Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rating life

If asked, I'd say that all life has an equal intrinsic worth, and I had thought that the Church teaches that, but today I saw a post at a First Things blog, First Thoughts, that seems to say that's not true. The post spelled out the answer to a question I've long wanted answered .... why some feel innocent lives are more worth saving (and worse to extinguish), why bishops have been flipping their wigs over pro-choice politicians yet haven't done anything about politicians who support the death penalty or war.

Here's a bit of the post .....


Abortion, Capital Punishment, and War — One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Friday, November 27, 2009, 1:00 PM
Christopher Blosser

Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin.

In conclusion, Stoddard asks:

This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?

How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?

The author’s questions reveal an elementary ignorance concerning the moral issues in question and their relationship to varying levels of Church teaching .....

The basic difference between abortion and capital punishment (or the waging of armed force) is that the Church has firmly and explicitly taught that the former is an intrinsic evil: the direct taking of innocent human life to be opposed everywhere and at all times, while the moral worth of the latter two measures are contigent upon specific criteria and circumstance.

In the case of capital punishment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s discussion of the fifth commandment, specifically the matter of “legitimate defense” (sections #2263-2267); on the matter of the waging of armed force, the Catholic tradition’s criteria for a “just war” (sections #2307-2317) .....

As then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, put it succinctly in a 2004 letter to the U.S. Bishops articulating “general principles” on the distribution of communion:

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 ...


The Church teaches that innocent lives are more worthy than non-innocent? Or is it that the Church thinks all lives are of equal worth but for some reason it's ok to kill non-innocents? This seems wrong to me.

In contrast, here's an article on the death penalty by Ken Overberg SJ in which he stresses that the Church equally values all life - The Death Penalty: Why the Church Speaks a Countercultural Message


Blogger Mike L said...

I think that one problem we face is that many of us do not know exactly what it is that the Church teaches. Too often we hear what the press wants us to hear, or even what we really want to hear.

One small example with abortion: the Church permits abortion in the case of a tubal pregnancy. The claim is this is not a direct abortion, but I can't see it as anything else. Of course the Church does permit "indirect" abortion, but somehow the distinction gets loss in the arguments.

I thought the article on capital punishment was excellent, except that one condition for its abolishment has not been met, namely that our prisons become human places. I think we are going to have a long battle before we get to that condition.

I believe that violent crime IS the result of societies lack of respect for life. When society begins to respect life then we will see violent crime decrease and capital punishment will not be as necessary.

Sad to say I do not think that respect is going to occur in my lifetime (much shorter expectancy than yours) or even in yours. But we can pray for it.


Mike L

4:51 PM  
Blogger victor said...

I guess we're going to need to continue praying for all Christians Catholics especially the ones who can't always see clearly as to what God really wants of us and I'm including myself also. :)


5:03 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I'm a good example of someone who doesn't really know what the Church teaches - I keep getting surprised. I guess they can only squeeze so much into an RCIA course.

I think violent crime is a result of a combination of things but mostly of human nature. I don't think that as long as there are people, there will ever be an end to violent crime, although I think it can be reduced. Teaching a respect for life might not be so effective. as life itself teaches people with intensity what life is worth, and sometime they learn it's not worth much at all.

Crystal the misanthrope :)

7:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Including me too.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

I am not sure teaching respect for life is the answer, that doesn't always lead to actual respect for life :).

There was a fascinating article some years ago where a group looked at factors involved in highway deaths since the actual number of deaths did not match what had been predicted some ten years before. They broke the study down into areas by the number of deaths and then looked at other factors in those areas. They found that in areas where highway deaths were highest, so were other accidental deaths, as well as various crimes and other violent actions like domestic abuse. There conclusion was that highway accidents correlate with a lack of respect for life. Interesting that they did not include the abortion rate in the study, but I would guess that it was also high.

I think that you are right, we will never eliminate violence totally from society, but I think that we can lower or raise it.


Mike L

6:57 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Interesting study. I wonder if they would also find other factors in those areas like poverty or overcrowding that might lead to violence.

11:44 AM  

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