Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Taking of Life...

To follow up somewhat on my last post about the Church's consistent approach to the sanctity of life, I thought it might be instructive (for me!) to refer back the Catechism. And so it was.

Two of the the bigger issues debated far and wide, are abortion and the death penalty. Politically, they have been used by both conservatives and liberals to try to prove hypocrisy by the other: how can one be against abortion as a "life thing," but be for the death penalty; or be against the death penalty as a "life thing," and be pro-abortion? I believe there is a general (mis)understanding of how the Church views these issues; that is, many folks think the Church teaches that both abortion and the death penalty are morally wrong. In fact, the Church's position are these issues are very different: one (abortion) is morally wrong in all cases; the other (death penalty) is permissible and is in fact a moral obligation of the civil authority, under certain circumstances. To wit:
  • "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law..." CCC 2271
  • "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense..." CCC 2272

  • "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm." CCC 2265
  • "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... 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." CCC 2267
The CCC is such a wonderfully written and formative work, and a treasure for which Catholics should never lose their appreciation.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Thank you for quoting the good, old Catechism on this matter. A while ago, I heard Dennis Prager clarify this one (even though I've always thought that the death penalty was a just thing for intentional murder). I'll quote part of the article which was very good:

"...Another reason is the mistranslation and subsequent misunderstanding of the Sixth Commandment. The original Hebrew reads not "thou shall not kill" but "thou shall not murder."

As for the current opposition of the American Catholic bishops and the pope, an additional reason is their opposition to abortion. They perceive that they will garner more respect for their opposition to abortion by unequivocally opposing killing anyone except in personal or national self-defense. Hence their constant reference to the "seamless" ethic of life. But Catholics who wish to retain their religion's millennia-old support for capital punishment can cite the church's greatest thinker, St. Augustine, who wrote in "The City of God" that it "is no way contrary to the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' to put criminals to death according to law or the rule of rational justice."

Allowing every murderer to keep his life is simply immoral. "

Katherine said...

Laura --

I think you need to re-read the CCC. The clearly teaches that there IS NOT a moral obligation to kill people convicted of a capital offense.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Katherine, I think you need to re-read my comment. First of all, I quoted Dennis Prager...who quotes Augustine and then opines that "Allowing every murderer to keep his life is simply immoral". Notice that he says "EVERY", which to me, would mean that some people who are convicted of a capital offence would/could/should be allowed to keep their lives. I never said that there is a "moral obligation" to kill EVERY person who is convicted of a capital offence!

Katherine said...

We have no moral obligation to kill any person so guilty, according to the Catholic Church.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

"Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm." CCC 2265

grave duty

isn't "grave duty" pretty much the same thing as "moral obligation"?

I understand all of the stuff that comes after this phrase, but there's just as much an argument FOR this: "Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense."

You don't get much "grav-er" than death.

This could go on and on forever, and I'm sure it has. I agree with the Catechism and so do you, Katherine! Let's just leave it there, shall we?

If you want to comment more at me, send an email. I think everyone else knows how we both "feel" and we might be boring them.