Friday, August 29, 2003

Wanna Good Time?

Convicted murderer Joseph Druce has murdered again. He killed John Geoghan, a serial child-molester and former Catholic priest with whom he was incarcerated. Because we respect the imago Dei in Joseph Druce, we recognize certain rights which are intended to protect the created dignity of his person. We're not required to do that because Druce's own life has been a witness to his divinely-ordained personal dignity. We're required to do it because God has given Druce that dignity and God hasn't granted us the authority to erase it. Among the rights we accord Druce is the right to an attorney, an advocate whose task is to help ensure that society's response to Druce's behavior respects the human person. Unfortunately we're not doing such a good job of respecting human dignity, because a fellow named John Lachance has been appointed as Druce's counsel.

Lachance has decided bring a little "backwuds justiz" into the defense, claiming that Geoghan "needed a killin.'" Appealing to the savage throwback in all of us, Lachance is suggesting that Druce was a man with sympathetic motives who responded quite naturally to Geoghan's crimes and wanted to protect children. Druce murdered again, says Lachance, because Geoghan was guilty of "serial mistreatment of little kids, and [Druce] really wanted Geoghan to leave the kids alone." Druce's father joins the chorus, claiming that his son (who was stopped from castrating Geoghan's dying body by guards) was himself molested as a child. Druce was either an avenging angel or an uncomprehending agent of fate, imbued with "a very empathic feeling for kids who had been molested." Lachance says that blame (if indeed there is blame) belongs to society for dangling Geoghan in Druce's face: "The big question was why was Geoghan (there) instead of in a medium security facility like Gardner, Shirley or Old Colony? . . . "It raises issues."

If Lachance continues this strategy, he'll prove himself to be yet another button-down streetwalker, one of the thousands of cankered whores who prosper in a legal system married to the Culture of Death. His defensive comments about Druce invite us into a world where there is no law, and where the transcendent dignity of human personhood is reduced to a temporary and ever-changing fashion. Why shouldn't men have immediately descended on Druce after his first murder, hustling him onto a makeshift gibbet, delighting in his howls of pain and cheering gleefully as the blade fell through his neck? Because Druce's personhood, not the use he's made of it, is a sacred thing which cannot be treated that way without destroying the sacred in all of us. Why shouldn't men simply dispose of Druce right now with a bullet through the back of his head, even as they express some slight satisfaction that his useless existence rid them of another useless being? Because we submit to something larger and greater than Druce or Geoghan, a gospel which says a life that thrives on a vindictive lust for spilled blood is not worth living. We don't have law because we want to control criminals, or even because we want to punish them. We have law because we believe in our own dignity as human persons, and we know that we can't deny dignity to the worst of us without denying it to all of us. That's why Geoghan was in a maximum-security facility -- to try to give him maximum-security, and to give maximum security to the human commonality that demands we preserve the imago Dei in others in order to preserve it in ourselves.

It's worth noting that Lachance isn't speaking to a judge, but to taxpayers, voters, potential jurors. That's why lawyers strut themselves so garishly before the media -- to taint the operation of the law with seductive tidbits that appear ugly in daylight but oh-so-enticing when beheld in the half-light of an anonymous televised alley. Lachance is beckoning to us, inviting us to go with him for a good time of deserved release, where blood can flow without guilt, where lust for vengeance can be slaked in mindless oblivion. His comments have no meaning unless we're to regard human dignity as something optional, something relative, something that may not always be appropriate to human creatures. Creatures like child molesters, or murderers, rapists, gays, kulaks, Jews, Baptists, unborn children -- anyone whose existence is so repugnant or burdensome to us that we give in to temptation and say, "surely God never intended us to respect things like these?"

Lachance didn't invent that culture, of course. He's not even a prime mover; the Catholic jurist William Brennan did far more to create it by signing Roe v. Wade than Lachance's petty whoring will ever do. Lachance just happens to be wearing the gaudiest makeup, the highest heels. Let's ignore him and go to our homes, where dignity is alive and well, where each of us is greatly valued because we will not deny that value to any of us. After all, we shouldn't murder the Brennans and Lachances of the world just because they undermine humanity and civilization. We have to live with whores like them, just as Hosea had to live with the whore God commanded him to marry in a union symbolic of God's life with us. We have to recognize the human dignity in men like Lachance and Brennan because that's the witness we give to our own human dignity. It is well for our country that we understand this, and cling to it, no matter how often our leaders urge us to forget it.


[1] "Suspect in Slaying Cited Abuse Victims," Washington Post, 8/28/03. The full text can be found here.

[2] "Attorney: Druce Killed Geoghan to Save Future Child Victims, Neponset Daily News, 8/28/03. The full text can be found here.

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