An open letter to Pope Francis: Speak to the evils of public registration and perpetual punishment

By Robin Vanderwall . . . There is a great evil in our land that goes ignored: the public pillory of people who have been convicted of sexually-based offenses long after they have been released from lawful punishment.

Consequent to several pieces of national legislation going back to 1992, every state in the United States is required to publicize the names and addresses of individuals who were convicted of a sexually based offense, no matter how minor the offense may have been, and no matter how long ago the incident occurred.

In the majority of cases, the individuals—and families—who are affected have already satisfied the requirements of a legal punishment. However, they remain exposed to a multitude of dangers and deprivations resulting from the continuous publication of their sexual sins. Often times, restrictions imposed upon where they may live or work or attend school cause them to live as exiles within their own homeland.

To date, nearly 800,000 Americans are listed on state-maintained public sex offender registries. This globally accessible database of information creates the impression that such people are monstrous individuals who are a present and immediate danger to their communities and are highly likely to re-offend at any given moment.

Indeed, the constant, never-ending publication of their names, addresses, and criminal acts cleverly promotes the misapprehension that their crimes were recently committed…or that they are actually ongoing. And due to the ubiquitous nature of the internet (whereupon this pillory occurs), the pillory will continue for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years after their temporal lives are over.

After more than twenty years of collective data, there has been no reliable statistical evidence amassed to support the stated goals of policies related to public sex offender registries. And there is no credible evidence that the existence of such registries either protects the innocent or decreases the rate of new sexually-based offenses.

In fact, copious academic studies have demonstrated the exact opposite: public sex offender registries are harmful to the individuals who populate them and have not proven to be effective tools for creating safer communities. Empirical evidence is clear that, as an enhancement to public safety as well as to the successful rehabilitation of those who have sexually offended, the current system of public registration in America is a total and complete failure.

Yet, politicians in the United States do not have the moral courage to speak out against public sex offender registries for fear of electoral backlash. Unfortunately, this particular method of making people pay for their crimes satiates the human thirst for vengeance and moral aggrandizement. It satisfies their lust to see others suffer pain, torment, and defamation. Nobody wants to deprive the people of their proclivity for self-justification at the expense of human dignity.

What have public sex offender registries actually accomplished?

  • They have made registrants virtually unemployable;

  • They have made registrants who are also parents incapable of participating fully in the lives of their children;

  • They have made the children of registrants frequent targets of bullying and ridicule at school and at play;

  • They have ostracized registrants from their families, churches, synagogues, and religious communities;

  • They have broken up homes and destroyed marriages;

  • They have caused harassment and ridicule from the public at-large; and, in some cases,

  • They have led to the deaths of registrants as a result of vigilantism and, in at least a few cases, the deaths of a totally innocent people.

That’s quite a devilish legacy for laws that are ostensibly intended to protect the public and create safer communities, but do neither. Public sex offender registries violate the Moral Law against giving scandal to one’s neighbor [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 5th Commandment, 2284-2287], and they promote the sins of calumny and detraction [Catechism, 8th Commandment, 2477-2479]. Yet, the Church remains silent in the face of these licit, legislatively-enacted abrogations of God’s Law.

It is understandable, of course, that the Church suffers from a lack of moral resolve to confront this brand of evil. After all, given recent events, the Church can ill afford to appear soft when it comes to the sin of sexual abuse.

Nevertheless, with all the respect that’s due to you, Your Holiness, as Vicar of Christ and the apostolic successor to St. Peter, it is not sufficient for the Church to atone for its own moral failures (the priestly scandal) at the expense of sexual offenders as though they are deserving of a lesser measure of human dignity. And there are a great many men and women your predecessors have made into saints who, by their own confessions, would populate the sex offender registries of the United States.

Therefore, we are appealing to you as perhaps the only person on earth with the moral integrity and public affection to speak directly against the sinful use of public pillory as a tool for correcting societal ills. And we hope that you will prayerfully consider the matter during your visit to the United States.

someone outside of NARSOL

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15 Thoughts to “An open letter to Pope Francis: Speak to the evils of public registration and perpetual punishment”

  1. AvatarMarie

    This is a beautifully written letter. It seems we need an act of God to stop the pain and suffering so well described. Thank You.

  2. Wow the letter about public registry was a bit lengthy. The main thing is Government has turned their back on God and the teachings of the Bible. We are all carnal by nature and so is Government but they don’t seem to understand about what they do.
    They would rather keep the sex offender in bondage for the rest of their life than to say that they were wrong about setting up these internet sex sting operations to getting the real truth in the matter at hand. I am against the sex registry and these internet stings. The Government needs to go back to biblical principles. These Government people are like the Pharasises in the bible and worship mammon than God.

  3. AvatarJerry

    This open letter to Pope Francis is excellent! If anyone has the courage to speak out against the wrongness of public sex offender registries it is THIS pope!! I certainly hope he will do so. Someone in authority needs to find the courage to point out that the registry is nothing more than the so-called “Religious Right’s” thirst for vengeance, retribution, and severe punishment for those who do what they preach against from the pulpit, yet do themselves. They and news media hyperbole have fueled the additional crimes being eligible for listing on the public sex offender registry. I wonder what a check of their computers would turn up?

    As a look at the most recent empirical data indicates, a child is 95% likely to be sexually abused by clergy, a family member (including extended family), a close family friend, a known neighbor, a teacher, a principal, a scout master, a coach, a celebrity, or a law enforcement officer than a stranger or someone already on a public sex offender list. There is no known connection to someone looking at depiction on a computer and then going out and molesting or raping someone, let alone a child. Yet, the public sex offender registration remains for people whose only crime is looking at what is subjectively labelled as “child pornography.”

    Clergy and the public in general should be denouncing the entrapment acts by the Internet sex police that 2-1, 3-2, or 4-3 conservative majority ideological appellate courts uphold based on unsound legal principles that cleverly find a way around constitutional prohibitions for such police entrapments. I’d like to ask the law enforcement officers who volunteer to participate in these unconstitutional stings if they go home after work and are proud of themselves for the job they do. I’d also like to check their computers too.

    I pray that Pope Francis listens to Robin Vanderwall’s open letter and takes the lead to stop the public shaming that serves as retribution and a way for lawmakers to slap themselves on the back for being “tough on crime” and then go commit repugnant immoral acts themselves that are way worse than looking at a depiction of a semi-nude, non-sexually suggestive picture/video clip of a person under age 18 that lands someone on a public sex offender list for 15 years.

  4. AvatarJay

    If one could look back to the swathing sensationalism of the mcmartin trial, over more than a few decades ago, you can recall the impending windfall of media commiting to character assassination from that starting to a point of perpetual infinity. This nation is now one of securitization and scathing concepts, from political ploys to upfront and close personalization of things not previously not entitled to by the norm. For americans seem to peer out each other and subjugate registrants to an exclusive group. The actors complicit and responsible for robbing the clear intent of the constitution are nothing less than treasonal contortionist. Politicians have been far a plenty, canvassed in criminal prosecution for abhorrent and hypocritical behavior that they coincidently legislated on in a previous lawmaking career of the recent past. Some show shame and contrite ridden-humbleness once the gamut “gets” them in the web of certain scrutiny. Our clergymen and so-called Christian conglomerates are not doing enough nor the constitutionalist who use to fight against the legitimacy of laws that were bravenly illegal or had no place in government. During the prohibition period the maximum time spent in federal incarceration was merely 6 months with severe enhancements. We have become a nation that has resorted to punishment in the most passive indoctrination as if rehabilitation does not ridicously save in cost. States like California have to constantly adjust laws reflecting the influx and budgetary impacts of bad rushed politics. This very same state serves as litimus and predecessor for all others to follow based on it’s number of registrants. I’ve seen policies , ordinances and laws struck down for ignoring what was to eventually going to become problematic. Albeit the Walsh’s the nancy grace’s and astounded pundints live off the demise of the “disenfranchised”. To start, it takes keenful presidential policymaking to start the foundation of fair and sounding solutions to fix this mess of institutionalization. Carly fioriona made spot on comments in regard to the subject, during the debates. Registrants are a continual cash cow for police departments and a nuisances for underfunded ones. The industry complex of the criminal justice system, gathers catchy phrases and policies every few times to appease and impress the public. I say this with critical absorption, due to formally being law enforcement and working in the government for many years. Christians and persons with the ability to make monumental change should rise and refuse such encroachments of the constitution. For someone to say, ” no not me never” will someday likey step up to the front of the line in a given court of law. Anyone is subjective to a 6×9 and the proverbial three hots and a cot except the pope lol , but the jokes aside, I command every constitutionalist to wrest the power out of self interest groups and proclaim the restorative meaning and intent that grew this country and nation or all will one day be afflicted.
    Best regards , just a ground soldier

  5. AvatarBj

    I am so happy to know that there is some support out there for sex offenders who’ve done their time (supositly paid their dept to society). We need a voice to speak the truth for us when no one else will. I want to be a big part of this movement to share this true information about sex offenders

    1. BJ and all you others on here while all of us are affected by this sex offender issue and even the public is in fear of all this. It is nothing new. Things of this nature have been going on since the dawn of ages.
      While this letter asking the Pope seemed to be of good intent, it is up to every one of us to Stand Up on these issues. We can either let God fight our Battles or we as individuals can Speak Up about these issues. Remember that one or our Presidents said there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
      They say action speaks lower than words and we as offenders, whether sex offenders or thought offenders need to let the nation know that Government enslaves with these wrongful acts of man made deceptions.
      Call them scandals or whatever you want but let them know that they need to ban these internet encounters. Their are different ways of catching a fish or building a foundation. I wonder what the United states foundation is.
      Are these internet stings witch hunts of the modern day or are just ways to let others know that all have sinned?
      Let God be true and every man a liar. Do not repay evil for evil. God can take away your bondage but man will not so we all need to voice to America.
      Go to State Crime Committee Meeting and speak out each and every one of you people. Would God use deception on his people or would Ministers of God use deception on his people?
      People correct in many different ways but deception is of a heathen nation. Are we a nation of God’s principles or heathen principles?

  6. Avatarchuck loskarn

    It is tragic what can happen to good people who need help. Please read my son’s last message before he left this earth. He was one of these good people I am talking about. He was no criminal. He needed help because he had a problem. I feel awful for others who have done wrong, paid the price and that will never be enough. Our politicians are gutless for not addressing this. It is the world we live in.

  7. AvatarEd

    I wish all of you who post would really do a spell and grammar check on your missive before publishing it. There are so many typos and malapropisms in these comments and replies that seem to belie the intelligence behind them.
    I just hope that this fine open letter to the Pope falls under his eyes in an Argentinian Spanish translation. For that to happen, however, someone who’s close to the Pope will have to make sure he reads it before his Congressional speech is finalized. I have very small hopes that will happen… If by SOME miracle the above open letter IS read by the Pope….I have no doubt he would have the cojones to tackle the subject in his Congressional speech. It’s the LEGISLATURES of the U.S. and the states’ own that need to confront these needful reforms and enact them straightaway.

    1. Avatarrwvnral

      Thanks for the grammatical shout out, Ed. We occasionally edit comments for clarity, but the number of typos and spelling errors are sometimes too overwhelming to edit on the fly. I will speak with the webmaster about installing a plug-in to automatically spellcheck comments. With regard to the letter, please know that it was actually mailed to his Holiness in June. A copy of the letter was also sent to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States; Most Rev. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the Archbishop of Atlanta; Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh; and to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I imagine it has been well read. Whether or not the Pope has ever seen it will likely remain a mystery unless it were to become obvious that he has.

  8. AvatarBigMac

    In his address to Congress, Pope Francis said this:

    “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

    While the Pope was directly speaking of the death penalty, I believe the last sentence will serve our cause well. The hope that other offenders have–that things will get better as time goes by–is taken from us, by constantly forcing us to relive the worst moment of our lives, proclaiming it publicly, all so we can be cast away as a modern-day leper. For those of us who are not lifetime registrants, we have hope that we can come off the registry after 10, or 15, or 25 years. However, this hope is tempered by the knowledge that the state can lengthen the term again, and we are essentially powerless to stop it.

    Every person DOES have the inalienable right to dignity. Society DOES benefit from rehabilitation of those who have wronged. Public registration and notification for decades strips us of our dignity, and holds us out as unsalvageable souls.

  9. AvatarJill Douglas

    Frankly, I guess I am in the minority with all of you. My personal opinion of this Pope is that he is a Socialist and a very dangerous man. I have absolutely no idea why you are appealing to him because he has very little power in the United States unless you believe the Catholic church runs the country which thankfully I don’t. I am a solid Christian who puts my faith in no man, confesses my sin to no man and has my faith in Jesus Christ who died and paid the debt for my sin. That aside, one thing I noticed that no one spoke about here was the incarceration of teenagers for consensual sex. My son is serving a fifteen year sentence in Florida for consensual sex with a lifetime sexual offender registry. He was 19 when he was arrested and is now 23. He has developed type two diabetes, neuropathy, & Hi blood pressure as a result of being a guest of the state of Florida. He is 6’4″ and quite thin. So none of these conditions came from him being overweight! Furthermore in my son’s case, he was invited to live in the household with this girl by her mother and told by the MOTHER to go sleep in the daughter’s bed with her, which she openly admitted in court! Roughly eight months after he had been living like this, the mother lost her job & decided to throw my son out without warning enough to gather his clothing which she then burned. She then made her daughter go to the police station & make a recorded phone call so that she could get a warrant for his arrest. She had him arrested on 3 counts of statutory rape, each worth 15 years in prison. Recently, she called the prison & lied to them telling them he made contact with her daughter. They put him in solitary for 2 weeks while they investigated it during which he was denied hygiene, all of his medications except for four days, was not given sufficient food as he lost 8 pounds. & when he was sent to solitary, the correction officer who ‘arrested’ him did not follow proper procedure with his property, but rather threw every bit of his clothing & shoes away including a personal winter blanket, coat, & MP3 player. He was denied medication upon entering prison for his bi-polar & ADHD because some dime store LCSW thought she knew more than the LCSW at home with a Doctorate or Florida’s independent psychologist who tested him. He was also physically & sexually abused by correction officers upon entry. Florida definitely has some of the toughest laws in the country. Privatized prisons need to end so that mass incarceration ends. Sexual offender laws need to be rewritten and sexual registries need to end! Teenagers should not be incarcerated for having consensual sex! True rape is a violent crime and should be differentiated.

    1. AvatarVirginia Graf

      My heart goes out to you and your son. Since my grandson unknowingly dated a 14 year old who lied about her age as being 18 I have heard horror story after story of horrible miss use of our justice system. I agree that the underage problem is extreme but we just do not hear about it since those case records are sealed and hidden. On the POPE we need all the help we can get and his recognition of the need for forgiveness and acceptance is a value we need. His political views are of no interest as he has no power in that respect. Please fight for your son and if necessary sit on your state legislators door step until someone listens.

  10. AvatarNH Registrant

    It’s really perplexing how so many people in government claim that their inspiration is Jesus and The Bible for how they legislate. If that were truly so, we wouldn’t have the highest incarcerated population in the world. These days, it’s a foregone conclusion that if you are arrested for a sex crime, you will have to plea out because you will be threatened with ridiculously long sentences if you dare fight for your rights and/or your innocence. The system is rigged and all involved (police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges) are completely aware of it.

    This is not Jesus’s message of forgiveness and being selfless. This is about vengeance of a few and the profit making of all those employed within the criminal IN-justice system. Jesus didn’t preach to the chosen, he preached to the sinners. Yet, I’ve heard these so-called Christians proclaim how they are so glad that there is a Registry so that they will know where all of those horrible “sexual predators” are so they can keep their precious children and grandchildren away from them. Some of these very same Christians are the first in line to make sure that ever more severe punishments (including the death penalty) are visited upon those who sinned and have that fact broadcasted on a public registry for all to see.

    Remember, The Holy Bible has been used to justify all manner of atrocities humans have committed on each other (Salem Witch Trials, The Crusades, The Inquisitions, the extremely violent murder of Native American men, women, and children – to name a few).

    I guess people haven’t “evolved” enough past violent vengeance using their pious convictions as fuel. “Vengeance is mine” was said. But, apparently, today’s Christians aren’t listening.

  11. AvatarRaj

    Decades of Sex Offender Registry and years of Post-release/Probation even after serving ones sentence in jail/prison and paid restitutions creates an environment of a concentration camp for these unfortunate individuals.
    Sadly the media demonizes all who are convicted of sex crimes as individuals lurking near playgrounds waiting to kidnap small kids regardless of their severity or if they were first time offender.
    People in the sex offender registry are put in a vicious cycle of of lack of economic, housing opportunities, shame, economic burdens in terms of costs to be probation, classes, etc.
    It’s sad to see that the system thinks that putting undue burden on these already condemned individuals will make people more safe.
    More information needs to get out so people are well informed, and as such any avenue ought to be utilized.

  12. AvatarKarl Knutson

    State of Virginia has even skirted the law further to maintain punishment for those not required on registry that they want to stick yet one more time.

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