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Conservatives Increasingly - and Properly - Concerned About the Death Penalty

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
6/7/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In considering this life issue we are not dealing, at least presumably, with the death of the innocent. The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment, the lethal punishment inflicted by the State, because bloodless means of punishment are readily available - and the common good no longer requires its use for the protection of the public. In a civilized Nation mercy should trump justice.

Let me state very clearly, I oppose the death penalty-always have and always will. It is a part of my deep abiding commitment to holding a consistent ethic of life. However, I understand that some Christians do not share my conviction. Catholic teaching opposing the death penalty is predicated upon a very different moral ground than the Churches absolute opposition to abortion. Abortion is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere wrong because it is the taking of innocent defenseless life. Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty for other reasons; it can no longer be justified.

I was pleased to read of the efforts of Richard Viguerie to gather political conservatives together to oppose the death penalty. I have long admired Viguerie. I first met him many years ago at a retreat. I honor his sincere and tireless efforts on important policy issues over many years and both admire and share his genuine Catholic Faith.

I was pleased to read of the efforts of Richard Viguerie to gather political conservatives together to oppose the death penalty. I have long admired Viguerie. I first met him many years ago at a retreat. I honor his sincere and tireless efforts on important policy issues over many years and both admire and share his genuine Catholic Faith.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - I was pleased to read of the efforts of Richard Viguerie to gather political conservatives together to oppose the death penalty. I have long admired Viguerie. I first met him many years ago at a retreat. I honor his sincere and tireless efforts on important policy issues over many years and both admire and share his genuine Catholic Faith.

A May 24, 2014 article by Leon Neyfakh in the Bostone Globe entitled The conservative case against the death penalty is an excellent read. It made me aware of the efforts of Richard Viguerie to organize conservatives to oppose the death penalty.

Let me state very clearly, I oppose the death penalty-always have and always will. It is a part of my deep abiding commitment to holding a consistent ethic of life. However, I understand that some Christians do not share my conviction.

During all the years that I have fought on the front lines of the pro-life cause, I have been uncomfortable with being labeled. I never even officially registered Republican-though the other major party's love affair with the autonomous self and the so-called abortion right, forced me to leave the ranks of the Democrats long ago. Abortions have no rights, people do - and the first right is the fundamental human right to life.

I am a Catholic Christian. I embrace what my Church teaches because I believe that it is true. However, let's be clear; Catholic teaching opposing the death penalty is predicated upon a very different moral ground than the Churches absolute opposition to abortion.

Abortion is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere wrong because it is the taking of innocent defenseless life. Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty for other reasons; it can no longer be justified.

In considering this life issue we are not dealing, at least presumably, with the death of the innocent.

The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment, the lethal punishment inflicted by the State, because bloodless means of punishment are readily available - and the common good no longer  requires its use for the protection of the public.

In a civilized Nation mercy should trump justice.

In other times in history, and in other circumstances, the Catholic Church did not formally oppose the death penalty. In fact, it was supported as within the purview of the State. However, there has always been a tradition against its use within a certain stream of Catholic thought.
 
The contemporary opposition to Capital punishment by the Catholic Church, what I call a merciful approach, is clearly affirmed in the Catholic Catechism:

"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, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" (CCC, n. 2267).

In fact, the Catechism was amended to emphasize that the continued contemporary use of "capital punishment" adds to the growth of what St. John Paul II labeled the "Culture of Death." 

In his prophetic encyclical letter, "The Gospel of Life" John Paul vividly exposed contemporary culture as a "Culture of Death" having lost its understanding of the inviolable dignity of every human life. Calling abortion the "cutting edge" of the "Culture of Death" he drew a connection to the contemporary use of executions warning the State that in implementing their role of applying justice

"the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except 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 improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare if not practically non-existent" ("The Gospel of Life," n. 56).

The language is strong and clear.

I have always found it intriguing that we have examples of significant leaders in both the Old and the New Testament who could have been put to death for their offenses. Moses killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2). Saul of Tarsus stood by in what was arguably complicity at the death of Stephen the Deacon. (Acts 8)

But there is much more at issue.
 
As a former prosecutor, I believe there are many reasons to justify its elimination from both Federal and State criminal justice systems. For example; our history as a Nation demonstrates a disparate application and the advance of the science of DNA continues to prove that we have made mistakes and convicted innocent people.

From the regular stream of news articles such as this one, we are increasingly reminded that errors are made in prosecutions. The stories from the Innocence Project should be enough to give us all pause.

There is a growing discomfort with the death penalty in America and it crosses all political lines. Capital Punishment is an issue where the labels have most assuredly lost what little value they might have ever had.

Sadly, in a rush to multiply executions in what seems to be some misguided effort to lower the crime rate, (unsupported by the statistics concerning whether capital punishment has had any effect in lowering crime), both Democrats and Republicans seem to be "out-toughing" one another on this issue these days.

Ironically, some contemporary "liberals" who oppose the death penalty fail to see the extraordinary duplicity in their approach. They should listen to their own arguments in their opposition and reconsider their position on the issue of abortion.

Some, like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, know the complete hypocrisy of their approach. He was formerly an ardent opponent of abortion, until his political ambitions blinded him to the cry of the ones whom Mother Teresa called the "poorest of the poor", children in the womb.

Then there are the conservatives who suffer from what I call their "compassion confusion." They oppose the execution in the womb but support execution outside of it. On their right flank are their newfound friends, some libertarians who support both kinds of execution. Not all libertarians do.

Even some of my well-intended Christian friends, especially my Catholic brethren, who correctly and compassionately oppose both, fail to make the vital distinction as to the foundation of the opposition of Catholic teaching to killing the pre-born - and executing capital offenders.

The article in the Globe pointed me to an organization I will be researching and writing about in the future. It is called Conservatives Concerned about the death penalty. It is time for a National discussion of the death penalty for many reasons.  Richard Viguerie is right.

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