Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Lockerbie Bomber and Christian Mercy

Fr John Alexander offers on his Videtur Quod blog two thoughtful and thought-provoking posts on Crime and Punishment (Part One and Part Two) in relation to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber. These were prompted by Fr Ed Tomlinson's post on Justice versus Compassion on The Saint Barnabas' Blog.

I commented as follows on Fr Alexander's first post:

Thank you for your thoughts, Father. I think you are absolutely right to put this question in a spiritual context, in particular the context concept of Divine Mercy and the Christian's calling to share in that mercy (both as recipient and co-agent of mercy with God).

As I said in a comment on Fr Tomlinson's original posting, the Coronation Rite (a much neglected treasury of wisdom) expresses the necessary balance well:

“Be so merciful that you be not too remiss; so execute Justice that you forget not Mercy.”

(Similar words occur in the Consecration of Bishops of course.)

But mercy, tho' attractive, is so challenging. It's the thing that I find shocks non-Christians most (many Christians too when they think about it). They can put up with woolly liberal "compassion", even if they disapprove, but liberal and rigorist alike are revolted by true Christian mercy, clear-eyed and decisive as it is: "I am under no illusions about the evil you have committed, but now I exercise mercy."

Some words of T.S. Eliot come to mind:

"Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft."

On a factual point, the decision in this case wasn't made by a court, but by the Scottish Justice Minister. This is the normal procedure, but it has unfortunately helped to muddy the waters (at least in Britain). People are more inclined to suspect the motives of a decision made by a politician (and other politicians to stir up such suspicions), than of a decision made by a court.

[Comment republished here for future reference.]

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