There are no victimless crimes. Every crime, no matter how secret or unnoticed, has at least one victim—the criminal himself. Usually there are other, more obvious victims: the people robbed or mugged or killed. But the criminal himself must be counted as a victim of his own folly. No matter what his crime may bring him by way of money or power or superficial happiness, he is the worse off for it.
When I first practiced law, about a quarter-century ago, I was appointed by the state to represent a man at a parole revocation hearing. He served time for rape, been paroled, and was behind bars again, arrested for another rape. If the hearing board decided that he likely would be convicted of the new crime, his parole would be revoked.
It was. There was no doubt about his guilt. The woman he attacked was a credible witness, but she need not have shown up. The man admitted his crime, even attempted to justify it. He said he had no reservation about committing the second rape. It was something he wanted to do, and therefore there was nothing wrong with it. He was the first person I had met who seemed to have an entirely dormant conscience.
These two rapes were not his only crimes. They were the culmination of a life of crime, some known and punished, most unknown, and some perhaps “victimless.” But each crime had worked to shape—or misshape—his soul. He knowingly victimized others and unknowingly victimized himself. He had reduced himself to a shell. At least he had the courtesy not to blame society. The fault was all his, though he saw no fault at all.
That is what comes from a life of crime, and it does not differ much from a life of sin. Just as there are no victimless crimes, there are no victimless sins. The adulterer victimizes all the members of the families touched by his sexual deviancy, including himself. The user of pornography reduces others to objects—and therefore himself as well. The man engulfed in anger and the woman enslaved to spite are less authentic than God intended them to be. Even if they keep their anger and spite internalized, they have injured themselves. Each sin, like each crime, deadens the conscience.
A Catholic newspaper recently asked Mass-goers when they last had gone to confession. Most said it had been a year or more—no surprise in that—but some volunteered that they felt no reason to make use of the sacrament at all. A few had not been to confession in half a lifetime and could not recall having committed a sin serious enough to warrant confession.
While some might rejoice that our churches are filled with so many saints, I think this illustrates not sinlessness but spiritual dormancy. Many Catholics are morally asleep; their consciences are hardly more active than the rapist’s. He had his private code, and they have theirs. In either case there is no cause for rejoicing.
By Karl Keating