Category Archives: death penalty

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.

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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 🙂