making comparisons. Maybe there is one today as well, I don’t know. More space definitely needs to be given to women. The reference to female theology does not really fit with my vision of things: all that exists is theology. Theology as research, as a focus on mystery, as a reflection on this mystery. But precisely because this requires different sensitivities. A woman’s approach to mystery, the way in which she reflects on this mystery which offers itself and reveals itself, is certainly different from that of a man. But they do not contrast. I believe in theology and I believe that theology created by a woman is typical of a woman. It is different but without the element of laying claim to it. Otherwise it almost seems as though I am manipulating theology, when it is instead a field that requires honesty from the person who places him/herself before the mystery.” As far as the role of women in the Church is concerned, “a reflection on this cannot be commensurate to the Church’s age as this reflects a development of thought that has gone on for hundreds of years,” she went on to say in the 2011 interview. “ However, in my opinion a new space does exist and it is real. I also think it is irreversible, meaning that it is not a concession but a sign of the times from which there is no return. It is no pretense. I believe this depends a great deal on us women too. It is us who should get the ball rolling. Women cannot measure how much space they have in the Church in comparison to men: we have a space of our own, which is neither smaller nor greater than the space men occupy. It is our space. Thinking that we have to achieve what men have, will not get us anywhere. Of course, although the steps we take may be real, this does not mean the job is complete. A great deal more can be done but there is change, you can see it, feel it. I think that (my case aside) the election of a woman in a pontifical university is also proof this. The body who elected me was made up entirely of men!” So doesn’t the Church need gender quotas? “No, it doesn’t need quotas, it needs collaboration. And collaboration needs to grow!”

Retrieved July 12, 2014 from

It’s About Love, not Rule

How easy it is to fall (and I’ve been there) into the regime of checking off all the boxes of being devoutly Catholic: daily mass, daily rosary, daily reading, supporting the Church, and forget that the most important of all is love, as this excellent article from Catholic Culture reminds us.

An excerpt.

Our Lord spoke about eternal salvation. I do not mean to say that He didn’t. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told Zachaeus (Lk 19:9). To the woman who washed his feet with her tears, he said, “Your faith has saved you” (Lk 7:50). As the Good Shepherd, he said, “I am the door; if any enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). And in describing the trials which would afflict his disciples, Our Lord said: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mk 13:13).

At the same time, the exact requirements for salvation are extraordinarily difficult to codify. I am not just referring to specific actions here. Some passages in Scripture suggest that a direct knowledge of and adherence to Christ is required, but others seem considerably broader in scope. Consider this introductory passage in St. John’s Gospel:

For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. [Jn 3:17-21]

If this passage seems obvious, we are not paying attention. Is an explicit acknowledgement of Jesus Christ required for salvation? Or is John referring to an implicit turning to the light—the good—insofar as this has been made known to each person in his heart? Both seem to be included here.

In Romans, St. Paul contrasts the Jews, who had the benefit of the Law, with the Gentiles. In so doing, he explains that what we might call an implicit acceptance of Christ can be sufficient for salvation, because what Our Lord will judge is the secrets of the heart. Paul writes:

“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [Rm 2:14-16]”

Reflecting on Women in the Church

This is a very nice reflection by a sister on retreat, from the National Catholic Reporter.

An excerpt.

Not every year is heavy, deep and real. Often, the time unfolds peacefully with lots of rest, a quiet joy and always great gratitude.

I didn’t have that kind of retreat this year.

Probably because I am researching the church fathers for a project about women leaders in early Christianity. Often, the only way we know that a woman was leading at all is because churchmen are complaining about it. For example, in the third century, Hippolytus wrote the Apostolic Tradition, telling his community not to ordain the widows. Well, someone must have been ordaining them, or he wouldn’t have needed a rule.

Rereading the sad history of sacralized misogyny so rooted in the religious and philosophical culture from which Christianity emerged, I came to a new awareness of why it is so difficult for today’s “fathers” to be open to the theological work of people like Elizabeth Johnson. Her seminal work, She Who Is, honors church tradition even as it reflects on the need for a fuller apprehension of the God mystery in feminine metaphor as well as masculine. Her work is liberating for women and men alike.

But for the institutional church to receive and act on it, contemporary churchmen would have to, in the words of the Philippian hymn, empty themselves. This is very hard to do. I would guess it nearly impossible without recourse to the saving mystery of Jesus, “who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied himself” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Differing worldviews are at the heart of the recent standoff between the Vatican, which wants these pesky LCWR women in their (subordinate) place, and LCWR, whose members live within a feminist liberation understanding of the Jesus who frees women (and everyone else) from structures of domination and subordination.

Retrieved July 3, 2014 from

Our just published book on this, Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, and Criminal Reformation, can be acquired free as part of Lampstand membership, see for membership information, or for purchase from Amazon, at

Communist Praxis Continues

When I wrote the Lampstand Foundation book, Catholicism, Communism, & Criminal Reformation, I understood that many would write it off as old history, but as this recent article from Crisis Magazine notes, Communism still impacts history beyond the borders of Communist run countries.

An excerpt.

The distinguished political philosopher Leo Strauss was supposed to have said that the only two things in life really worth talking about are God and politics. That’s because at a most fundamental level they are inextricably intertwined. A skewed notion of the very nature of God and whether man acknowledges him—or tries to substitute himself for God—is at the crux of the turmoil, fanaticism, and destructiveness of the politics of our day and of much of the last hundred years….

The implication for politics of putting man in place of God, Wiker tells us, was the rise of modern ideologies (like communism, fascism, and Nazism)—which were, in essence, substitute human-fashioned religions—and the aggressive, brutal, and totalist states that came with them. The results, then, were the same as with Islamism. The only difference is that here men outright rejected God. Man becomes God in all but name.

Then, we have today’s leftism. What stands behind it, also, are the political thinkers in Wiker’s book. In spite of the defeat of communism a generation ago, most of today’s left embraces consciously or not a vulgarized version of Marxism.

Retrieved July 2, 2014 from

And, our book on the subject is available, either free as a member of Lampstand, see for membership info, or for purchase at Amazon,


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