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A Distinction with CLAWS: Opposing both Abortion and Capital Punishment

By: Keith A Fournier
(c) Third Millennium, LLC

I recently had the task of writing an article and supportive text regarding the efforts of the activist arm of "Your Catholic Voice" movement to encourage its members to work for the confirmation of the Honorable William Pryor to the Federal Bench. The leadership of "Your Catholic Voice" on this vital effort is being undertaken by the Honorable Ray Flynn, the President of our activist arm.

WOW! What a challenge!

Let me make one thing PERFECTLY clear. I oppose the death penalty. I always have and I always will. I consider it to be an integral pert of HOW I UNDERSTAND the call of the Catholic Church to be fully, consistently and faithfully pro-life. I am a deacon of the Church, a lawyer and a public policy activist who has always sought to inform my participation in every aspect of culture, including politics, by my faith.

I also have the privilege of being one of the founders of the "Your Catholic Voice" movement. I know that in all of our efforts we have pledged ourselves to absolute fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church - without compromise.

I also know that one of the main challenges faced by any effective Catholic efforts of political participation is the inability of some Catholics to make distinctions based on prudential judgment. As one who knows the rough and tumble of activist politics, I have experienced the disingenuous efforts of the proponents of the contemporary culture of death to SIEZE THE MOMENT and thus undermine our impact in the political arena, both in the elective and the appointive processes.

Here is the truth. As Catholics we oppose all taking of life---period. We begin with the fundamental conviction that all life is sacred. Innocent human life is especially to be protected. There is a difference.

The Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church has never taught that Capital punishment is intrinsically evil. In fact, the history of our beloved Church's treatment of this difficult issue reveals that capital punishment has, at times, been recognized as falling within the prerogative and jurisdiction of the State. Of course the exercise of this most heinous and frightening punishment was to be exercised only as a means to protect society and serve the common good.

That is not to say that there has not been a consistent opposition to this position in the tradition of our Church as well. There has been. I would actually side with this opposition. I OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISMENT- PERIOD!

However, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that the taking of innocent human life is always and everywhere immoral, wrong and a heinous violation of fundamental human rights. The human person, no matter how small, is a gift from God and has an inalienable right to life. There is a distinction made however between taking innocent lives and the States treatment of the guilty.

Unfaithful Catholics in public life have also sometimes intentionally muddied the waters. It was SAFE for them to hide behind this distinction. They have not opposed abortion, in absolute rebellion against the clear teaching of their Church. They have tried to hide behind a strained notion a private/public dichotomy which is absolutely without support in the teaching of the Church.

Some have opposed capital punishment but supported the so-called right to abortion-apparently viewing the right to life of the guilty as more important than the right to life of the child in the first home of the womb.While others have rightly opposed it. Only a few have courageously opposed both.

However, both major political parties have, for the most part, followed the rush toward supporting capital punishment. Fortunately, the pace of that rush is slowing and the policy is being reconsidered for many valid reasons, even beyond the obvious moral concerns regarding the taking of any human life.

Concerns such as the disparate nature of the use of capital punishment, the mistakes later found in evidence secured through D.N.A. and other advanced tools and the potential of killing the innocent,and the questionable legal representation afforded to the poor and disenfranchised are rightly leading to serious reconsideration of capital punishment. Recent moratoriums like the one in Illinois are a hopeful sign that this practice will soon come to an end.

Your Catholic Voice is faithful to the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church on this and every subject. We oppose capital punishment. HOWEVER, we also recognize the important difference between the taking of innocent human lives and, the States taking potentially guilty adult lives in the application of capital punishment. Most people can also make this distinction. Unfortunately, some of our opponents have played upon the failure of some to do so and have put claws on it in an effort to marginalize our effects in building a more human and just society.

In their recent treatment of judicial candidate Attorney General Bill Pryor, who has been nominated by President Bush to the Federal bench, their true colors have been revealed. During the confirmation process his treatment was terribly unfair; in fact many believe that it rose to the level of anti-Catholic bigotry. I agree. He has all the constitutional and professional qualifications for judicial confirmation.

There is one thing that really troubles many of the members of the committee; as a faithful Catholic he holds a clear position on the inviolable right to life and the personhood of children in the womb. As a good lawyer he also opposes the horrid decision in Roe v Wade on solid constitutional analysis.He would not back down on his responses on this issue in heated persistent questioning.

To deny him a seat because of that position on the basis of his deeply held faith informed convictions constitutes anti-Catholic bigotry. That position is the clear teaching of the Catholic Church. Their opposition to his position as a lawyer also flies in the face of the position of many leading legal scholars and amounts to censorship.It is the position of a growing number of leading constitutional scholars that Roe is bad law, period. Yet, his opponents are seeking to prevent anyone who has another position than their own from ascending to the bench. And, unfortunately they may succeed.

General Pryor should be confirmed. He is a Catholic ---therefore he supports the right to life of innocent pre- born children. His opponents do not like his positions precisely because he is Catholic. My colleague Ray Flynn raises the notion of a foreboding historical comparison in his recent statements. He reminds us that once in our history we had "no Irish need apply" and asks whether will we soon have "no Catholics need apply" when it comes to the Federal bench?

Now, let me address the "distinction with claws" and explain what I mean by the phrase. General Pryor also supports the death penalty. On that he is wrong and does not yet understand the important pronouncements of his own Church on this vital topic. Yet, he is a clearly preferable candidate to many, many others.

As Catholic citizens we are called to apply a hierarchy of values in making political judgements. I disagree with General Pryor's support of the death penalty. I disagreed publicly with Supreme Court Justice Scalia's position on this issue as well. The Your Catholic Voice movement is "Whole Life/ Pro-life". We clearly oppose capital punishment.

However, in exercising prudential judgment and applying a hierarchy of values, it is also clear - having a Judge Pryor on the Federal bench moves us closer to our goal of a society where the right to life is recognized and the inviolable dignity of every person is respected, including the guilty.

Of course if a judicial candidate favored both the personhood of pre-born persons and the abolition of capital punishment, he or she would be preferable.However, it seems that both major political parties have failed to see the truth concerning both of these crucial issues and their connection in a consistent ethic of life.

As Catholics who are citizens, we need to understand - and be able to articulate - that the moral grounds for opposing abortion and capital punishment are considerably different. Abortion is intrinsically evil. It is the taking of innocent human life and as such is always and everywhere wrong.

We oppose capital punishment because it can no longer be justified to serve the common good or protect society. Bloodless means are available to punish the malefactor and are always preferable because mercy should prevail when we are dealing with any human life, including that of the guilty. The current teaching of the Catholic Church concerning capital punishment is clear and consistent. We pray for General Pryor and so many other Catholics who have not grasped the importance of this matter and ask them to prayerfully read the Catechism, the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II and the teaching of our Bishops.

However, his opponents are not concerned about this distinction; they do not want him on the bench because he favors legal protection for children in the womb - period. They are attempting to use Catholic social teaching, which they neither understand nor accept, to muddy the waters and keep him out of this important judicial position.

Your Catholic Voice is a movement of faithful Catholics serving the common good. We choose our issues based on the four pillars of participation of our movement, life, family, freedom and solidarity with the poor and needy. These are a framework for applying the social teaching of the Catholic Church in the public square. This is never easy, but it certainly is desperately needed.

We need to be cautious that this important distinction not be allowed to develop more claws in the hands of the opponents of a culture of life. Failure to do so may undermine our efforts and make us so ineffective that our activism fails to stop our nation's continued descent into the abyss of the culture of death.

Often, incremental steps toward a goal is the necessary way of political participation.


Keith A Fournier is a constitutional lawyer and policy advocate. He is also a deacon of the Catholic Church, a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and serves as the President of the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation."

Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice


Your Catholic Voice Foundation VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580



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