Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Everything" is Clear: a Papal Catastrophe in a Nutshell

The weird and secretive pas de deux between
Pope Francis and Eugenio Scalfari continues.


In his October 11th General Audience message, Pope Francis said this:

If we remain united with Jesus, the cold of difficult moments does not paralyze us; and even if the whole world preached against hope, if it said that the future would bring only dark clouds, a Christian knows that in that same future there will be Christ's return. No one knows when this will take place, but the thought that at the end of our history there will be Merciful Jesus suffices in order to have faith and not curse life. [Emphasis added.]

The message was one of the Christian's vigilant labor with hope for the future. In its entirety, it is not particularly remarkable.

The excitement has been on account of the next two sentences: "Everything will be saved. Everything."

Scalfari: Pope Says "Last Things" is Bunk

The table had been set two days earlier by self-appointed spokesman for Pope Francis, la Repubblica's Eugenio Scalfari. Scalfari's dubious journalistic practices include not recording or taking notes during his chats with the Pope. 

You may recall Pope Francis initiated a public dialogue with the atheistic journalist in his "Letter to an Unbeliever" of September 4, 2013. Since then, Scalfari has scandalized Catholics with reports of the Pope's purported shocking departures from Catholic teachings. It's uncertain whether Scalfari is accurately reporting the views of Pope Francis. The Bear finds reasons to question his credibility.

However, the Pope has never called him out for making things up and has continued his private dialogue. That does not necessarily mean he endorses them, however. It is just as likely Francis would weirdly see a public challenge as some sort of breach of trust and "proselytizing."

"Everything will be saved. Everything."

That followed on the heels of Scalfari's October 9th bombshell.

According to Scalfari, the Pope confided to him that the universal Last Judgment, Purgatory and Hell were bunk. Bad souls were simply annihilated and good souls enjoyed the presence of God.

So, some quarters are up in arms about all this. The Bear thinks it is more the perfect example of the Pope's exasperating lack of good judgment coupled with conditioned mistrust on the part of the faithful.

The Bear seriously doubts the Pope would choose Scalfari to change Church teachings on the Last Things. (He also realizes that most of his readers have long since given up on Francis and will believe the opposite.) However, the Bear has no doubts at all about the Pope's unfortunate combination of compulsive talking and difficulty making sense in the broader context of the faith whose guardian and teacher he is supposed to be.

It is easy to imagine Pope Francis framing a discussion in terms Scalfari could understand as he reported. Perhaps Francis was too busy "accompanying" his pet atheist to risk offending him with actual Church teachings. We shall never know the truth, because, maddeningly, Francis does not do the necessary thing of confirming or denying anything.

Context, Context, and Yet More Context

The Bear thinks Catholics do not help the current crisis by taking the "everything" one-liner out of context. The entire message is an unremarkable address to persons united with Christ. "Everything" must be understood in this context, although even in context it is not the clearest statement. But it should not seized upon as teaching universal salvation. That is just not sound interpretation and the Bear is a bit surprised to find himself sort of on the other side of Sandro Magister on this, although the latter agrees Pope Francis probably isn't really getting rid of the Last Things.

(It's not just Pope Francis who engages in creative proof-texting, however. 1 Timothy 2:4 has not been quoted in full by the Church since 1967. (God) "who would have all men to be saved" full stop. The rest of the verse is the rather unfashionable "and come to the knowledge of the truth." After all, what is truth?)

So, the Bear invites your attention to the context of that one address. And, he acknowledges the much bigger context of the post-Vatican II world.

Since Vatican II, the Church has never been clear on salvation. Unless the Bear has never interpreted a document in his life, Lumen Gentium is "confused," and that is charitable. Everybody has a good chance of going to Heaven, you see. But, here, at the end of paragraph 16, we'll make Cardinal Ottaviani's crazies happy by saying, "but, you never know, and that's why it's so important that the Church keep sending out all those missionaries."

And lo, never was another missionary seen thereafter. In classic doublespeak, "New Evangelization" means "No Evangelization" and the Church holds "proselytization" in greater horror than the sins of Sodom. The Bear has said in two short paragraphs what it took Dr. Ralph Martin a very good book, "Will Many Be Saved?" to say.

But, as with so much else, it is usually less that the Church has changed teachings as having just thrown them into the air. So "Christ the Judge" of Scripture and Church dogma has been replaced by "Merciful Jesus"of Pope Francis' address. Can a Pope choose to emphasis one truth if he feels it has been overshadowed by another one? Sure. The Bear is pretty sure popes get to do that. In light of everything else is there a clear danger of scandal and confusion if done clumsily?

You betcha.

The third context is the weakness of this particular Pope in that  hardly a month goes by that he doesn't say something weird and confusing.

So, yes, when you see "everything" in an out-of-context quote somewhere, it is easy to believe the worst. (That is why the  Bear quoted it in context and linked to the text so you can judge for yourself.)

This Pontificate in a Nutshell

So, here we have this pontificate in a nutshell. Pope Francis, whatever his intentions and beliefs, has scandalized the faithful and the faithful are so conditioned to scandal they will find it even where it does not exist. Without reaching the question of his orthodoxy, the Bear declares this pontificate a catastrophe due to a lack of judgment on the part of Francis so profound the Bear sometimes questions his fitness.

That is the least uncomfortable explanation for his weirdly obsessive and secretive pas de deux with Scalfari. We won't see the Last Tango in Rome between these two until one of them discovers first-hand the truth about the Last Things.

Friday, October 20, 2017

American's New Drug Problem (Humor)

NOT Heroin Syringe, but Tranquilizer Dart. A Sure Sign
of Bear Drug Activity.

Bear and Mother of the Year.
 You've seen the "cute" YouTube videos. Friendly-looking Bears in people's yards and pools. You've gone, "aw" as giggling parents have posed their toddlers with trespassing wild Bears for that Like-worthy Facebook video.

Quite a different picture from the "shooting gallery" in that urban area you don't go into filled with hollow-eyed junkies like "Bubbles" from "The Wire" and his white friend whose name you don't remember who OD'd.

Here's a reminder: the Bear is the apex predator in North America. That means everything that is not a Bear is alive only because Bears have not gotten around to killing it yet. If there is a Bear in your swimming pool, you should check for blood in the water, a sure sign that the North American apex predator has claimed another victim. Even if there is no blood, it may only mean the Bear ate the pool man before he had time to bleed.

You may never know.

It may never have occurred to you that an 850 lb. 7-foot-tall powerful animal with jaws that can crush a bowling ball might be dangerous. The natural reaction to finding a Bear, or a Bengal Tiger, or a Velociraptor in your backyard is to pull out your iPhone and get as close as possible for the video. This is understandable.

Actually, it isn't.

Bear on drugs. Safe to pose with your toddler.
But, why do you think all these video Bears are so mellow and amiable?

They're on drugs.

Check your medicine cabinet. If your Valium, Percocet, and weed are gone, you should find a better place to hide your weed. But, more importantly, it is a sure sign Bears have already been in your house, stealing your drugs. The good news is you're probably safe for several days. The bad news is doctors are no longer refilling prescriptions because "a Bear ate my drugs."

Those hypodermic syringes you found behind the garage probably aren't from barely conscious heroin addicts as you feared. The characteristic red stabilizing fluff on the end identifies them as tranquilizer darts used by nature's most efficient killing machines that you just want to hug while using your selfie stick to video yourself with its crushing arms around you and your loved ones.

Sure, a Bear on drugs is very tolerant. But have you ever asked yourself, "What if this Bear is not on drugs?" Worse, what if it has showed up in desperate need of a "fix?"

A Bear junkie will be a whole lot less tolerant once he discovers you're not able to "hook him up" with the tasty stuff. Your selfie stick will be employed as a horrific warning left by the Bear for whom you were (for some inexplicable reason) unprepared to meet on nature's terms.

It isn't just your picnic baskets any more.

The common use of tranquilizer darts has turned the North American Bear population into a horde of rampaging addicts who will lap the medicinal opioids from your blood if they have to.

What can you do? Here are some safety tips to protect you and your family from this epidemic:

  • Bears are very publicity conscious and will not harm you as long as you are videoing them. Never be found without your iPhone.
  • Call animal control, NOT THE POLICE. Bears will stand still for the darts they crave. Bullets only enrage them.
  • Always travel in pairs. You don't have to be fast, just faster than your partner.
  • Do not go outside without your pockets stuffed with controlled substances. Police are aware of the Bear addiction problem and will understand. If not, it is a very plausible story.
  • In a pinch, even a "jonesing" Bear can be distracted by salmon and honey. In fact, don't leave home without several large salmon and a jar of honey, too. (Where you carry them is a problem to which there is just no easy answer.) There is no guarantee you won't run into increasingly common urban Bear "gangs."

Be aware of this problem, follow the safety tips, and you will probably not only not be killed this time, but will be the envy of all your Facebook Friends. (Tip: make sure your video does not include you actually providing drugs to Bears. Providing controlled substances to others is a federal offense, and the "Bear Affirmative Defense" is only recognized in California's Ninth Circuit.)

Of course, the word will quickly spread that you are what Bears call "someone who will give us drugs in return for not killing them yet." Any safety plan should include provisions for immediate relocation to a Bear-free country such as Bavaria.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Lesson of the Burdened Bear

The Lesson of the Burdened Bear

The Hidden Messages of the Burdened Bear

The familiar "burdened Bear" was illustrated in charming storybook fashion by the Bear's talented daughter, Ragan (or "Ragsy" as Bear calls her still). Is it just a cute illustration, or might we learn something from it? (For those unfamiliar with the Bear's story - official and unofficial - it is recounted here.)

The Burden

First of all, the Bear is burdened. What all is he carrying? We're not sure, except that a saint put it on him. It is likely St. Corbinian was wise and kind, and did not overload the Bear. He was a hermit outside of Paris who made a pilgrimage to Rome. The Pope, recognizing something in the man, sent him off as the first Bishop of Munich-Freising. The local warlord and his wicked wife, Biltrudis, immediately "put out a contract" on the saint, causing him to go into hiding.

Ironically, the Bear was free, but the saint was now burdened with difficult and dangerous responsibilities. He must leave his life of solitude and bring Christianity to a warlike people.

Perhaps, for us, the burden represents our sins, much as the pack on the back of Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. The Bear himself is a fine symbol of our own Bearish passions. Ah, the ponies are so fat and plentiful. It is so hard sometimes... (There is a good reason this ephemeris is entitled "St. Corbinian's Bear" and not "St. Corbinian.")

Forgiveness and Contemplating Our Sins

We may imagine St. Corbinian's forgiveness of the Bear for killing his beloved pack animal (whose name was "Binky.") He did not harm the Bear. The day would always come when the Bear would be freed from his burden and returned to his native Woodlands. It was an instruction that caused the Bear to suffer, but did no harm. A sweet, instructive suffering with many a day trudging through the Alpine passes and across the plains to Rome, and much time to contemplate his sins.

"Contemplate your sins,"  is sometimes heard as a joke. Do we contemplate our sins with the same attention as the Bear, step by step? It is good to learn our weaknesses and humble ourselves; to recognize our near occasions of sin and avoid them. It is harder today, with so many distractions to hand, to truly know ourselves. 

And yet, it is all too easy to fall into an unhealthy shame. It is the wise Catholic who can contemplate his sins and benefit without succumbing to shame and discouragement. It would be discouraging if we had to earn our way into Heaven. But that is not the provision God has made. We can do nothing ourselves. We must cooperate with the grace we are given.

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Coringhians 17:10.) This is a very wise saying.

The Goal of the Pilgrimage - Dim Perhaps at Times 

Indeed, what do we barely see at the right of the banner at the top of this ephemeris? What does that mean to you, dear reader, and the form in which it takes?

Might we imagine St. Corbinian and his Bear shrouded in early morning fog, barely able to see hand or paw before their faces? Yet the road beneath their feet was well traveled. Indeed, "all roads lead to Rome."

We are all burdened Bears, are we not? Are we overloaded by care? Savage of tongue? Cruel of heart? Do we take pride in the gifts God has loaned us? Do we rely on our own brute strength, like the Bear, or do we let Jesus share our burdens? Does this burden look light? No, but that's what we're promised, which seems odd. Have you ever wondered how a cross could be "light?" This is indeed a mystery.

It gets heavy when we think about it. About ourselves, and our weakness. One thinks of St. Paul.  Jesus called him a horse, or at any rate, some working beast. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." (Acts 26.14.) Paul was a great one for thinking, as his letters reveal. Yet he found himself knocked off his horse, in the dirt and blind, having to trust others to lead him to a different life.

His destination was more than dim, wasn't it? He could not see it at all, yet he could hear that Voice cutting through the blindness.

Pope Benedict saw the burden of the Bear not as sin, but as his burden of office. One, it must be said, he laid down before the end of the journey, alas.

Benedict: "The Pope Who Was Really a Bear"

Pope Benedict's Coat of Arms.
Note St. Corbinian's Bear in the upper right quadrant.

Pope Benedict found special meaning in St. Corbinian's Bear, which adorns his coat of arms, and that of the Munich-Freising see.

Pope Benedict, in his autobiography, Memoirs, 1927-1977, says, "The Bear with the pack, which replaced the horse, or, more probably, St. Corbinian's mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that not, or is that not, an image of what I should be and what I am?" Source: Catholic World Report. See also, "The Pope Who was Actually a Bear," Crisis Magazine.

We can only imagine St. Corbinian thinking the very same thing as he assumed his new responsibilities among a strange people.

The Chastened Bear

Second, notice the chastened expression. The Bear is downcast. He is far from the proud apex predator. His whole body language expresses his weariness. He is strong, but the burden is heavy. More to the point, it is galling to play the part of a beast of burden! Bears eat ponies and pack mules! They do not permit themselves to be employed as such.

The Bear may indeed be wearied and chastened by his burden, yet he does not rebel against the saint. The original story does not say what the Bear thought about during all those trudging miles to Rome. Was he sorry for eating the saint's pack horse? One hopes the burden taught him something. We only really learn from our burdens and mistakes.

Experience is not what happens to you. Experience is what you learn from what happens to you.

Without making too much of it, does the color green symbolize growth? 

The Cup of Service. Or Beer.

Note the cup. He does not himself carry water. Yet he is ready to help the thirsty if he receives water from some other source. Perhaps the "living waters" of Christ? Perhaps we recall the water that flowed at the command of Moses in the desert. Or, maybe St. Corbinian just liked his beer. His abbey was one of the earliest breweries for which we have records. God does not want us to go through life without refreshment and enjoyment.

That cup, small though it be, more than balances the burden of the Bear when the draft is poured by He who turned water into wine.

(St. Benedict grudgingly allows monks about ten fluid ounces of wine per day, but deems it unsuitable for monastic life. "But whaddya gonna do?" he pretty much says in Chapter 40 of his Rule.)

Ah, the Horseshoe

The final detail to which the Bear would invite your attention is the horseshoe, hanging right in the middle of the green sack.

Undoubtedly, it came from the pack horse of which the Bear made his famous snack. Why would St. Corbinian decorate poor Bear with an image of his disgrace?

Sin is like that. It leaves its mark. Without the horseshoe, the picture would not be a true illustration of his condition. It would just be a pretty picture. After the humiliation of carrying the saint's heavy load ("He seems to have a lot of stuff for a simple hermit," the Bear is thinking) what happened to the horseshoe, do you think? What do you imagine the Bear's thoughts were when he arrived at Rome, and was released into the Woodlands?

The Bear will allow you to complete the ending of the story.

The Great Goat Breakout


Four goats broke out today. Panda led the way. You can see three others huddled against the fence. We're having a tough time keeping them in. They are remarkable escape artists, able to squeeze under the fence with little difficulty.

It's like the Steve McQueen movie, "The Great Escape" every day around here.

In other news, Red Death was chortling with glee this morning ordering some sort of "castration device" on Amazon.

Bear assumes it was for goats.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Beware Bear Conditioning

In between answering some truly madcap hate mail (always a treat, although Bear wishes they would put them in the comments where everyone could enjoy them), Red Death showed him a terrifying reminder of the dangers of 'Bear Conditioning."

Bears have long pursued a sophisticated psychological campaign to condition humans to like Bears.

Here, from 1961, is an example from Red Death's childhood.

And, of course, she married a Bear. 

It's all working out, you see, right under your can't-smell-much noses.

Postscript: The Other Tie and the Secret Show

A Tale of Two Ties

The Bear turns his great shoulders away from the eaves of the Woodlands and the problems of men and returns to the congenial sylvan depths among his friends.

The previous article began with the cutting of a tie. The story is not complete without another tale about a tie, one perhaps you may remember, but perhaps have not heard before. As the Bear returns to his more accustomed role as benevolent dictator of the Woodlands, he feels he must, like Paul Harvey, tell "the rest of the story."

Ernst Bruny: One of Bear's Most Notorious Cases

IDOC picture. Not the Ernst Bruny
Bear remembers, but prison changes
Ernst Bruny was accused of beating the son of his paramour to death with a belt. He did not have a record that the Bear recalls, but after all these years, Bear would not swear to that. Bear is absolutely certain death was not the intended outcome of his acts. Ernst was from Haiti, where punishments can apparently be physically severe. His girlfriend unwisely left her son in his care while she took a trip to Florida. Ernst went way beyond any reasonable discipline. 

While no organs were directly damaged, the accumulated beatings with a belt ruptured cell walls which leaked CPK (creatine phosphokinase) into the bloodstream. Too much CPK can destroy a person's kidneys. If you go to the ER with a suspected heart attack, they will test for CPK, which is a sign of any significant muscle damage. It can also be elevated due to a strenuous workout or crushing trauma from an MVA, or, beating with a belt over time.

The Bear does not sugar-coat anything to diminish the horror and escape your judgment, should you care to exercise it against the Bear. He does not know how many murder cases he did. Dozens. They were all horrible. And the death penalty cases are reserved for "the worst of the worst." This was one of the worst of the worst.

Does the Bear feel sorry for this defendant? No, except the in sense he feels sorry for anyone whose life assumes a doomed trajectory. No, the Bear feels sorry for the victim and his family. He has never lost a moment's sleep knowing Ernst Bruny or any of his clients are in the awful confines of Illinois' maximum security Menard Correctional Center.

And yet, his sister went to medical school, and, Bear presumes, by now has had a long career as a doctor. There is no easy answer to the human mystery. His family was superficially living the American dream of the immigrant, giving their children every advantage. The Bear does not recollect the differences in treatment, if any, from his sister. It may have been pre-reforms, when the defense lacked the money and the know-how to connect the dots from a defendant's past using expert assistance.

The mother was white and Ernst was black, which does make a difference in public perception, at least here in southern Illinois. In fact, as far as Bear knows, Ernst was the only black person in the whole county. Was that part of the news media feeding frenzy? Bear does not know. Most of the Bear's murder clients were white. He cannot recall a white-on-black case, but draws no inferences therefrom. Statistically, the race of the victim contributes more to the death penalty decision than the race of the perpetrator.

This case, however, was always going to be a death penalty case, no matter what.

It was, obviously, a sad case, but also a "heater," featured on Oprah and a Life Magazine essay by Bob Greene in the inimitable Greene style. Red Death was accosted in the grocery store for her husband's defense of Bruny. The state's attorney took to the press to announce "Jesus Christ will come again before I remove the death penalty from this case"

Bear soon countered with his own press contact that resulted in a humorous national law journal headline, "Prosecutor Gags Self." The prosecutor leaked too many details to the press and the Bear was always ready to take advantage of the virtually unknown defense right of reasonable press response. It is typical of the Bear's legitimate use of the press to psychologically condition prosecutors who were careless around him.

Red Death Performs a Service and A Change of Venue

The Bear and Red Death returned to the crime scene and left with what few decent clothes Ernst had. Red Death laundered, mended and ironed them so he would look presentable in court.

It was never just the Bear. We made a terrific team, Red Death and the Bear.

The Bear filed for a change of venue. You hardly ever win these, but prosecutors dread losing the home field advantage.

This time, the Bear did what no one else had ever done. He had an automated service call everybody in the county, not just a statistical sample He included a touch-tone poll, and allowed voice messages. (Hint: that includes the judge, the sheriff, the prosecutor, and the family of the victim, so you might want to give your judge a heads up unless you want him to tear your head off in court the next day.)

The Bear entered the change of venue hearing with large foam board charts (he always loved those for some reason), the survey findings, and a choice collection of audio clips, such as, "I think that he should be killed, chopped to pieces and his body put in a dumpster. Have a nice day." (It had been erroneously reported that the defendant had cut up the body and put the parts in a suitcase.)

The Bear made it clear it would be impossible to get a fair trial in the county. The judge agreed and changed venue to St. Clair County. That's Metro East, on the seedy Illinois side of St. Louis, which includes East St. Louis. The last place in the country the prosecutor wanted to have this trial. 

Bear was presenting at a conference in Chicago when his hotel room phone rang. The prosecutor spat out the words: "I'm offering life in prison with out parole. You have three days to give me your answer."

One must wonder if Jesus resented being used to illustrate his earlier prosecutorial resolve.

A Curiously Significant Gift

After it was all over, Ernst took off his tie in court. "I remember you liked my tie. I don't have anything else, but, here. I want you to have this."

Bear did not remember commenting on the tie, but evidently had during the small talk he always used to calm clients. After he had just pled to LWOP, the only thing Ernst Bruny had to give Bear was his tie.

The Bear has never been able, of course, to think of one of those ties without the other. It has always seemed too perfect, like the cosmic two-by-four of instruction smacking him against the side of his furry head.

The first tie was cut to symbolize the Bear's role in cutting off his first life as a death penalty prosecutor. The second tie was intact, a free gift from a person who was grateful the Bear had saved his life. It was all he had, and he thought Bear had admired it. It was such a human thing to do. No monster would ever have done that.

To the world, Ernst Bruny was (and, to the extent he is remembered, remains) a monster. Certainly, what he did was monstrous. Yet he was not a monster. He was a human being. Ernst Bruny's final gift was the free act of a human who had nothing to gain, almost nothing to give, and who had no idea how his gift rebalanced the scales of the Bear's own life by setting his gift of an intact tie against the cut tie Bear had so proudly displayed from his first death sentence as a prosecutor.

"Come! See the Monster!"

The Bear represented many human beings who had, for whatever reason, done horrible things. The facile label "monster," based on highly selective, often inaccurate, and always incomplete newspaper and television stories, did not tell the whole story. Bear felt privileged to be allowed access to this "secret show" where the garish signs screamed, "Come! See the Monster!" And, having paid his very dear dime (the secret show is never cheap, Bear can assure his readers) the Bear saw something more marvelous than even a monster.

Staring back at him from behind the bars was a human being who had done a monstrous thing.

There have been a couple of defendants where, admittedly, the Bear could just not find the human. He could name them, but won't. Where he only saw the monster, instead. He blames himself for that oversight. It is harder with some than others.

Bear gets that few are admitted to that secret show, where monsters are advertised and humans displayed. It is his belief that, since these people are humans, they are on a continuum of human behavior. Different not in kind, but in degree. Oh, how true to the Bear are the words of Christ that to hate your brother makes you a murderer.

Whether you are for or against the death penalty, the Bear does not really care. It is on its way out. Except he were privy to the secret show - and, perhaps Catholic, as well - he would be as for it as he always used to be.

His experience and conclusions are symbolized by the two ties: one an award for "cutting off" a life, to use the familiar OT term; the other entire, a free gift from a fellow human in the image of God.

And this really is his final word on the death penalty.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bear's Last Words on the Death Penalty

If you might enjoy a legal memoir, here is a brief version of the Bear's story, some of which has not been revealed. It's mainly about how a conservative prosecutor came to be a death penalty defender. And it summarizes Pope Francis' magisterial teaching, including three reservations the Bear holds, all in its own more coherent way. If you're tired of the whole thing, give it a pass. The Bear is turning off the comments light. We've already argued enough, and while he enjoyed it, he doesn't want to do it again already. He does, after all, have another dubious novel to complete.

Wherein Bear Admits his Bias, But Dishes Professional Dirt

The views of the Bear are unavoidably informed by both spiritual insights (which Bear believes are genuine; God knows) and practical considerations from years dealing with death penalty cases.

The first death penalty case the Bear ever did was as a prosecutor. He sent an evil murderer of a mom and her young teenage daughter to death row and was quite pleased with myself. He was technically "second chair," but did all the heavy lifting, including the sentencing argument for death. The defendant spat right in the Bear's furry round ear.

Afterward, the "first chair," from the Chicago AG office, one of those "city of broad shoulders" skyscraper men as big as the Bear, took scissors and cut the tie Bear was wearing. The Bear had the remnant and the sentencing order framed and displayed it in his office: a trophy of his first "kill," as was the custom.

One of his  first chair's favorite stories was how he violated a judge's order regarding a certain photograph in a murder case by "accidentally" giving the jury a good look at it anyway. The prosecutorial ethos overall in the Bear's slice of the picture was ends-justifies-the-means, although many individual state's attorneys were honorable.

But Illinois was facing a death penalty legal meltdown. 

Death Penalty Nightmare in the Land of Lincoln

During one period Illinois executed 13 and exonerated 12 innocent men from death row. Think about it: playing Russian Roulette with a bullet in every other chamber. The Bear had a front row seat for the DNA revolution.  DuPage County police and prosecutors were charged with deliberately convicting a man they knew was innocent. The infamous Commander Burge in Chicago was literally torturing confessions out of suspects. Death penalty defense lawyers were underfunded, inexperienced, overmatched and overwhelmed.

The steady accumulation of unthinkables shocked the legal system and the state government.

It was a scandal that impressed the Bear with the reality of prosecutorial and police misconduct, and the fallibility of the system. To his credit, the governor commuted everyone on death row to life in prison without parole (LWOP) and Illinois enacted a series of reforms that addressed most of the sources of wrongful conviction. The Bear was part of that process.

But he has never been a starry-eyed, bleeding heart crusader. He did want to be part of a system that was as reliable as humanly possible. He was not an abolitionist until much later. He mostly just had a strong objection to the state killing any of his clients. He had his paws full with that, and did not question the actual penalty once things were fixed.

But the Bear gets ahead of himself.

The Bear Becomes "Mr. Death Penalty"

He left the AG's office and hung out his shingle. As a new solo practitioner, the Bear committed the common mistake of doing a little of everything but mastering nothing. He realized he needed to establish himself as an expert in something. To find a niche other lawyers had overlooked. He already had one death penalty under his belt, as a prosecutor. The ABA had made it clear that "death is different," and had issued non-binding guidelines.

The Bear shopped his threadbare experience and those guidelines around the First Circuit and got appointed to one case, then another, and soon found himself "Mr. Death Penalty." Someone judges could trust not to get a case bounced back due to "ineffective assistance of counsel." (Appellate lawyers hold the trial record in their soft lily-white hands and make up all sorts of nasty things about real courtroom lawyers in every case. The Bear never had a case bounced back on his account, but Bears are slow to forgive.)

The scandal in Illinois demanded reforms. A large capital litigation fund was established to pay for the costs of death penalty cases, including lawyers. High standards were established for counsel, and a special "capital litigation bar" was established by the Illinois Supreme Court. Only the most experienced and specially trained criminal defense lawyers could do death penalty cases. That cadre amounted to less than one percent of all Illinois lawyers. It was the Bear who scrutinized and signed off on them in Fifth Appellate District in southern Illinois.

Later, until its abolition in Illinois in 2011, the Bear lived and breathed death penalty cases as one of a half dozen consulting experts on the state payroll. Ironically, it was an appendix of the hated Appellate Defender's Office.

Turning Monsters Into Persons & Shaking Rosaries at Lawyers

The basis of the Bear's strategy had always been to make people believe his client was a person. His theory was that people who only know about a case from the press, i.e. potential jurors, would see his client as a monster, not a person. Looking back, Bear realizes his powers of reasoning were groping toward a realization of the image of God without knowing it.

People will kill a monster, he thought. They will not kill a person. 

That insight proved not only an effective strategy, but over time, he learned the truth of it. It remains his firm belief that all of his clients were persons and bore the image of God. To sound much holier than he is, he saw the face of Christ even in murderers. He thinks it is a gift. If it is not, it is a delusion. God knows, Bear does not. He only knew a couple of other death penalty lawyers who believed the same.

They were both Catholic, too.

Bear doesn't think that's an accident. He remembers John O'Gara, a well-known criminal defense lawyer from Belleville, Illinois, now a judge, pulling his rosary from his pocket and shaking it at 150 criminal defense lawyers at a conference. If you don't believe believe in God, he told the astonished audience, you will never "get" the job, and it will eat you alive.

Much later, O'Gara told the press he saw the face of Christ in Chris Coleman, (link to CBS news story) the defendant in what is easily the most horrific case in which the Bear was ever (here slightly) involved. The Bear is still troubled by it and probably always will be.

Anyway, public reaction to O'Gara's statement was predictable. He was pilloried.

The Fundamental Division

The death penalty is a conservative litmus test, and, for some, a litmus test of orthodoxy. The Bear wishes others would acknowledge their bias with the same frankness as the Bear acknowledges his. It exerts a powerful emotional hold on many far out of proportion to its status as a tiny legal relic in the West.

The Bear has never understood why conservatives are so fond of the ultimate expression of the power of the state over its citizens. After all, with LWOP, an offender comes out of prison in a box, too. It isn't as though they aren't punished. 

The Bear realizes on this issue he is in the company of liberals. The difference is, they don't know any more about the realities of the death penalty than conservatives do. They have just swallowed abolition along with every other SJW cause.

The Bear may have one foot over the line, but it is an honest stand. Bears always make up their own minds, and speak as truly as they know.

The Bear  thinks the Church, as an institution existing in time under human hands, has grown in respect for the person even as the West abandoned slavery, torture, and other denials of the image of God that grants dignity to each person. The slaveholders had their proof texts, too, you know. Among the things the West has abandoned is capital punishment. It is used in only a tiny percentage of murders in a handful of U.S. states and (rarely) the federal government. It is pursued with vigor only in the Islamosphere.

ISIS is quite creative in developing crowd-pleasing methods of execution to keep the act from getting stale and decorates cities with heads on spikes.

The West at least keeps its few executions decently hidden from public view. Dickens wrote a letter to the Times complaining about the indignity of hangings before 30,000 jeering spectators. He would be pleased at our discretion.

Even so, the Bear would not care to be a cheerleader for capital punishment under today's realities.

There is no doubt that the Church has previously taught that capital punishment was acceptable. Part of the issue, then, is whether you believe the Church can ever legitimately develop her teachings. Bear does get that.

There is also no doubt the death penalty is in the Old Testament penal statutes and various other places in scripture. It was a rough-and-ready community affair suited to a culture with a small population, no prisons, and only a trace of due process. (One also finds the clear demand that adulterers be stoned.) Thus, another part of the issue is proof texting, an often dubious exercise which usually lacks context.

And yet, here are three odd things proponents of capital punishment should consider.
  1. The same God who spoke of shedding the blood of murderers so unambiguously goes out of his way to preserve the life of the first murderer, Cain, by placing a special protective mark on him.
  2. The woman caught in adultery had to be stoned to death under the law. She was caught in the very act. There was no question. The law was clear. Jesus does not directly change the law, but he saves the woman's life and lets her off with a warning.
  3. The Good Thief was forgiven during his capital punishment, and even promised a direct translation to Paradise to be with Jesus.
As we focus on a contentious issue, we should not lose sight of opportunities for mercy. In the only mock jury in which the Bear participated (he considers them a waste of time and money) the sentencing argument that worked best was a simple plea for mercy. The Bear was surprised and pleased. Of all the fancy arguments we could come up with, people had mercy in their hearts. It was almost enough to restore his faith in humans.

For a variety of reasons, then, capital punishment remains a powerful and emotionally satisfying symbol for many who can find support in Scripture and past Church teaching.

The West Is Already Abolitionist

The Bear will say this. Those who cite an absolutist he-who-sheds-the-blood-of-man-by-man-shall-his-blood-be-shed are living in a fantasy. Even if we wanted to, the modern legal system, hedged about with so many due process protections, could not possibly handle every murder case as a death penalty case. It would cost tens of billions of dollars and massive training programs in this complex specialty. It would also require mass executions.

There's a reason the vast majority of all cases are resolved by plea bargain. The system can only support so many jury trials. Everybody in the system knows this. And that is one reason we are already a virtually abolitionist West. We are already far from the OT demands and past Church practices.

And that brings us to the main problem the Bear has with those who love to argue for the death penalty. They do not know nor do they care to educate themselves on the practical issues without which any such discussion is meaningless. It is like arguing for dirigible passenger service without knowing the first thing about dirigibles, or why there is no dirigible passenger service today.

Not everything the West has decided is wise or moral. The West accepts abortion for the innocent even as it has eliminated the death penalty for the guilty. The Bear recognizes this. But we should also realize when the West gets something right. Civil rights came only after a bitter struggle that saw the federalization of national guard units to escort black children into schools.

Finally, Pope Francis: Three Reservations

Regarding the abolitionist position of Pope Francis (whose abolitionist views are magisterial, having appeared in Amoris Laetitia) the Bear has three reservations, although he agrees with abolition in the developed West.

The first is the Pope is also against life in prison without parole (LWOP). That means convicted murderers would be released back among innocent people. Abolition without LWOP is a non-starter even for this abolitionist. The Bear's "perfect record" in death penalty cases may not seem so perfect to his defendants (save one acquittal) all of whom pled guilty in return for LWOP and will come out of prison in a box.

The second applies to whatever countries, if any, still lack prisons. St. Pope John Paul II made a practical concession regarding the death penalty if it was the only way to keep dangerous murderers separated from innocent members of the community. To the extent this nuance is important today (the Bear is not an expert in third-world penology) it is a wise one that Pope Francis would seem to erase.

The third reservation relates to the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself. The Bear frequently consults the CCC and finds it quite useful. He cringes at the idea of it becoming a bloated, ever-evolving vehicle to introduce and perpetuate the hobbyhorses of a series of Popes. The vague comment that capital punishment should have "a more adequate and coherent space in the Catechism of the Catholic Church" seems a bit odd. The Bear finds the Article 5 on the Fifth Commandment quite coherent already, including its treatment of the death penalty. 

God forbid it gets cluttered up with climate change and the like.

You Know, Everybody Dies

Those reservations excepted, the Bear find Pope Francis' rationale based on the dignity of every person who bears the image of God is in line with his own personal experiences, which can be truly understood by few.

Everybody dies. Even Bears. A few still die from a dubious lethal cocktail administered by the state. Everyone else dies some other way. The Bear is confident in his informed position regarding abolition where possible.

His other concern is what a death penalty mentality does to people and the culture in which they live. He does not like the company we keep as a death penalty country. He believes that, while our culture is being deranged, overall, human beings are respected more than in times past. It seems only natural that the Church would reflect, indeed, lead such legitimate changes based on human dignity.

It's not the "seamless garment," exactly, but recognizing the Imago Dei,  however deformed, in all human relations is not a bad thing, is it? And it is a very Catholic thing. What a wonderful witness not just to life, but the Imago Dei. If we cannot see it where it is most distorted, we do not really understand the indelible image that is tied to our source and end, who can only be God.

The devil has taken good developments to evil extremes in creating ever new classes of victims to divide and undermine our country and the Christian religion. This is his perversion of the notion of the Imago Dei. The Bear is a sharp observer of human folly, as readers know. He is acutely aware of this. From the tattoo craze to euthanasia, man is busy trying recreate himself in his own image, right down to changing sexes. But that should not blind us to some real good that is still at work despite all that.

We do not need the death penalty. The only purposes it serves are retribution and incapacitation, which LWOP can do at less expense (yes, that's right) without dulling our sense of the Imago Dei.. We barely have a death penalty at all. We will not miss it. It has already snuck into a dark corner of the past, leaving only the tip of its tail in view. Cutting it off to eliminate it would be as painless as cutting a tie in celebration of it.

And it would make a worthy trophy of a West that is still inherently different from places where people are executed in great numbers and spectacular ways. That difference is Christianity.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...