Wednesday, April 28, 2004

As I mentioned yesterday, the punditocracy has been consumed by arguments over what John Kerry and George W. Bush allegedly did or didn't do back in 1971. Most of the rare yapping heads that dare discuss something else are talking about Kerry's Catholicism. Particularly, how his beliefs on abortion square with the Catholic Church's.

The common perception is that Americans fear a Catholic politician might be held hostage by the Pope. Yet Kerry's under attack precisely because his position on abortion is different from the Church's. He said he's personally opposed to abortion but supports the right to an abortion. The catechism of the Catholic Church declares this a distinction without a difference. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.

This has garnered a great deal of attention, reportedly with some high clergy declaring that Kerry and other pro-abortion rights' Catholics should not receive communion. While pro-abortion rights' Catholic pols are regular targets of conservative Catholic ire, pols who go against Church teaching on other issues seem to be generally immune.

The death penalty is the most pertinent example. This would appear to be a contradiction. It's hard to call yourself pro-life if you're in favor of killing prisoners. Some justify this, "I'm pro-'innocent unborn' life" as though this squares it with Church teaching.

[Incidentally, I don't think catechism of the Catholic Church should be the law of the land. But if you're going to invoke it, then why not do so across the board?]

The death penalty is state-sponsored and -implemented first degree murder. No amount of rationalization changes this fact. Even a fair, properly implemented capital punishment process with all the safeguards doesn't change this fact either. Those things might make the death penalty less likely to execute an innocent person, which is certainly a lesser evil. But it remains state-sponsored and -implemented first degree murder.

In some ways, the death penalty is ethically worse than abortion. If you believe abortion is murder, then it's murder by an individual. The death penalty, on the other hand, is not only murder sponsored and sanctioned by the state, but it's implemented by the state as well. It's murder not by an individual but with the moral sanction of "the people."

The Catechism's opinion the death penalty is as follows:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

So according to the Church, cases in which the death penalty is an absolute necessity are "very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Yet when was the last time you heard bishops and cardinals (or the conservative press) say the Church should deny communion to or otherwise condemn Catholic politicians who want to execute adolescents or retarded people or anything but the most extreme criminals?

And I haven't even gotten into the sections peace and avoiding war.

Like I said, the catechism of the Catholic Church should not be the law of the land. Contrary to what many of the president's supporters seem to wish, the United States is not a theocracy. But if Church teaching is going to be injected into the political discourse, then it should be done so consistently, not when it's convenient to a particular point.

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