Over at the National catholic Fishwrap, Jamie Manson has flung herself headlong into another error.
I won’t torment you with a fisking of the whole article. Suffice it to say that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is said to have defended, as Jamie puts it, a “pro-death penalty position” during a speech at Duquesne University’s Law School. What Scalia said was,
“If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign. … I could not be a part of a system that imposes it.”
There are many and good reasons to argue against capital punishment. Jamie found a bad one: defense of abortion.
Jamie tries to argue – obviously thinking that she is getting in a good dig at conservatives and Catholics – that if we are supposed to deny Communion to supporters of abortion then we have to deny Communion to supporters of capital punishment. Get it? Huh? Get it? Turn the sock inside out. Admitting supporters of capital punishment to Communion means that we have to admit supporters of abortion. She is, in effect, defending pro-abortion politicians.
Jamie and, therefore, Fishwrap paint Justice Scalia as – and I am not making this up – a “cafeteria Catholic”. Think about that for a moment. If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.
Keep in mind I am not herein so much defending Justice Scalia as I am showing how bad Manson’s argument is.
First, you cannot label Scalia’s position as “pro-death penalty” from that quote. Keep in mind that Supreme Court Justices make distinctions. Justice Scalia is surely not unaware of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. Surely, Justice Scalia knows that there is a general moral norm against capital punishment. But when we begin to make distinctions, we see that there are exceptions to this moral norm. Second, abortion and capital punishment are not equivalent. Again, the Church’s moral norm against capital punishment is not an exception-less norm.
Jamie could spend some useful hours with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Shall we have a look?
CCC 2267 was revised after the release of John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae 56.
2267 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.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.“
So, Holy Church takes a strong position against capital punishment. However, the Magisterium does NOT exclude the possibility of capital punishment. There is a general moral norm is against capital punishment, but the Church foresees contingencies which could permit it. The Church does not, indeed cannot, list what those exceptions could be. Under certain circumstances the Church does not describe, capital punishment is not immoral, as Scalia suggested.
Thus, the Church’s opposition to capital punishment is not as iron clad as its opposition to abortion, for the moral norm against capital punishment is not an exceptionless norm. Even Card. Bernardin, beloved of liberals, correctly affirmed that capital punishment was not as iron clad as abortion and euthanasia. He upheld the state’s right to impose it.
You have to work your imagination pretty hard to come up with, in the USA at least, an exception to the Catholic Church’s moral norm against capital punishment. Let’s give it a try.
Let’s imagine for a moment that someone commits 1st degree murder and is sentenced to life, not the death penalty. While in prison he kills another prisoner. He is determined not to be insane. His freedom of movement is restricted even more. Then he kills a guard. He goes into maximum security. He manages to kill another guard. Despite the many precautions taken, he is dangerous to anyone he is near. Can the state not execute him? Should the murderer be kept alive at state expense chained at six points points to a wall and fed through a straw in a Hannibal Lector style mask? This mind exercise is way out there, but the Church says that the exceptions to the moral norm “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
In any event, the Catholic Church foresees that there could be exceptions to the moral norm against capital punishment. Justice Scalia was right. The Church doesn’t forbid capital punishment. Jamie was wrong us use his words as a way to defend Catholics who promote immoral acts.
We must bring in also the important issue of scandal given by Catholics who openly deny and defy the Church’s teachings. For example, pro-abortion Catholic VP Biden and Rep. Pelosi – and many more – give public scandal to the point that they should not receive or be given Communion. The teaching about abortion is exceptionless. NY Gov. Cuomo is living in open concubinage and is therefore clearly acting against undeniable Catholic teaching. He should not receive or be given Communion. Justice Scalia correctly indicated that capital punishment is “not immoral”, provided, I – I – hasten to add, the right circumstances apply. We can argue, based on CCC 2267 and EV 56, that most instances of capital punishment are immoral, but at the end of the day the Church teaches that there are exceptions. To say that capital punishment is not immoral is, when we make necessary distinctions, not at the degree of scandal that would preclude reception of Communion.
On the other hand, active, open, public advocacy of other immoral acts, say for an example, homosexual acts or “lifestyle”, would be grounds for exclusion from Holy Communion.
Who, again, is the cafeteria Catholic?