For those of us whose apostolate is within the world, the prayerful power and contemplative intercessions of the religious has our back, for they are a mighty arm of the Church and their prayer is one of the sharpest swords of the Word, now as it was centuries ago, when St. Teresa of Avila wrote these words: "I think we should act as people do when, in time of war, the enemy has overrun the country and the king finds himself hard pressed. He retires into a strongly fortified town from whence he sometimes makes a sortie. The small company with him in the citadel, being picked men, are better than a large army of cowardly soldiers; thus they often come off victors, they are not vanquished for there is no traitor in their ranks and famine alone can conquer them. No famine can force us to surrender--it may kill us--it cannot vanquish us! But why have I told you this? To teach you, my sisters, that we must ask God to grant that, of all the good Christians in this fort, none may desert to the enemy, that no traitor may be found here, and that the captains of this castle, or city--that is, the preachers and theologians--may be proficient in the way of our Lord. Since most of these are religious, you must pray that they may advance in perfection and may follow their vocation more perfectly. This is very necessary, for, as I said, it is the arm of the Church and not of the State which much defend us now. We, being women, can fight for our King in neither way: Let us, then, strive so to live that our prayers may avail to help these servants of God who have laboured hard to arm themselves with learning and virtue with which to help their Sovereign." The Way of Perfection. [1565]. (1997). Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers. (pp. 16-17)


The Church


760 Christians of the first centuries said, "The world was created for the sake of the Church." God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the "convocation" of men in Christ, and this "convocation" is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels' fall and man's sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world.


Just as God's will is creation and is called "the world," so his intention is the salvation of men, and is called "the Church." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #760)


Catholic Intellect, Catholic Will


"For the soul's full functioning, we need a Catholic intellect as well as a Catholic will. We have a Catholic will when we love God and obey God, love the Church and obey the Church. We have a Catholic intellect when we live consciously in the presence of the realities that God through his Church has revealed. A good working test of a Catholic will is that we should do what the Church says. But for a Catholic intellect, we must also see what the Church sees. This means that when we look out upon the Universe we see the same Universe that the Church sees; and the enormous advantage of this is that the Universe the Church sees is the real Universe, because She is the Church of God. Seeing what She sees means seeing what is there. And just as loving what is good is sanctity, or the health of the will, so seeing what is there is sanity, or the health of the intellect." Theology and Sanity. F. J. Sheed. (1946). New York: Sheed & Ward. (pp. 3-4)

Guiding Criminal Justice Principles

1) Broken windows policing works.

Allowing even the minor violation of a broken window in an area helps create the impression of an environment where law and order does not prevail and where crime flourishes. Responding quickly and efficiently to all crimes, regardless of the perceived state of seriousness or other local community concerns, is the foundation of good police work.

The Vatican Catechism (2007) teaches:

"2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good."

2) The response to crime should be swift, balanced, and just.

"When justice is for sale, either through wealth, influence, or ideology, a fertile soil is created from which crime grows. The training and education of professionals in the criminal justice system is built on a foundation of traditional and well-reasoned concepts of justice and it needs continual reinforcement to remain an effective response to crime: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15)

3) Prison is the most appropriate criminal sanction to protect society and punish the criminal, while allowing the opportunity for criminal reformation.

Prison is an effective sanction for crime which has been used by human beings since ancient times. It serves to protect the public from predatory crime, acts as a deterrence and as incapacitation, and allows the penitential criminal the opportunity--while removed from the community--to reflect upon and correct his criminal behavior.

From the U.S. Bishops (2006):

"468 A punishment imposed by legitimate public authority has the aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense, of defending public order and people's safety, and contributing to the correction of the guilty party. (Compendium: Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 137)

[For James Q. Wilson's classic argument for why we need prisons, see our blog post at

4) Capital punishment is an appropriate response to the criminal evil of murder, rape, and pedophilia.

Capital punishment is often the only effective social method available to protect the innocent and applied with dispatch after legal review of the crimes charged and determining the fitness of its application, should be considered an appropriate sentence for murderers, rapists, and pedophiles; who, knowing the time of their death, are able, with certainty of their remaining time to do so, seek God's forgiveness.

From the Vatican Catechism (2007):

"2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

"2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."

Lane (2010) notes: "During the decade beginning in 1997, five states enacted the death penalty for rape of a child--though the Supreme Court struck those laws down in 2008." Lane, C. (2010). Stay of execution: Saving the death penalty from itself. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. (p. 66)

The Lampstand article, Capital Punishment and the Constancy of Catholic Social Teaching, is available at

5) Repentant criminals deserve a second chance.

Excepting those cases of serious predatory behavior deserving capital punishment or natural life in prison, repentant criminals, once they have clearly shown--over a ten year period after being released from criminal justice supervision--that they have transformed their life by becoming a productive member of their family, their church, their vocation, and their community, should be allowed to apply for a complete pardon in a simple straightforward process.

From Caesar forgiveness may be sought but is rarely given, but from God forgiveness is always given. The Vatican Catechism (2007) teaches:

"982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.

6) It takes a reformed criminal to reform criminals.

For generations the ability of non-criminals--even those with the highest professional and academic credentials--to effectively rehabilitate criminals has proven, based on sound evaluations, to be virtually non-existent. Recruiting reformed criminals who have, through education, training, and the development of a deep knowledge leadership approach to criminal transformation, may well succeed where others have failed. Considering the current recidivism rate of 70%, and with the consensus that peer-based help does, at the very least, attract those who want help to transformative programs, it is time to try this approach in a substantial enough way, over time and properly evaluated, to discover if we can rely on it as a valuable tool for large-scale implementation.

As Lukenbill (2006) noted:

"Transformed criminals with advanced degrees and Catholic social teaching knowledge--I describe as deep knowledge leaders--working through grassroots community organizations, can help reverse the long-term failure of criminal rehabilitation programs, as they possess the elemental experiential knowledge of the criminal world allowing them, and them only, the authentic access to criminals long denied the social work professional." The Criminal's Search for God: Criminal Transformation, Catholic Social Teaching, Deep Knowledge Leadership, and Communal Reentry, p. 9)

7) In the work of criminal reformation, it is vital to keep in mind that the criminal--not society, capitalism, or the criminal justice system--is the problem.

Some criminal justice advocates take the position that among the people connected with the carceral world, the good guys are the criminals and the police, district attorneys, prison guards, and the legislators who support stringent criminal sanctions, are the bad guys.

This is the absolutely wrong position, for in virtually any carceral population in America it is the criminals who are the indisputable bad guys, while the good guys are the ones protecting the public from the depredations of criminals. Those who parlay the myths of Hollywood or Marxism into an intellectual stance that fails to understand this basic fact, does everyone a disservice--in particular the penitential criminal--who may find little reason for proper expiation within a culture defining criminality as somehow admirable.


Like many fields, criminal justice often benefits from or is hurt by ideas that take hold of an influential group able to create foundational ideology from which taboos against opposing ideas can be created; but in the midst of these philosophical and sociological meanderings, the conclusions from the seminal thinker in current crime and public policy remain valid:

"Rehabilitation has not yet been shown to be a promising method for dealing with serious offenders, broad-gauge investments in social progress have little near-term effect on crime rates, punishment is not an unworthy objective for the criminal justice system of a free and liberal society to pursue, the evidence supports (though cannot conclusively prove) the view that deterrence and incapacitation work, and new crime-control techniques ought to be tried in a frankly experimental manner with a heavy emphasis on objective evaluation." (James Q. Wilson, Thinking About Crime (1975) (p. 5)