Skip to comments.Is the Death Penalty Morally Equal to Abortion? Bishops Preach Politics Rather than Gospel Truth
Posted on 12/18/2003 10:38:18 AM PST by ckca
Is the Death Penalty Morally Equal to Abortions? US Bishops Preach Politics Rather than the Gospel Truth
|Bishop John H. Ricard: Abortion, death penalty... What's the difference?|
|Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas: "If a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since 'a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump' (I Cor. 5:6)"|
"We face a serious pastoral challenge, Some Catholic politicians defy church teaching in their policy advocacy and legislative votes, first and most fundamentally on the defense of unborn life, but also on the use of the death penalty, questions of war and peace, the role of marriage and family, the rights of parents to choose the best education for their children, the priority for the poor, and welcome for immigrants...."
The task force is charged with creating guidelines to aid our bishops in making distinctions between "respect for the office and approval of the officeholder ... to distinguish between fundamental moral principles and prudential judgments on the application of those principles, between essential substance and tactics," according to Bishop Ricard.
This rhetoric creates a false moral equivalence between support for the death penalty (which has been seen as morally licit in well defined circumstances for the entire history of Christianity) and support for abortion (which has always been taught to be inherently evil, with no exceptions.) This misrepresentation of fundamental Catholic beliefs has grown increasingly common to the frustration of faithful Catholics who identify the political agendas behind the confusion.
Another example of this intentionally misleading approach is by Michael L. Shields, writing in the August 1, 2003, National Catholic Reporter article, "Double standard in public life hurts Catholic credibility," states:
"In March 1995, Pope John Paul II issued his encyclical Evangelium Vitae stating that the death penalty is nly appropriate "in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are rare, if not practically nonexistent." In spite of this declaration by the church, so-called "true" Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was able to reconcile his views on the permissibility of the death penalty with church teachings. Scalia argued that since the popes teaching on the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae did not come ex cathedra (i.e., with formal infallibility) he is not obligated as a Catholic to accept it, only to give it "serious consideration." Using Scalias logic, it is just as easy for a pro-choice Catholic to justify his belief in the right of a woman to choose because Humanae Vitae also did not come ex cathedra. However, the pro-choice Catholic would be considered more reprehensible than Scalia simply because well-entrenched conservative consider abortion to be the greater of the two evils and thus they turn a blind eye to Scalias inconsistent views."
Tim Francis-Wright, writing for the self-declared Marxist/Leftist web magazine "Bear Left," states in his May 6, 2003 column, "Acta Santorum,"
"Santorum has criticized Catholic politicians who espouse liberal views on social issues, while praising President Bush as "the first Catholic president of the United States." Bush is a Methodist, unlike former President John Kennedy He is, however, an unwavering conservative, and that is good enough for Santorum.
"Santorum is free, as he should be, to use his religious beliefs to guide his political beliefs. His problem is that the complete tenets of Roman Catholicism are awfully hard to reconcile without some cognitive dissonance. If Santorum took a hard line against abortion and euthanasia and homosexual acts, but also against the death penalty and nuclear weapons and wars of retribution, as do "seamless garment" Catholics, then his views on sexuality and homosexuality would reflect the odd amalgam of radical and puritanical within the teachings of his church.
"But Santorum is hardly a critic of the death penalty or of any war. Like many Catholics-and many non-Catholics-he has chosen from his religion's dogma what he wants to hear and ignored the rest. He may not want to admit that he, too, is a cafeteria Catholic, but his public pronouncements belie him. Ultimately, Rick Santorum is no better a Catholic than myriad Catholics who attend only Christmas and Easter services."
For left wing hypocrites to twist the truth for their own ends is one thing, but for a Catholic bishop to compare defying the Church's stance on abortion, which is intrinsically evil, to a prudential judgement on the death penalty, which the Church still admits the State has a right to impose (though it should be rare) simply provides the desired fodder for the enemies of political conservatism and the Christian morality.
ABORTION IS EVIL
Abortion is by its very nature, i.e., intrinsically, evil. No circumstances, no application of "situational ethics," can change its intrinsically evil nature.
On the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not exclude the possibility that a state could justifiably use capital punishment in cases "of extreme gravity," but adds: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means..." [#2266, 2267]
In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote that punishment should not include the death penalty "if it is not a case of absolute necessity, in which the defense of society would not otherwise be possible." The Pope continued, "such cases are now very rare, if not practically non-existent." However, the Holy Father added that the principles put forth in the Catechism remain valid.
So a case can be made that from the perspective of charity, and within the framework of justice in modern society, that Capital Punishment should be so rare as to be non-existent. This is the thinking of the current Pope, the Catechism now reflects that thinking, and many pro-life activists are indeed personally opposed to Capital Punishment.
But recourse to the death penalty is not intrinsically evil. A Catholic who supports the death penalty commits no sin. To compare the two is disingenuous at best, and a direct attack upon conservative pro-life Catholic politicians and activists at worst. It would seem that certain factions within the USCCB are upset that lay Catholic activists and faithful Catholic politicians have forced them into addressing an issue they would much rather continue to ignore.
(Furthermore, Catholics in the pro-life movement tend to share a 95% crossover identity with "orthodox" or conservative Catholics. Certain bishops may see these orthodox lay Catholics as a real threat to their overall liberal agenda. This Jesuit bishops comment may also have been intended as a shot across the bow, i.e "push us on this too hard and we might excommunicate your political heroes --like Santorum and Scalia-- also.")
Pope John Paul II coined the terms "Culture of Life" and "Culture of Death." The four components that are traditionally named as the four pillars of the Culture of Death are 1)the contraceptive mentality (from which springs legalized abortion and the current destruction of marriage and the family), 2)abortion, 3)homosexuality and 4)euthanasia.
Christian moral theology has condemned these four pillars of the Culture of Death, constantly and definitively, since the times of the apostles themselves. For instanc e, all of Christianity unanimously taught contraception to be inherently evil (i.e., no circumstances can make it acceptable) until 1930, when the Anglicans caved to pressure from the Margaret Sangers of the early 1900s and permitted contraception, but only in carefully defined circumstances. The ensuing decades saw all mainstream Protestant sects fall into grave error on these issues until the present time, when only Roman Catholicism remains steadfast in its adherence to the continual teaching of Christianity against contraception.
Likewise, Christianity has always condemned abortion, homosexuality, and Euthanasia as inherently evil, with some denominations falling recently to the pressures of the modern world to change.
JUSTICE IS NOT EVIL
Unlike these four pillars of the Culture of Death, Capital Punishment has continuously been regarded as morally licit, for the vast majority of the history of Christianity, with some modern changes in thinking.
St. Thomas Aquinas sums up the thought of Christian tradition on the subject,
"If a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since 'a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump' (I Cor. 5:6)"
"The life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.... Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.... [However], the execution of the wicked is forbidden wherever it cannot be done with out danger to the good. Of course, this often happens when the wicked are not clearly distinguished from the good by their sins, or when the danger of the evil involving many good men in this ruin is feared" (Book III, ch. 146).
Clearly, the continual teaching of Christianity has been that Capital Punishment is not only necessary but also just and licit. The recent changes in Church teaching regarding Capital Punishment are finely nuanced and situational.
The constant teachings regarding contraception, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia simply cannot and will never be changed.
Is Opposition to Capital Punishment an essential Part of the Culture of Life? Is it a seamless garment, whereby if one opposes the 40 million abortions of innocent babies over the last several decades, one most equally oppose the death by capital punishment of several hundred murderers during that same time?
More importantly, does not the current practice of equating opposition to Capital Punishment with opposition to abortion itself cheapen and trivialize the grave crime of abortion?
In a world that is post-Christian, where even practicing Christians fail to have the reasoning and critical thinking to separate that which is inherently evil from that which is only made evil by current circumstances, the danger lies in more Christians failing to comprehend the crucial distinction between that which by its very nature is inherently evil (abortion) and that which is morally licit in general (death penalty) but currently should be rare due to circumstances.
Keeping Capital Punishment alongside these other issues leads many to conclude that like Capital Punishment, these other Culture of Death issues also can be made situationally acceptable due to our changing societal circumstances. Persisting to lump these disparate issues together threatens to destroy any efforts to teach the inherently evil and unchangeable nature of true Culture of Death issues.
Situational ethics have won the day in too many battles in the Culture Wars already. We cannot afford to lose the overall war between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death because some cannot or purposely will not "distinguish between fundamental moral principles and prudential judgments on the application of those principles, between essential substance and tactics."
Lumping opposition to capital punishment alongside the true Culture of Death issues of contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia is scandelous and wrong. It also demonstrates an example of how the demise of Catholicism in America is due, at least in part, to Bishops more concerned with preaching politics than the Gospel truth.
I respectfully disagree with one point of the article that the death penalty should (now) be rare due to circumstances. The number of murders belies that proposition. I think that Genesis 9:6 still holds and that justice demands it. There is a difference between killing the innocent and killing the guilty. Nowadays though, it seems that the innocent are strangely condemned by the very same people who want the guilty to go free.
Which guy? The bishops who make the moral equivalence between the two, or this author pointing out their moral vapidity for doing so?
(You'll note the author is criticizing the moral vapidity of certain bishops and is obviously in agreement with you.)
They seem to be getting a lot of these wrong lately.
Second, if we say we're Catholic, we need to act like it. When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes Church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not so very different from Frances Kissling (of "Catholics for a Free Choice" fame) disputing what the Church teaches about abortion. I don't mean that abortion and the death penalty are equivalent issues. They're not. They clearly do not have equal moral gravity. But the impulse to pick and choose what we accept in Church teaching is exactly the same kind of "cafeteria Catholicism" in both cases.Of course, this would never satisfy someone who treats Church teaching on the death penalty as a matter of "personal opinion" but regards homosexuality as one of the four great pillars of the Culture of Death. That's not Catholicism; it's a made-up right-wing religion.