Facebook Twitter



His crimes were so horrific as to be almost unimaginable in civilized society: killing, mutilating and sometimes cannibalizing 17 young men and boys.

So there was no outpouring of sympathy when Jeffrey Dahmer was brutally murdered in a Wisconsin prison this week. For many, his violent demise brought to an end a morality tale where acts of pure evil were repaid in kind.But for men and women of faith pausing to reflect on religious teachings regarding the inherent worth of all individuals, a more difficult question remains: Is the world diminished by Jeffrey Dahmer's death?

"My initial reaction is, yes, it is, in the sense that all human life is a gift from God," said Bishop Peter Rogness of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"On the one hand, that is what makes his crimes so heinous . . . By the stroke of the same pen, even his own loss of life is a loss of that gift," Rogness said.

During his reign of terror, Dahmer was the embodiment of evil.

He admitted drugging, strangling and dismembering his victims, having sex with four corpses and eating parts of others. Police found torsos soaking in acid and severed heads in the refrigerator and freezer.

When his death in prison became known, the news was widely greeted as a case of justice served. Headlines in New York tabloids declared "Dahmer's Just Desserts" and "Death of a Monster." Some former neighbors said Dahmer did not suffer enough.

By any accounting of the costs and benefits of Dahmer's life, the world is not diminished by Dahmer's death, said the Rev. Richard Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York.

"Psychologically, one can understand (the attitude) he got what was coming to him and good riddance," Neuhaus said.

But the Christian faith - and the understanding Dahmer is redeemed by Christ and ordered to eternal life with God - brings a different dimension to the question, he said.

"It's an ongoing and endless bind in which the call to love thy neighbor is to be obeyed simultaneously with the call to honestly confront evil," Neuhaus said.

If in both Judaism and Christianity there are texts that some interpret as justifying capital punishment, there is almost universal condemnation of the kind of brutal beating Dahmer endured, leaders of both faiths said.

"We have to question the way he died, and the way he died was bad," said Rabbi Norman Kahan, national director of small congregations for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

"Vengeance is something that belongs to God," said Bishop April Ulring Larson of the La Crosse Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Wisconsin.

No matter how vicious Dahmer's crimes were, his murder only contributes to the cycle of violence in American society, some said.

"I'm a parent. The first instinct is: That's one less creep," said John Carr, secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Social Development and World Peace office.

But in larger terms, the killing of Dahmer diminishes everyone, Carr said.

"None of those children were brought back to life. Vengeance in the end will not satisfy," Carr said. "What we have to do is build a better society."

And no individual is beyond hope of redemption, many people of faith believe.

The Rev. Roy Ratcliff, a Church of Christ minister who baptized Dahmer in May in a prison infirmary whirlpool, said Dahmer was "deeply guilty and remorseful" about his crimes.

By the time of his death he was prepared to meet his Maker, Ratcliff said.