Pro-life and Pro-Capital Punishment

Contradiction in Terms?


Anthony Gonzales


One of  the main arguments used  by the antireligious  bigots against the "Radical Right" (those people who hold to the values of our ancestors) is that our position is inconsistent because we "claim" to be pro-life and at the same time support the death penalty. This liberal mantra has also been adopted by liberals in the Church who have attempted to take the teeth out of the pro-life movement by saying that we as Catholics  must support  the "Seamless Garment" concept  that  all human life is sacred no matter what the circumstances.  They them- selves  claim  that it is inconsistent to be pro-capital punishment if you claim to be pro-life. Finally, to make matters worse for conservative Catholics, giving more ammunition to the liberals, is the position Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa have taken in regards to the death penalty.  In several instances they both have interceded with the governors of their respective states for criminals who were about to be executed.   According to His Holiness   the death penalty should  rarely, if ever,  be used.  So in the face of such opposition the question  remains: are we out  of   touch with the Church and society as a whole or is our position not only valid but actually more appropriate?  The following article will address this issue.


What is the Official Teaching of the Church?


The Church has consistently taught that abortion is the murder of an innocent person and it is not permitted under any circumstance. Life begins at conception and must be respected and nurtured from that moment onward.  It is not permitted to  kill the preborn  child even in the case of saving the mother's life.  You cannot kill an  innocent person in order to save another innocent person. This  is written within our very nature and is one of the major principles of the natural law. Murder is not simply a "legal term" murder is the unjust taking of an innocent human life and there is no occasion when one can deliberately take an innocent human life justly. The Scriptural prohibition is found in the 5th Commandment; "Thou shalt not kill."

                Capital Punishment

The Church throughout  her  history  has  firmly held to the natural law principle that the state has the right to execute criminals who are a threat both to the innocent and to the harmony of society. One of the principal duties  of  the state is  to  protect   the  rights  of  its  citizens  from the unjust  taking  of  those  rights. The state itself  is supposed to be subordinate to this same principle so  that  its  citizens  can  feel secure that their individual, God given, rights are protected in every circumstance.  When the rights of the innocent person are violated by those who transgress the law the state has the right to use whatever means are necessary  and appropriate to secure the rights of its individual citizens and its society as a whole.  Without the protection of the state, exercised  according  to  the natural law,  the innocent suffer and  unjust aggressors prosper, order and harmony break down  and freedom for law-abiding citizens is lost. In the Old Testament God speaks of this necessary order continuously. Capital punishment  was even required by God to maintain the natural order and harmony of Israelite society. Jesus never once refuted this natural law precept which, as the Second Person of the Trinity,  He created in the first place.

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." (Genesis 9:6)


Pro-life or Anti-abortion?


Should  the position  against  abortion be termed pro-life or  anti-abortion?  Since pro-lifers  are usually  conservative  and  hold to conservative,  traditional  values and morality most of them generally believe also in capital punishment.  But  isn't  this  inconsistent  with what  the phrase pro-life implies?  Isn't  the term pro-life just  a euphemism which really means "anti-abortion",  just  as the euphemism "pro-choice" sounds better than pro-abortion?  I personally believe that there is too much confusion over  the term and that  the pro-aborts have just one more reason to disparage pro-lifers with the constant accusation that  we are not really  "pro-life" because we  advocate the killing of criminals. Therefore, I think  it  is  time that we state our position clearly, boldly and without compromise.  We are against the murder of INNOCENT  human life in every circumstance, from the preborn human existing from the moment of conception to the aged, handicapped, disabled and terminally  ill  and  every  INNOCENT person in between.  We  maintain  the God-given right  of  every innocent  human being to life, liberty, justice and the right to defend oneself, family, neighbor and country against  any  unjust  aggressor who would attempt to violate our God-given rights.  Therefore, we are anti-abortion, anti-infanticide and anti-euthanasia.  On the other hand, we are pro-innocent human life, pro-second amendment, and pro-capital punishment.


Innocent Human Life


It is necessary to make an extremely important distinction. For Roman Catholics there are some human beings who have, by their own choice, forfeited their right to liberty and some their right to life itself. These individuals have brought upon themselves this terrible consequence  by  posing  a  threat  to the natural harmony and order of a free society in general and to another or other individuals in particular.  By their actions they either require incarceration or their actions are so heinous that the only appropriate response is to  rid  society  and  its innocent citizens from this threat  and  to create an atmosphere  conducive to  the innocent  prospering and  living in peace and security.  Execution  is  also  a just  form of  punishment   meted out by the state especially  for those criminals who have committed crimes which have deliberately taken innocent  human  life or  crimes which by their very nature are so heinous that the person who commits them deserves the ultimate punishment  the natural and  civil  law allow.  It  is my opinion that   in addition to 1st degree murder many more crimes  (if proven beyond  a shadow of a doubt),  should have the automatic  consequence of the death penalty. I am sure most  of  us  could  come  up with  such a list.  I remember  an  incident where a man named Charles Rothenburg took his little boy, who he was visiting in a divorce situation, threw  kerosene all over him and lit him on fire in order to kill him.  The boy lived  and  is  now horribly scarred.  The terrible pain, both physical  and  emotional, that  this  innocent  boy  must  endure for the rest of his life demands just retribution. His father  was  imprisoned  but  has  since been freed and is in prison  again  for  violating his  parole.  It  is truly unjust  that this man should be able to live without suffering the just consequences of  his actions.  It  is also  unjust   that   we, the citizens,  are forced by our taxes to support such  a reprobate  as  this  coward. He  forfeited his right to life  and  liberty  as  soon as he tried to take the life of  this  innocent  child. He should not have the right  to continue to breathe the same  air  we breathe.  How many more crimes such as this deserve the ultimate consequence of the death penalty?


St. Thomas  Aquinas  gives  an explanation of  the need and legitimate use of capital punishment as follows:

                "Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore

                 every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this  reason we observe

                 that if the health of the whole body demands  the excision of a member,

                 through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be

                both praiseworthy an advantageous to have it cut out of the body. Now

                every individual  person  is  compared to the whole community, on

                account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be

                executed in order to safeguard the common good,...

                Now the care of  the common good is entrusted to persons of rank

                having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals,

                can lawfully put evil doers to death." (Q.64 Art. 2 -3 Pt.II-II)  


The Pope and Mother Teresa


Today in the Church we have two people who  are exemplary images of what Roman Catholicism is all about. Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa are truly a source of strength and virtue for millions of people throughout the world.  Both of them vehemently oppose the use of captial punishment.  Since they each  have a voice to which everyone seems to listen, even non-Catholics, it makes it quite difficult for Roman Catholics who are  anti-abortion but pro-capital punishment to have any credibility.  If the leader of our Church is opposed to the death penalty how can we be for it, goes the argument.


The  answer  rests  in  the  fact  that  neither Pope John Paul nor Mother Teresa have ever stated that the a legitimate government does not have the natural right to use  capital  punishment in order to protect its citizens or maintain domestic peace and harmony. They both simply believe that within the context of present   societal evolution there is no longer a need to use capital punishment except in extremely rare cases. They have every right  to hold this position. In fact  we expect them  to be merciful  even  toward  those where  justice  seemingly  demands   no  mercy. At the same time we have every right to demand  justice and the generous use  of the death penalty.  It is simply a matter of strategy as opposed to principle.  The principle remains unchanging. The state has the God given right to defend itself and it's citizens from the unjust aggressor by the use of lethal force if it deems necessary, as  we have seen above stated by St. Thomas.  This, neither the Pope  nor  Mother  Teresa  can or would deny. However, we can legitimately  disagree with them on how that  principle should be applied in particular  circumstances.




It must be reiterated again and again that to defend innocent human life (the operative word being "innocent") is not inconsistent with the position that those guilty of heinous crimes should be punished to the full extent the natural  and  civil  law allows. All of human history, including the history described in the Holy Scriptures with  God's  commands  and  the natural law  are  on  our  side. An eye for an eye and a life for a life is simple  true justice. We  can, as individuals  moved by the grace of Christ, voluntarily relinquish our  right  to  just compensation  for   actions  done  against us, ("turn the other cheek....")  but it would be immoral and against the natural law for the state to relinquish its primary  purpose to protect  its  citizens  from the unjust  aggressor, foreign and domestic.  The state is, by its very nature, designed to have justice  woven throughout  its functioning.  It  cannot voluntarily relinquish its position to provide a just response to the violation of the rights of the innocent. I must always protect those rights.  When  it cannot do so the innocent  citizens have the right to abolish such a government in order to form one more  in line with the dictates of the natural law.  =

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