Category Archives: death penalty

False convictions and DNA: “Guilty until Proven Innocent”?

This is kind of off topic, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. We often hear, especially in reference to the death penalty, that people convicted of crimes and later “exonerated” or “proven innocent” by DNA evidence. The following statistic gets to what I’m thinking:
“In almost 50 percent of DNA exoneration cases, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.”
This is a perfect example of phrasing. One could just as easily say, “In less than 50 percent. . . . ”
The only way to “prove someone innocent” is such “Perry Mason” type situations: DNA cannot “prove someone innocent” unless it proves someone else guilty. Showing that DNA samples found at the crime scene do not match the suspect doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t there; it just means they found no samples to verify his presence. I read somewhere that, at any given time, there are probably hundreds of DNA samples on a shoe. DNA evidence is based upon matching up the random samples of hair, skin, bodily fluids, etc., to the suspect. A lack of DNA or other evidence means legally “not guilty”; it does not mean “innocent.”
However, on the other hand, it speaks to how the theory is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty,” but in practice most of us think the opposite.

Are “We the People” the “Enemies” of “the United States of America”?


A few days ago, some former private named Bradley Manning was sentenced for 35 years in prison for selling military “secrets” to Wikileaks. Now, this case raises many questions/issues. One is the problem of whether it’s possible to 99% disagree with someone and then use the person as an example in the 1% where you agree, just as it’s possible to agree with 99% of someone yet disagree with 1%.
So, in this case, I shared he above “meme” the other day, which happens to use Manning’s picture to illustrate a point I happen to agree with. It got several “likes,” mostly from people whom I would expect to give such a response, and angry comments (including one de-friending) from two people I’d have expected to respond angrily. One provided a few facts about the case with which I was admittedly unfamiliar. Earlier that day, when I had replied to one friend’s post on the verdict, I asked who Manning was, and said I couldn’t keep all these Obama scandals straight.
Now, one detail which Angry Commentor #2 pointed out was that Manning *sold* the documents to Wikileaks: this is certainly problematic on multiple levels, including the “principles” to which Wiki/Open Source sites are supposed to adhere. Also, around the time that I had tentatively shown Manning some modicum of support, the “news” broke that “he” considers himself a “she,” and wants to be called Chelsea and given a “sex-change” operation at taxpayers’ expense. So, again, he obviously has some issues of his own. However, the Manning case, like the Edward Snowden case, raises an important Constitutional issue in our present media age, especially in the light of the recent revival of Jane Fonda’s controversial acts in Vietnam.
Once again, I was expecting to alienate a few people in Facebook last week when I questioned why people are protesting Fonda–a Communist pro-abortionist–portraying Nancy Reagan, an occultist pro-abortionist. I can understand and agree with people who protest Fonda in general, but I am a bit perplexed over taking issue with this particular role, as if Nancy Reagan is some sacred person who makes Fonda’s portrayal offensive–such as, for example, if she’d been portraying the *other* Mrs. Reagan, the late Jane Wyman, TOP. interestingly, I’ve seen articles about protests of “one actor” in the movie which show Oprah Winfrey and Michael Rainey in the accompanying picture, making it appear to a causal reader/clicker that the opposition is about one of them and, therefore, “racist.” Anyway, in one discussion of Fonda’s role in _The Butler_, someone claimed she was given a list of names and SSNs by POWs in Vietnam who hoped she’d let their families know they were still alive, but instead turned the information over to their captors, who killed them. This story has been proven a hoax, however. Fonda did actively support the Viet Cong, but she never acted in a way that directly killed POWs–especially since some of those allegedly dead POWs are alive.
Anyway, the allegations seemed to be an interesting parallel to the claims that Manning’s and Snowden’s actions have resulted in the deaths of US soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. At first, I was going to include it as a contrast: that if what Fonda is falsely accused of doing (and, as often gets pointed out, the 8th Commandment still applies to celebrities) is true, it would certainly constitute treason. However, that allegation is of secretly leaking secret information directly to an enemy (in which case, since all the alleged “witnesses” were killed, how would anyone know of it?). Is it really the same thing to release “secrets” to the public?
Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution states:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

In the cases of Snowden and Manning, they were revealing information to “We the people” via “the Press.” As various commentators and memes have pointed out, if they are giving “aid and comfort” to the “Enemies” of the “United States,” then the conclusion must be that the government considers “The People” to be “Enemies.”
My angry interlocutors insisted that Manning deserves the death penalty. While capital punishment was the standard penalty for treason at the time of the Founding Fathers, Article 3, Section 3, Clause 2 clearly modifies the English Common Law practice (“Corruption of Blood” meant that the penalties could be extended to the traitor’s family), and some of the most notorious traitors in US history, such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, were sentenced to life in prison. In any case, this creates a dilemma for Catholics that my interlocutors were not willing to address (particularly the one who left one comment then defriended me without opportunity to respond): Manning or Snowden may meet the standard for capital punishment under US Law (obviously, the courts decided Manning’s actions did not meet that standard), but do they meet the standards of the Catholic Church?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church was famously revised to reflect adjustments to Church teaching in Bl. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae</em?. Paragraph 2267 of the Second Edition states:

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.”68

Assuming that it was Manning or Snowden’s intention to cause the deaths of soldiers or spies, and assuming it could be proven with certainty that their actions directly resulted in actual deaths, the death penalty could only be justly used if that was the only way of protecting people against further deaths. Since their alleged crimes involved “theft” of information, it is hard to see how either case meets that standard.

That gets us to the second question: is what they did actually *theft*?

Who’s your Pope?

Tracy: “So what’s your religion, Liz Lemon?”
Liz: “I pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me.” –_30 Rock_

“His heart was moved to pity for them, for they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” –Mt 9:36

The Catholic Church is often attacked over the concept of Papal infallibility, yet one of the ironies is that people long for “infallibility.” There is a reason the Bible is constantly comparing people to sheep: sheep are, as a priest once pointed out in a homily I heard, stupid. This is a controversial point, I know, but most people really are stupid. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”: our great excuse at personal and final judgement day will be, as the Catholic Church teaches, stupidity (Catechism 1793).

So we seek out people to guide us, like Israel begging Samuel for a king (1 Sam 8). Yet, just as when Samuel warned Israel that a King would become a tyrant (and all the kings of Israel fulfilled that warning, so too do the little kings we create for ourselves inevitably fail, because all are human.

In a previous post, I explained the limits and extents of Papal infallibility. Infallibility is, in one sense, a very limited concept, though it includes a general sense of obedience to the Pope. A traditional notion of anti-Catholicism holds that the Pope somehow micromanages the Church. The “Kennedy Doctrine” is heretical because, as Vatican II documents, Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all teach, the State *must* listen to the Church. However, in one sense, Kennedy was right in trying to dispel a common notion that Catholics all get secret personal marching orders from the Pope.

Papal infallibility only plays a big part in my life because religion plays a big part in my life. As I noted in the earlier post linked above, a Pope’s personal opinions are just that: opinions, and even his prudential judgements about matters of great import, and whether the Church’s teachings are properly being applied, are just that, prudential judgements. A Catholic owes a certain deference to the Holy Father, but Catholics are free to make up our minds on such matters, provided that we give them due study.

The principle of subsidiarity that the Church teaches in politics and economics applies in the Church as well. The Pope oversees 2 billion Catholics and does quite a lot but relatively little. A few thousand people work at the Vatican to oversee those 2 billion Catholics, and the proportion of Vatican employees to worldwide Catholics is far less a percentage than the staffs of most secular corporate or government headquarters.

Then there’s the local bishop, who oversees hundreds or thousands or even millions of parishioners. Again, the bishop’s authority is relatively minimal and mostly managerial. Most practicing Catholics only see their bishops on rare occasions, such as Confirmation or Ordination masses, or special events. I was a parishioner in my diocese’s cathedral as a kid, and I remember even *there* that the bishop making an appearance was a special event.

Then comes the local pastor, who *ought* to be involved intimately in each of his parishioners’ lives, but in practice this rarely happens. So the Church in general, in terms of Her human agents, doesn’t play that big a role in the average person’s life. I care about my pastor’s views on theology, morals, liturgy, church discipline and even politics. I don’t care about my pastor’s views on music (except liturgy or moral issues), sports, movies (except moral issues), etc.

The Pope doesn’t tell me what to watch on TV, though he may give advice on what to consider from a moral aspect when choosing a TV show.

However, people in general look for “infallible authorities” to give them simple answers. They balk at the notion of an established and official hierarchy, but they create one for themselves by seeking out little gurus, the way the fictional Liz Lemon “worships” Oprah.

Look at the way certain Protestant televangelists rake in the dough and the adulation, and people hang on their every word. Look at the range of issues where people would seek advice from James Dobson. Look at the followers of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Martha Stewart, the modern-day Sophists.

then add to that the polarization of society, and people’s basic need to separate everything in to “good” versus “evil.” So once a particular “guru” has been established as a “good guy,” then everything that person says *must* be good, and if anyone criticizes that person, watch out.

So the followers of Fr. Corapi, myself still one of them when his troubles started, reacted in his defense when he announced that he’d been suspended. Anyone who raised a sign of caution that there might be validity to the allegations–especially since he based his entire ministry on his allegedly sordid past–were attacked as agents of Satan.

Look at what happened when some people raised questions about the ethicality of Lila Rose’s “undercover” operations at Planned Parenthood.

Even questioning one aspect of a “good guy’s” behavior is offensive to the “follower” because the “good guy” is bestowed a kind of personal infallibility that goes far beyond the scope of the infallibility of the Pope–and often the person doesn’t have any real claim to such authority.

I raise this issue because, back in 2004, Catholic Answers, which is a wonderful apologetics organization, issued a “Catholic Voter Guide” was basically geared towards saying it’s wrong to vote for the Democrats. Interestingly, the content of the Guide itself favors voting for a third party candidate, but it has been manipulated to support the Republicans.

This “Voter Guide” was issued right around the same time as the leak of the “private letter” that then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger sent to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, clarifying the prioritization of “life issues” in voting, and in various reports, the content of the Catholic Answers “Voter Guide” got conflated with the Ratzinger letter.

The Catholic Answers Voter Guide introduces a concept of “Five Non-Negotiables”: abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning and gay “marriage.”

Now, it’s true that these are “non-negotiable” in Catholic teaching. This refers to the fact that the economic documents always emphasize the freedom of Catholics to determine how to apply them, and it refers to how in matters such as war and the death penalty, the Church discourages them and gives strict guidelines for their application but still gives the State the right to use them when necessary.

The whole point of the Catholic Answers Voter Guide is this:

Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

Do not reward with your vote candidates who are right on lesser issues but who are wrong on key moral issues. One candidate may have a record of voting exactly as you wish, aside from voting also in favor of, say, euthanasia. Such a candidate should not get your vote. Candidates need to learn that being wrong on even one of the non-negotiable issues is enough to exclude them from consideration.

Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.

These posts would seem to advocate voting for a third party candidate because the voter is encouraged to eliminate anyone wrong on one of these “five non-negotiables”. This is affirmed by the teaching of John Paul II, who said it was more important to vote for the candidate that’s morally correct than to worry about who would win. See “John Paul II on Incrementalism”.

The Voters Guide, on its own merits, is a helpful document. However, there are several problems that have arisen from it because of tribalism and party politics:

1) Because Catholic Answers has a reputation for “orthodoxy,” they are “good guys” in the above calculation, so they are, according to the reasoning, beyond reproach, and on the other hand, anything Catholic Answers issues gets elevated to Magisterial teaching. So even though this is a voter guide issued by a lay apologetics group, many Catholics speak of the “Five Non-Negotiables” as if the concept was an ex cathedra papal statement.
2) There are more than five non-negotiables in Catholic teaching, and the Catholic Answers staff were misrepresenting papal teaching to suit their own accomodation to American politics. This is my big beef with the document. The Voter’s Guide is used to argue why ESCR, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and cloning are always evil, but the Church also says many other things are always evil: contraception, in vitro fertilization, etc.
3) it has become confused and conflated in the public mind, which isn’t the fault of Catholic Answers. A woman once insisted to me that there are only “five intrinsic evils,” and she listed CA’s “five non-negotiables.” I quoted the passage in the Catechism (2297) which defines intrinsic evil, itself quoting Vatican II:

“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”

Now, the lady in question told me that I wasn’t a Catholic for thinking that the Catechism, _Veritatis Splendor_ and _Gaudium et Spes_ superseded Catholic Answers and “defriended” me on Facebook. Surprisingly, she didn’t block me, and we run into each other periodically on other groups and pages.

But her confusion and tribalism represents a typical problem. In 2008, things were complicated by the war and ESCR. The “Catholic Left” argued that torture should be a “non-negotiable” since the above passage lists it as equally evil to abortion. That would be fine if Bush had been running for re-election, but the fact was that most of the Republicans running in 2008, and the third party right wing candidates, all opposed waterboarding: IIIR, only Giuliani (who’s also pro-abortion) and Thompson specifically supported it: Dr. Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr (pro-abortion) and especially John McCain all opposed “enhanced interrogation” for one reason or another, and so torture should have been a non-issue. Ironically, all the Catholics who voted for Obama because of “enhanced interrogation,” illegal detainment and other intrinsic evils of the Bush Administration, along with the questionable justification of the war in Iraq, elected a president who has been far worse for these evils and who has gotten us into several very clearly unjust military actions, such as Libya.

Meanwhile, Catholic conservatives continue to blindly vote Republican the way Catholic liberals have blindly voted Democrat. Even though the CA Voter Guide itself encourages voting third party if possible, Catholics have used the CA Voter guide to justify milquetoast Republicans over Democrats because “abortion is a non-negotiable!”

Well, the problem is that John McCain supported ESCR, and suddenly ESCR became a “negotiable” — NRLC even dropped it as a priority issue (and let’s not forget that Bush authorized it so long as the babies were already dead). Now, we have Mitt Romney, who passively legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, passed a healthcare mandate law in Massachusetts (and convinced Obama to go with a mandate over total socialization), ignored a Catholic protest in MA to his own contraception mandate, gave money to Planned Parenthood, made money off two abortion-related companies (one that produced abortion pills and another that handled “disposal” of aborted fetuses), and was outspokenly pro-abortion and for changing the GOP platform.

We are supposed to believe that social liberal Mitt Romney has undergone a total change in his views since being governor of Massachusetts. We’re supposed to believe he’s pro-life, even though he’s skipped every pro-life event this year, including events that all his opponents in the primary attended. We’re expected to believe he’s opposed to a health care law he helped write.

We’re supposed to believe that he’s pro-life and pro-family because of his stay-at-home wife (in whose name the Planned Parenthood donations were made) and his 5 kids–one of whom is having his own children through “surrogate motherhood”–even though the Romneys had their kids in the 1970s, and their kids were grown before their father did his worst anti-life and anti-family actions. The fact that the Romneys were already Mormons with a big family when they supported PP and contraception mandates, etc., before they opposed them, they makes them far worse.

And for some reason people are buying this garbage and getting mad at those of us who don’t. They insist Romney’s going to be better than Obama and change things, but he’s not. He’s going to say “Ha, Ha!”

I remember the arguments of Catholics–from died in the wool liberals to people like Doug Kmiec–who argued that if Obama knew a lot of pro-lifers voted for him, maybe he’d change his mind. Yeah, right. How did that work out for *them*?

Now we have Catholics arguing on the Right that if they vote for Romney, and he knows they voted for him because he claims to be pro-life and claims to be pro-marriage,

I argue with the “Catholic Left,” and they say that abortion is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering it as an issue.

Then I argue with Catholic conservatives about issues like contraception, and they say that contraception is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering.

The odds are I’m going to be dead before the election. My concern is primarily with peoples’ individual souls–including the candidates’–and not with what actually happens in the election. It’s better to vote third party, and know that you vote for someone who represents your conscience, than to vote for a major candidate by compromising your beliefs. It’s fine to vote for a “lesser of two evils” if you really think that’s necessary, but don’t try justifying the evil.

C. S. Lewis warned about “Christianity AND”. The Vatican censured the Action Francaise because its leaders referred to the Church as a tool to achieving the monarchist cause, rather than the opposite.

Shape your politics to your religion, not your religion to your politics.

More importantly, remember that human beings are flawed. The fact that you happen to like a lot of the things a particular writer or organization puts out doesn’t make that writer or organization infallible. You don’t have to 100% agree with someone. Decisions like whom to vote for are incredibly complicated, and any attempt to simplify the decision is going to be problematic.

And stop assigning absolute infallibility to people just because you generally agree with them. Let God be God.

America’s #1 Killer

Every year, it kills more people than cancer and heart disease put together.

It kills twice the number of people as the remaining 8 of the top ten “official” causes of death put together (AIDS doesn’t even chart).

Every year, it kills twice the total number of Americans who’ve died from AIDS in the 30+ year history of the epidemic (approx. 18,000 year year die of AIDS).

Every year, it kills twice as many Americans as all of our war casualties in the last 100 years put together.

Since 1972, it has killed more Americans than the total number of people killed by Hitler and Stalin combined.

Since 1976, there have been a total of approx. 1260 executions in the United States.  Since 1972, there have been 50,000,000 legal abortions and counting.

Yet people say that the death penalty is a more important issue.  They say that war is a more important issue.  They say that “health care reform” is a more important issue.

People parade for veterans and for war memorials.  They parade for cancer and heart disease.  They parade for AIDS.  Do they parade for the unborn?

People protest violently outside of military bases in the name of “peace.”

They protest violently on Wall Street to protest corporate greed.

They protest outside prisons to protest the death penalty.

Heck, they protest outside monasteries to promote the “rights” of chickens!

Yet a handful of pro-lifers gather in front of Planned Parenthood to silently protest, pray, and/or engage in sidewalk counseling, and they’re labelled freaks, terrorists, or extremists.  They’re hit with racketeering lawsuits.

Is Self-Defense about “Guilt”?

For years, I have struggled against a popular but erroneous notion–even spread among many pro-life leaders–that there is a difference between “killing the guilty” and “killing the innocent.” Yes, the Church often refers to “innocent victims,” but the Church *never* says that the guilty “forfeit their right to life” This is a common notion, selectively used by pro-life leaders regarding terrorists and US enemies and serial killers–yet they get all defensive when you ask, “So, is it OK to kill abortionists? Do they forfeit their right to life by their guilt?” Suddenly, the next inconsistency is, “Well, the state doesn’t consider what they do murder.”

Well, the problem is the Church never says you have a right to kill anyone. The idea is to do everything possible to protect against an agreessor, up to and including taking that person’s life if there is no other course of action.

However, the Church never says “guilt”, and the example that occurs to me is that a person does not have to be “guilty” of anything for one to engage in self-defense.

Let’s say, for example, that I’m out in my yard, and my next door neighbor comes running and screaming at me, wielding a butcher knife. I have a reasonable assumption that he attacking me with the butcher knife, and I grab the nearest weapon or potential weapon and, in the attempt to defend myself, kill my next door neighbor. Now, I had no right and no need to try and judge my neighbor. I just had to know he was coming at me with a butcher knife. He might not have been *guilty* of anything: he might have been chopping meat in his kitchen and found out he had a gas leak, and his kitchen was about to explode. He was “innocent,” but from my perspective, I had a reasonable view that he as attacking me.

Similarly, let’s say Tom is driving along, and Harry, coming down the side of the road, has some kind of medical event. Harry is not driving recklessly or drunkenly; through no fault of his own, he loses control of his vehicle, and he swerves out of his lane. Tom uses a defensive maneuver, and Harry is killed. Tom hasn’t intentionally killed Harry, and Harry hasn’t intentionally tried to kill Tom. Harry is, like the neighbor in the first scenario, objectively innocent. However, he was endangering Tom’s life, and Tom was justified in saving his own life, even at the cost of Harry’s.

“Guilt” and “innocence” doesn’t have anything to do with it, yet Bl. John Paul II did say that, even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out objectively and not with a desire for revenge or anger.

I can objectively admit that the killing of Osama bin Ladin was justified. What I will not do is rejoice over it.

Simply Put


I am pro-life.

Here’s how I prioritize my vote:

1. I oppose contraception–if I find that rare politician who does, he or she has my vote, hands down.
2. I oppose abortion, completely. I vote for the *MOST* anti-abortion candidate: I’ll vote for an “incrementalist” or “some exceptions candidate,” but I’m going to vote for the person who’s going to do the *most* to outlaw abortion. If it’s a choice between someone who’s anti-abortion but pro-ESCR and someone who’s anti-both, I’ll vote for the latter.
3. If the positions on abortion are relatively equal, and depending upon the office, I’ll consider the death penalty, torture and war. For example, I care far more about the death penalty if I’m voting for a judge or district attorney. I really don’t care about a district attorney’s position on war, but I care more about a presidential candidate’s position on war than his position on the death penalty.
4. If all of the above are equal, then I’m going to look at candidates’ positions on marriage, education, and parental rights. I supported Mike Huckabee in the 2008 primary because he calls for getting rid of “no fault” divorce and he supports laws that favor homeschooling.
5. After all these, if it gets down to nuances between candidates with similar views on all the above issues, I’ll look at their positions on “dignity of the human person” issues such as disability rights, welfare and the environment.

I believe in a consistent life ethic

I believe in a consistent life ethic, but I’d rather use Fr. Frank Pavone’s analogy of a house (some issues are foundational; some issues are pillars; some issues are the roof; and some are the walls and decorations) than the “seamless garment” of Eileen Egan and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Apparently, Bernardin’s seamless garment tore when he worked to cover up the still-unsolved 1983 murder of a church organist who had documentation of the active homosexual subculture in the Chicago priesthood and was about to go to the media.

Anyway, the Church is very clear that there are times when war and the death penalty are necessary–even Jesus Himself says so (Mt 18:6).

But there is no justification for abortion. There is no justification for killing the disabled. There is no justification for killing people on the basis of religion, race, sexual orientation or gender.

Oh, by the way, in all the complaints about oppressed minorities, and in all the media complaints about the lack of justice for victims of crimes committed *by* priests, when are we going to start hearing about the many crimes committed *against* priests? When are we going to hear about the the murders of Catholic priests by KKK members in the “Old South,” unsolved or otherwise unresolved?

Staying in the lines

As anyone who’s read more than a post or two on this blog should know, I’m a big advocate of heroic virtue. In _Veritatis Splendor_, Pope John Paul II says that we have a great deal of freedom in regard to following God’s positive law. I totally agree, while, with JPII, I say we should follow positive law to the greatest extent possible.

So, normally, when there’s room for personal interpretation, I follow the most saintly, prophetic, exaggerated teaching possible.

However, I also acknowledge when the Church says there’s room for nuance in terms of how other people do things.

For example, the Church teaches there is such a thing as Just War. The Church also teaches that what constitutes a Just War is ultimately left up to those most “in the know,” and those with the responsibility for public good.

I believe that people should have a right to conscientiously object to participating in a war they believe unjust. I believe we should take these things into consideration, but I also believe the ambiguity of the situation does not bear the level of culpability in one’s vote that abortion does, and Cardinal Ratzinger clearly said this in his infamous 2004 letter.

Now, am I personally going to take up arms and go to Iraq or Afghanistan? No way. Would I consider taking up arms if an enemy invaded our country or the government turned against us? Possibly, though I’d prefer to die an outright martyr.

Would I engage in violence to defend someone in my family? Very likely so, though I’d like to try to do something like that Muslim store clerk who held the thief at gunpoint, gave him some money in charity, and then talked to him about Islam.

However, what I will not do is say that violence is always wrong. I will not say that war is always wrong. That is to say that the Church’s theory of Just War is wrong, and every liberal Catholic who calls himself a “pacifist” and votes for pro-abortionists to support the vote for war, ends up saying just that. Many saints, including two of this site’s direct patrons, engaged in warfare (actually 4 of this site’s direct patrons did, but the other two aren’t officially canonized).

St. Louis IX fought in the Crusades, though he never committed personal mortal sin.
St. Louis de Montfort once beat up a bunch of drunks who were mocking him when he was street preaching on Saturday evening–and they all showed up at Mass the next morning.
Then you have St. Wenceslaus of Bavaria, who is a martyr yet defended himself against his assailants.
We should also remember St. Joan of Arc, who is regarded even by atheists like Shaw and Twain as one of the most truly holy people in history.
St. Martin of Tours, most famous for the time when, as a recently converted Roman soldier, he gave half his cloak to a poor man, went around burning down pagan temples when he was a bishop.
Then there was a whole regiment of Roman soldiers in modern-day Switzerland who adopted Christianity and were martyred for it.

Not only is absolute pacifism a violation of the Catechism, it’s also an implication that the Church was wrong to canonize these people, and canonization is itself an exercise in infallibility.

So while I am the first to argue that the peaceful way is always better, I will never argue for official pacifism, especially as a political obligation.

Meanwhile, the Church is completely clear on the moral obligation of voting for the candidate who is the most pro-life on abortion is as possible.

A rather old, but still apropros, guest post from my wife

Clinton’s abortion views are clearly contradictory
To the Editor:
In response to your article in the Stafford Neighbors section, “New kids on the political block,” I feel those Democrats, and others like them, must have hypocritical ignorance of their candidates.
I cannot understand how someone who is so concerned about prenatal care and Head Start and who is against the death penalty can at the same time call himself or herself pro-choice, meaning proabortion.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore are supposedly concerned about the future of America, but, hypocritically, they support the murder of the innocents, the children, the future of America.There are organizations to help mother and baby, like Birthright, which is now part of the United Way campaign, and adoption agencies. Instead of spending millions of dollars a year for infanticide, why not spend the money on the mother and her child? I feel we need to spend that money for more organizations like Birthright and Bethany Christian Services.
If one person kills another in the shadows, where they can’t see one another, it’s called murder. But when a woman with a child inside of her, a child she can feel but cannot see, kills the child, or as some put it, exercises her right, it is just a choice, not abortion.
I hope in the future that The Free Lance-Star will cover events like the hundreds of citizens who stood in the rain for three hours to show their love for all people, born and unborn. This event occurred Oct. 4 on U.S. 1.

Mary Hein
Stafford, VA

Letter to the Editor, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, VA, Thursday, October 22, 1992

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Some people say that the difference between abortion and other life issues is that unborn babies are “innocent.” In that case, go ahead and kill me. I’m not innocent.. I’m guillty of many grievous mortal sins, sins that are just as worthy of eternal Hellfire as murder or terrorism. For if we have ever engaged in sexual sins, blasphemy, theft, skipping Mass on Sunday, coveting another person’s goods, lying, etc., we are just as worthy of death, according to God’s Law, as a terrorist.

I, however, thank God that Christ has come and changed the Law so that only those who are free from sin (according to some commentators, this could mean those who are in a state of grace) are permitted to execute the death penalty.

“What about the women who have abortions?”

Pro-abortionists have a particular question they like to throw out at pro-lifers.  Like the Pharisees trying to trip up Jesus, they think this question particularly clever and creates an impossible dilemma.

My recent interlocutor, the pro-abortion terrorist and demonaic who goes by “Operation Counterstrike”, prides itself on its website for supposedly “confounding” pro-lifer bloggers with this question.  Although I answered the question on its blog, and the direct question never came up here in our lengthy exchange, this person (whom I strongly suspect has gender identity issues, given that its rhetoric sounds like NOW but seems to avoid the personal identification with abortion that radical feminists have) tried to say that I put its comments under moderation because of my inability to confront that question.

No, I put its comments under moderation because a) the arguments were getting circular and unprogressive and b) the person insisted on using language that was both rude and crude, as well as personally attacking my friends. This individual needs to learn about a modicum of civil discourse.

Anyway, the question goes like this:

“If abortion is made illegal, and you consider abortion to be murder, what should happen to the women who have abortions?”

They see this is an an “aha!” question, exposing us for either being hypocrites or for “not really thinking abortion is murder.”

The paradox, they think, goes this way:

1.  If you think they should be punished as murderers, they’ll call you “unreasonable.”

2.  If you say they shouldn’t, they say, “Then you don’t really think abortion is murder.”

Of course, these are the kinds of people, especially the CounterStrike person, who think that people like Scott Roeder, Paul Hill and John Salvi are the only consistent anti-abortionists.  According to their logic, a) if you believe abortion is murder, then b) the only way to punish a murderer is to c) kill him/her in an act of vigilantism.  Otherwise, you’re a liar and/or hypocrite in that a) you don’t “really” believe abortion is “murder” or b) you’re not “really” pro-life.

Of course, they set up the false dichotomy in that, case they set up the false dichotomy in this one, too.

Yes, the question does pose a paradox for certain kinds of Republicans and conservatives, but it shouldn’t pose a paradox for a Christian, or certainly any person with an understanding of psychology or legal responsibility.

There is a difference between the objective nature of an act and the subjective culpability of the actor.  When a teenaged girl has an abortion, is she really culpable?  Does she know abortion is murder?  Does she know the unborn child is a person?  (Not if the pro-aborts have anything to say about it; they do everything in their power to fight informed consent, waiting periods and sonogram laws–they know most women would reject abortion if shown this information).  Are they really making the “free choice” that pro-aborts allege?  Or are they pressured by family, society, money, etc.?  What is their mental state?

Is a girl who has an abortion fully morally culpable for what she does? 

Now, this is quite different from, say, some upper middle class white woman who gets an abortion to avoid the stretch marks or pursue her career or something.

Interestingly, Patrick Madrid has been involved in a parallel exchange from the other end, on his Facebook page, radio show and blog, in which a pro-life advocate apparently took a fairly hardline stance with some women who had repented of past abortions, insisting they were still “murderers”.

Of course, objectively, the woman who has an abortion is a “murderer,” but that leads to two issues: 1) her aforementioned culpability and b) her intention of repeating the crime.

A person who copies and pastes a bunch of paragraphs out of Wikipedia and Cliff’s Notes is, objectively, a plagiarist.  However, a good teacher knows how to distinguish unintentional acts of plagiarism from intentional academic theft.  Sometimes, especially in this example, the student just doesn’t know how to cite or how to write a proper research paper, and thinks the copied and pasted paragraphs constitute “research.” 

So, let’s say the teacher decides to give the student a second chance, or that a student who was expelled from one institution for plagiarism gets admitted to another.  In either case, our plagiarist has learned his or her lesson.  He or she remains a plagiarist, but the question is: will he or she *continue* to commit plagiarism?

Inspector Javert chases Jean Valjean for years because he thinks that one act of theft should mark a man for life.

Christians technically believe in repentance and forgiveness.  The pro-life movement is an embodiment of this.  Many of our leaders have themselves been directly involved in abortion in the worst ways: Norma McCorvey, Sandra Cano, Bernard Nathanson, John Bruchalski and so many others have come to the pro-life cause after repenting of their involvement in abortion, whether it was their own abortions, abortion practices, or political/legal work.

Yes, we want to see abortion illegal so that it is stigmatized, and society can heal from the rift in Natural Law caused by legalized abortion.  Yes, we want to save babies’ lives.  Yes, those who are consciously and deliberately involved in abortion–and unrepentant–should be punished for it. 

Those who lack full moral responsibility, however, should be given clemency and understanding.  Those who have repented and turned over a new leaf should be given the benefit of the doubt.  They remain, objectively, murderers, but the real question is whether they will murder again.

There is no better illustration of this than a conundrum presented regarding George W. Bush when he was still Governor of Texas, a situation that puzzled liberals to no end.  It was the case where a woman on death row in Texas had converted to Christianity, repented of her crimes and showed a complete remorse.  Pro-life Christians argued that she should not be subject to the death penalty, and even that she should be released.

“Our God is the God of second chances.”

That’s what Christianity is all about: repentance of sins:

What is justice?

In all the debates about “consequentialism,” and “intrinsic evil” and such, one topic that always seems skirted over is the definition of “justice” itself. Plato, in the Republic, defines justice as the removal of something from one person to satisfy the need of another, the leveling out of wrongs in society. Social justice involves removal of property from those who have an excess to satisfy the needs of the poor. Criminal justice involves removal of civil or even human rights from one person to compensate for rights that person took from another.

In a manner of speaking, it is always “intrinsically evil” to kill another human being. But, in certain cases, that act of killing is morally justifiable.

Theft is intrinsically evil, but taxation is basically justifiable theft.

It is against the Natural Law to take away another person’s freedom, but imprisonment is morally justified.

Often, the debate is limited merely to the justification of war or the death penalty or individual weapon ownership, but, really, almost every action of government, certainly every action we classify as “justice,” involves in some way practicing an intrinsic evil for a greater good.

One of the the operative phrases, as our Constitution and Declaration of Independence apply Natural Law, is “due process.” It is illicit to remove another person’s rights without “due process.”

Just actions involve due process (even if that due process is an immediate personal judgement call, which society later reviews to determien if it was licit). For example, if Detective Lou S. Cannon shoots a perp in haste, because the perp, now victim, held what appeared to be a gun, the Internal Affairs review may decide that it was *not* legitimate self-defense.

President W.R. Hawk may convince the country that a war is justified, but the world community may decide, after the fact, that the war was not justified.

Due process, both before and after the fact, are key.

But if you looked at every action in which government applies justice, you will find *some* action that is intrinsically evil.

There is also the question of culpability, as opposed to justification: as when the extreme circumstances remove a person of a moral choice. This was, to his credit, the argument the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life tried to make in regard to the Btazilian excommunications, but he didn’t have all the facts of the case.

The Church acknowledges there are situations when we may be forced to commit an action that is intrinsically evil or involves an intrinsic evil, but we do not really want to. It may not even be so drastic: perhaps addiction or psychological issues impede one’s ability to make a clear moral choice. In such cases, a person is not culpable for the intrinsic evil chosen, and not guilty of mortal sin (though perhaps of venial sin).

On the other hand, when a person is faced with a situation where moral judgement is impeded or taken away, or when a person faces a situation that would involve the just application of an otherwise intrinsic evil, and that person practices heroic virtue.

A woman who has a serious health problem while pregnant and declines medical treatment that might harm the baby, when the Church says it is licit to have such treatment, is not being scrupulous, she’s being heroically virtuous.
If a person is faced with a situation of self-defense and, rather than fighting back, turns the other cheek or gives the stolen silver as a gift, tha tperson is being heroically virtuous.

Evangelium Vitae on Other Offenses to Life

Expounding on the vast range of offenses of the Culture of Death, John Paul II writes, in Evangelium Vitae,

What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world’s ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!

Ecological responsibility is a pro-life issue.
The drug war, obviously, is a pro-life issue.
But it is interesting that John Paul notes, in passing, how sexually promiscuous behavior, due to spreading STDs, is also an offense against life.
Interesting contrast to those who say that the Church is irresponsible in regard to AIDS by opposing condoms: how about those who engage in promiscuous sex are “irresponsible” in regard to AIDS?

“Three Strikes You’re Out” and Socratic Questioning

Relatively early in my 12+ years online, I established a basic rule of debate, which I’ve more or less followed: I call it the “Three Strikes Rule.”
Basically, if I find myself saying the same thing 3 times, without my interlocutor really responding, I quit.  When a person proves to be not interested in dialogue but merely drumming a point.  It was originally formulated in the case of fundamentalists who will pound you with a verse:
“What about Rom 3:28?”
[“For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”, NAB]
And I say, “You’re taking it out of context.  Verse 31 says, ‘Are we then annulling the law by this faith?  Of course not!  We are supporting the law.'”

Protestant replies, “But what about Rom 3:28”?

And I say, “Well, what about James 2:14-26?” [You know, “faith without works is dead, and all his examples)

Protestant replies, “But what about Rom 3:28”? {This mentality, BTW, shows the problem with verse memorization, as Tom Howard and other converts point out: they’re trained to parrot certain verses and ignore everything else.  Passages that challenged their Protestant faith were never discussed by ministers and brushed over in private reading).
Me: “Well, what about Matthew 7:21: ‘Not everyone who comes to me saying, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in Heaven.’  That’s Jesus speaking, and doesn’t Jesus outrank Paul?”
“The Bible is the word of God.  What about Rom 3:28?”

So, I give up.  This isn’t just limited to fundamentalists, but they make good examples.

A related form of that rule is from when I’m taking a Socratic approach.

A common process in Plato’s dialogues is that Socrates will debate with some fellow (e.g., Thrasymachus in The Republic), and he does such a good job of breaking the guy’s position down that the guy runs off in a huff before Socrates has a chance to build up his *own* position).

So, the inverse of the “Three Strikes” rule is if *I* have to say the same thing, or, more precisely, ask the same question, numerous times to get an answer.

Usually, if I ask the question *once* in a discussion without an answer, I’ll give up.  But if the person answers part of my post and ignores the Socratic question (whatever it may be), I ask it again.  Two recent examples on this blog are the debate with “Anonymous” a few weeks ago and the debate with that Chad Tonka guy a week or two before that.

There are certain questions I keep asking of certain individuals or groups and getting no answer to.  One is the several times I have demanded of Chris Korzen and other Obama Catholics their positions on contraception, and have received no reply.

Another example has to do with the war in Iraq.  As I previously blogged, pacifism is the basic doctrine on which Liberal Catholics try to “excommunciate” conservatives or accuse us of the very “cafeteria Catholicism” we condemn.

Now, they insist that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both clearly condemned the War in Iraq as unjust.  They insist that the war is de facto unjust, and that anyone who voted for Bush (or McCain) is committing mortal sin by voting for a person who supports an unjust war.

I have decided to begin a series of articles on the complex issues regarding the war.

However, before I do, I wanted to clarify a few issues.  The first was yesterday’s post on how important this issue is to the Left.  The second is that I have no evidence of a clear condemnation of this war by either of the previous two Popes. I’m not denying it’s out there.

As I first started to pay attention to the issue of torture, for example, I was unaware of direct papal statements . I was keeping an open mind to both sides, because I really didn’t know anything about the subject.  I had already pretty much made my own mind up when I finally saw clear-cut Papal statements.

But here’s what evidence I’m aware of:

1.  Certain Vatican prefects have overtly condemned the war.  That includes, I believe, Peace and Justice, which makes sense.  Now, granted the opinions of the person the Pope has delegated a position to are fairly definitive.  Cardinal Arinze’s opinion on liturgy (or Cardinal Canizares’s), Cardinal Stafford’s opinion on sin, or Archbishop Burke’s opinion on canon law are to be listened to.  So would the opinion of the head of Peace and Justice (is he a Prefect or just a president?) on the issue of war.

*However*, I would not take a statement of Cardinal Arinze or Archbishop Burke as being “the opinion of the Pope.”

Now, the next statement is what I’ve heard or read the Popes say.

2.  John Paul said, “War is always a defeat for humanity.”  He also said that violence can never solve the problems of man.

OK, I’ll agree with that principle, up to a point.  Violence is never a solution: it can be a necessary tool, though, as the Church has more or less consistently taught throughout history. 

But to say “war is a defeat for humanity” doesn’t really mean “war is always wrong,” just that “if war happens, something has already gone badly wrong.”  Like, if one of my kids does something wrong, and I have to discipline my kid, that could be called a “failure for the family,” but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m wrong to discipline the kid.

I was going to raise a few other quotations that would seem to contradict the position that the war in Iraq is “unjust,” but found what I was looking for on my own, and kind of altered this post mid-course.

The point is, every time a liberal has insisted the Church condemns the War in Iraq, I’ve aksed for a specific quotation or citation.  The most hard-headed RadTrad can quote date and time for the speech where, he claims, Paul VI or John XXIII spoke against what was going on at Vatican II.

A simple Google search just now turned up a pretty thorough argument on the Vatican’s rejection of the “preemptive war” argument, and how the US media tend to cover up Vatican condemnations of US wars.  More interestingly, John Paul II spoke out, the article claims, 56 times on the 1991 war. 

So, from the article by Mark and Louise Zwick from Houston Catholic Worker, here is the statement from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, now Pope:

In an interview with Zenit on May 2, 2003, the Cardinal restated the position of the Holy Father on the Iraq war (II) and on the question of the possibility of a just war in today’s world.: “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a “just war.”

However, a year later,  Cardinal Ratzinger said the following in his infamous letter to Cardinal McCarrick:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Now, for the past five years, Catholics have tried to argue, even citing this letter, that, while it’s OK for a Catholic to be “pro-just-war,” the war in Iraq is unjust, and, therefore, Catholics *must* oppose it, because the Holy Father said so.

Yet, here, Cardinal Ratzinger has said clearly that it is not a mortal sin for a Catholic to disagree with the Holy Father on application of Just War or capital punishment teaching.  That even though the Church admonishes modern governments to be extremely cautious in applying either principle, the Church still gives the governments the freedom to do so, and that Catholics are free to have their own opinions (assuming, as with the conditions on economic issues, they take all factors into consideration).
So, again, it is not “cafeteria Catholicism” to formulate the opinion that the war in Iraq may be justified (or that socialized medicine, in fact, an offense against the common good).
Now, as to whether I, personally, think the war is just, tune in tomorrow 🙂

He could have annihilated them

I have a prayer book somewhere that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate put out many years ago.  It’s boxed away, so I can’t get the exact text, but there’s a passage from its Sorrowful Mysteries that has always struck me.  I forget if it’s from the Scourging or the Crowning.  Referring to those who tortured Jesus, it says,
“Jesus could have annihilated every one of those men, but He sat there in the dirty purple robe and took it.”

Think about that: annihilated.  Not just “killed.”  Not just “beat”.  Not just “blown away.”

He’s God.  He could have annihilated them. He could have made them into nothing.  Their bodies would have just ceased to exist.  Vanished.  Technically, their immortal souls, too.  There’s really nothing, but God’s own will, deciding that Joel Osteen is right and He should just terminate the souls of the damned.

There’s an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called “Who Watches the Watchers” where the Enterprise crew encounter one of those godlike beings they’re wont to meet up with.  In this case, it’s this planet that’s been decimated by war, and there’s this strange old couple living there, and not wanting to evacuate.  And it turns out the wife is dead.  The husband is some kind of being with amazing preternatural powers.  The wife died with the rest of the colonists, and he was so grief-stricken that he recreated their home and his wife.  He was also grief stricken that he destroyed the invaders (I forget their names).  Picard comments, for clarity, that he destroyed the ship.  He said, “No.  I destroyed every last one of them.” Complete genocide.

You know, God could do that, if He wanted to.

If God wanted to destroy the abortionists, He could annihilate them. 
If God wanted to destroy the terrorists, He could annihilate them.

But no.  God set a higher standard.  Yes, before Christ, things were different, because we didn’t have His grace.  So back then, just as a parent has to be more restrictive about a preschooler’s exposure to the world than a teenager’s, and just as an adult can be exposed to things a teenager cannot, so too God had to protect His people before Christ with the execution and genocide of pagans.

Yet, even when St. Elijah the Prophet killed the 300 prophets of Ba’al, God still reminded Elijah, on Mt. Carmel, that He is not found in the earthquake or the storm but in the “still, soft wind.”

Christ came to set a higher standard: lay down your life.  Don’t retaliate.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat,” said Jesus.  Fulton Sheen notes that, in the context, Jesus was speaking to an audience that included Greeks.  He was reformulating the Natural Law and showing how even the Christian principle of self-sacrifice was part of the Natural Law.  Of course it is, a knowledgeable Greek might reply, Socrates taught it:
“It is better to suffer evil than to do it,” says Socrates in the Gorgias.

The Buddhists understand it, too, to some extent, though they think the goal is to annihilate oneself in Nirvana, not to fulfill oneself.

God could have annihilated us so many times, and He hasn’t done it yet.

I was telling the kids this at dinnner tonight.  I said, “Think of that next time your sibling does something you don’t like, and you want to retaliate.”

Gianna looked up at me with her bright, knowing eyes, and said,

“I’ll probably forget.”

Don’t we all, Gi.

What does “Just War” or “Justifiable Homicide” mean?

We canonize Saints because they practice heroic virtue: a Saint does something, or many things, for Christ that someone else might not be called to do.  Now, there is the argument that we’re all called to be saints and we’re all called to heroic virtue.

All priests and religious are, in theory, practicing heroic virtue by the nature of their vocations.  So are married couples who practice NFP and so are married couples who have lots of kids.

In theory.  In practice, we know that we are all flawed human beings.

Priests, monks, nuns, husbands and wives all commit sins against chastity in their respective vocations.  Or they may remain chaste but fail in their prayer lives, or they may have problems with anger, or abuse, or some other sin. 

The Church is a hospital for sinners.  We point out people as Saints because we know they’re the exceptions who do it the way it’s supposed to be done.

Even if they sin, they show they get it for the most part by acts of “heroic virtue.”  Heroic virtue is kind of what the letter to the Hebrew means Abraham was justified by faith: Abraham’s trust in God allowed him to perform acts which most people would be afraid to do.

King David was a “man after God’s heart” because he showed heroic virtue, even when he also showed very villainous sin.

St. Gianna Molla is a saint because she refused to have a medical procedure the Church considered morally justifiable.  She was not urged to have an abortion.  She declined medical treatment which may have possibly hurt her unborn baby.  There’s a difference there .

The Orthodox Church has a category of saints known as “passion bearers” saints who, while not martyrs for the Faith, died nobly in a Christian manner, particularly in an act of love.  Sts. Nicholas, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei are all saints in this category.

Now, that’s not to say those who refuse to have abortions despite life-threatening conditions are not also practicing heroic virtue: it’s just a bit more complicated, since they’re praciticing “virtue.”  I guess you can say they’re practicing virtue heroically, versus virtue-that-is-heroic.

And St. Wenceslaus is a martyr, even though he defended himself.

But the point is that heroic virtue constitutes a profound witness for the faith, and a profound trust in Providence.

If a man invades my home with a gun, I have a moral right-some would say an obligation-to defend my family against him using whatever weapon I have at my disposal.  I could shoot a gun at him.  I could throw a knife at him.  I could through a heavy object down the stairs and hit him on the head.

I could also grab my family and flee.

Or, I could do something else.  I might, like the bishop in Les Miserables, tell him that whatever he came to steal is my gift to him.  I might offer him a seat at my table and give him some food.

I might stand in front of him and begin to pray loudly.  I might try to talk to him of Jesus, or read the Bible to him.

I don’t have a gun in my house, but I do have two very powerful weapons stored in my kitchen.  I could go in the kitchen and get those weeapons–the weapons I wish someone had used on George Tiller before Scott Roeder did his work: holy water and holy salt.

I could pray to the angels to defend my home.

All of those would be, in a spiritual sense, weapons.  They would also “heap burning coals on his head,” as the Biblical teaching goes.

It would also not, strictly speaking, be pacifism.  Running and hiding would be pacifism.  It would rather be spiritual warfare.  I would be fighting against the real problem: the demons and the sinful thoughts influencnig the home invader’s soul.

So, as I contemplate issues like waterboarding suspected terrorists and shooting abortionists, I wonder about the death penalty and war in general.  I know they are “necessary” from a worldly perspective.  And I know that the Church teaches the state has the right to recourse to them.

But they are not necessarily the best ways for a Christian to respond to evil.

I wonder how much better our results would be if we splahsed the Muslim suspects’s foreheads with holy water instead of filling their lungs with unblessed water.  What if instead of CIA analysts, we sent in Catholic priests or even Protestant ministers to talk to them about Jesus? What if we left them in empty cells for days on end with nothing to watch, read or listen to but a Bible?

If we wonder why God doesn’t work grand miracles anymore, it’s not just because Jesus “finished the job.”  We know that’s not true: the Apostles worked ’em, too.  OK, “Death of the Last Apostle.” B ut what of the many great miracles worked by saints, even in the past century?

No, besides the fact that people just ignore them when they happen, miracles dont’ happen because we don’t go out on a limb to show our faith in God.  We always hold back.

It wasn’t just Joshua bringing down Jericho by marching the Arch of the Covenant around it.  It wasn’t just Gideon bringing down the Midianites with some trumpets and torches.

It was St. Leo the Great sending away the Saracens with a Eucharistic Procession, and St. Clare of Asissi sending away the Moors the same way. 

That’s the real way to engage in defensive warfare.

Evangelium Vitae: The "guilty" still have dignity

Contrasting the idea, often stated in defense of capital punishment or torture, that there is a difference between “innocent” and “guilty” life, John Paul II writes, in Evangelium Vitae

And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, “put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him” (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel’s
death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. As Saint Ambrose writes: “Once the crime is admitted at the very inception of this sinful act of parricide, then the divine law of God’s mercy should be immediately extended. If punishment is forthwith inflicted on the accused, then men in the exercise of justice would in no way observe patience and moderation, but would straightaway condemn the defendant to punishment…. God drove Cain out of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, so that he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to the rude existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide”.13

A Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day

Back in 2001, Cardinals Roger Mahony and William Keeler issued a statement that the execution of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of what had been, to date, the worst terrorism act on US soil, would perpetuate the cycle of violence and lead to greater terrorism.

On the night of 9/10/2001, I was reading a copy of the Arlington Catholic Herald that had been sitting on my floor for a few months, and it featured this story.

Then I was re-reading the sections of C. S. Lewis’s _The Four Loves_ concerning patriotism and love of neighbor. He notes that, while we have the right to self-defense, defending your home against an invader is a far cry from chasing the thief down the street, as he flees your home, and shooting him in the back. Lewis compares the same thing to the right of nations to defend themselves against invaders.

The next morning, those two thoughts fresh in my head, 9/11 happened.

At the time, I figured it *was* an act of domestic terrorism.

In the subsequent months, we heard a lot about “innocent” victims, how this disaster was so especially horrible because the victims were “innocent.”

We seem to have two reactions to disasters and their victims: “Oh! They were innocent!” or “Oh! They suffered God’s wrath!” In Luke 13:4, Jesus tells us that disasters are not time for judgement of others’ souls–either way–but for consideration of our *own* sinfulness, lest we die unprovided deaths.

But I kept thinking, in the months after 9/11, about this idea of “innocence.” Let’s say that it was the 1980s, and the planes had been flown into the Kremlin. Would we have talked of “the innocent victims”? Or would we have cheered Afghanistan for achieving such a blow against our hated enemies, who deserved it?

I am not 100% against war or capital punishment. I believe, with the Church, that these are sometimes necessary to protect society, just as it is sometimes necessary for a man to protect his family by shooting a robber or for a woman to stab a man to protect herself from being raped.

But when an otherwise evil act is justifiable, that does not make it “good.” It just means that one bears no culpability for it.

If a person holds a gun to my head and tells me to commit some mortal sin, I am not morally culpable for the sin I commit. However, it would be more virtuous, indeed it would be heroic virtue, if I refused, and chose to die a martyr rather than commit a single mortal sin.

So, I wonder about the death penalty, and this idea of “innocence.”

After all, in the minds of Al-Qaeda, the victims of 9/11 were not innocents. They were guilty of participation in a global economy that they believed was threatening their civilization. They were participating in the United States military-industrial complex that was entwined in the Arab world, the new colonialism that al-Qaeda resists.

So, to them, these people were “not” innocent victims; they were enemies to be reviled and destroyed.

At the time, I said, “Innocent”? Would it be any less heinous if they were *not* “innocent”?

And that speaks to war and the death penalty, as well. After all, the Church’s conditions for approving these things under specific circumstances do not have to do with “punishing” the guilty but protecting society.

Many radical pro-abortionists argue in language of self-defense (hence “life of the mother”) that the baby is an uninvited intruder, and one has the right to defend oneself against an intruder in one’s home, so one should have the right to defend oneself against an intruder in one’s body.

One of the major purposes of the Lewis Crusade is the call to be more saintly, to practice heroic virtue above and beyond what is “justifiable.” Abstinence from unethical vaccines and medical treatments may not be morally obligatory, but even the National Catholic Bioethics Center acknowledges that it is heroic virtue.

And when we practice heroic virtue, we gain graces that make the world a better place.

So, in comes the torture issue. People are arguing for torture using the same terms pro-abortionists use.

Even if waterboarding is what the Church would call “coercion,” versus “torture,” why should we stoop to the lowest common denominator? Why not hold ourselves to a higher standard? Why feed the enemy’s hatred and paranoia by showing ourselves to be the monsters they think we are?