Vatican Priest Dings Deters Over Death Penalty; More News

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says society needs the death penalty. The Catholic Church now disagrees, and Deters recently got a stern letter on the subject from a Vatican priest.

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click to enlarge Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters - CityBeat file photo
CityBeat file photo
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters

Hello all! A lot has already happened this week (and it’s only Tuesday somehow) so let’s do a brief news rundown to get up to speed.

Cincinnati’s next mayoral election is three years away, but it’s already starting to get rolling. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman filed paperwork for his bid today. The conservative-leaning independent will be term-limited from Cincinnati City Council in 2021 and has long been rumored to be mulling a run. Now it’s official. You can read more about what that means in our story here.

• If you’re missing Union Terminal’s amazing rotunda, or the Cincinnati History Museum, or any of the other great things you haven’t been able to get to as the Cincinnati landmark undergoes its first-ever, $224 million renovation, take heart: Its reopening is coming. The 85-year-old train station turned Cincinnati Museum Center home base will reopen to the public Nov. 17. Can’t wait. I hope they reinstate the crazy, amazing organ concerts that used to have in the rotunda.

• The last of the tent cities that had moved from place to place in downtown and nearby neighborhoods packed up and left Over-the-Rhine yesterday. But legal and other struggles will continue. Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman yesterday made permanent an order banning the camps from the entirety of the county. But advocates for individuals experiencing homelessness believe that order is unconstitutional, and will press on with a federal lawsuit against the ban. A few residents of the OTR camp found housing or spaces in shelters, but others simply walked away into uncertainty. You can read more in our story here.

• Remember the big deal Cincinnati and Hamilton County struck earlier this year over the Metropolitan Sewer District? It… may not work out after all. Oops. As we reported at the time, the state needs to give approval to a key provision of the deal that would allow MSD workers to become county employees will still paying into the city’s pension plan. But officials with state’s retirement system have said no way to that measure — leaving the agreement in doubt. The city can’t really allow MSD workers to move to the state’s retirement system, because it would make the city’s system financially unsustainable.

• Assaults against bus drivers have been a serious problem in Greater Cincinnati, according to this Enquirer story. That’s led the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to consider barriers between drivers and riders. A bus with a prototype plexiglass window was in town earlier this month, but drivers said they weren’t comfortable with that design. SORTA says it is looking into other possible ways to protect drivers. Last year, nine bus drivers were assaulted while on their routes. This year has seen two assaults so far, including an incident in which a man punched a bus driver in the face.

• Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has found himself in a debate with the Catholic Church. Deters, himself a Catholic, is at odds with recent statements by Pope Francis decrying the death penalty. Deters has persisted in seeking the punishment, most recently against convicted serial killer Anthony Kirkland.

“My dear friends who are priests don't understand what we're dealing with,” Deters said earlier this month following the pope's statements against executions. “There is evil in this world and there comes a point where society needs to defend itself."

That led to a strongly-worded letter from Rev. Paul Mueller, vice director and superior of Jesuit Community for the Vatican Observatory, instructing Deters to go to confession and read noted religious author C.S. Lewis.

“I am disappointed, embarrassed, and scandalized that you, not only a Catholic but also a fellow alumnus of St. Xavier High School, have used the platform of your public office to oppose and confuse the moral teaching of the Church in so open a fashion,” Mueller wrote to Deters Aug. 6. “ Your comments imply that your personal conscience and experience have given you moral insight superior to that of your Church.”

• The director of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections says the state needs serious sentencing reform.

“I believe we need a change in this state. I think sentencing laws need to be changed,” Gary Mohr, a 44-year veteran of the state’s corrections system, said at an event in Cleveland last week.  “How a person spends time in prison should count. If they’re in evidence-based programs, it should count for something. If they hurt one of my staff, it should also count for something.” 

Mohr, who retires soon, could get his wish. Ohio voters will decide on sentencing reform for drug offenders this November when they cast ballots for or against Issue 1, which would lessen penalties for nonviolent drug offenses and likely keep many out of prison. And Gov. John Kasich last month signed a bill that expands rehabilitation options for such offenders.

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