Pro-life and Pro-Capital Punishment
Contradiction in Terms?
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."
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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