The Corner

You Can Look It Up

Last week’s postings on Kerry and the bishops produced a second passel of emails. These argued that any Catholic who opposed Kerry’s pro-choice stand must likewise oppose Bush’s stand in favor of the death penalty. As K-Lo and others on the Corner have pointed out, the premise here—that opposition to abortion and to the death penalty posess the same moral standing in Catholic teaching—is flatly mistaken. Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church on abortion:

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.

And here’s the Catechism on the death penalty:

The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good….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.

Direct abortion represents an evil in itself, but the death penalty is permissible in certain circumstances. In what circumstances, exactly? That is a matter for prudential judgement. And when John Paul II argues, as he often does, that present day penal standards make the death penalty unnecessary, he is making his own prudential judgement, to which Catholics must give due consideration, but not enunciating a teaching that Catholics must regard as binding. (See, for example, the article in First Things by Avery Cardinal Dulles, to which Kathryn linked a week or two ago, and the article in the same publication by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.) Whereas no Catholic may in good conscience support abortion on demand, in other words, a Catholic may indeed support the death penalty.


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