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.

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 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.

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.

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.