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Bud Miller wrote:

Hi, guys —

This issue at Notre Dame has sparked a question I have had for a long time. I am not trying to be judgmental; I am just trying to understand.

The Roman Catholic position on abortion is very clear. They are against it. I am not clear what their position is on the issue of:

  • whether the government should be involved in that issue, or
  • whether it should be left up to the women involved.

The Roman Catholic Church is also very strongly against the death penalty.

I have two situations for you to ponder:

  1. The first situation: One is a member of Congress. He is a strong Catholic. Goes to Mass at least once a week. He comes from a strong Catholic family. He is against abortion, but believes the government should not be involved in those personal decisions.

    Regarding abortion, as far as he knows, no one in his family has ever had one. Not his mother, sisters, wife, mistress, or daughters. It has never been a personal issue in his life. Assuming birth begins at conception, he has never been involved in killing any fetus.

    Nevertheless, there is a strong uproar. One bishop says he should be denied Communion. The Congressman is picketed with signs showing dead fetuses and signs that say baby killer.

  2. The second situation: This guy is a governor of a state. He is also Catholic. Goes to Mass at least once a week. Comes from a strong Catholic family.

    As governor, he signs a document authorizing the killing of someone who has been convicted of a crime.

    The Catholic Church is against the death penalty. Yet there are no protests. Not even a word is spoken. Years later, DNA finds out the person, who was killed, was not guilty after all.

    Again not a word is said.

One guy says the government should not be involved, but has never killed anyone. The other signed a document putting an innocent man to death.

The end result: It's the pro-choice member of Congress that gets the wrath and the governor is praised for being for law and order.

  • Can someone explain that to me?


  { Can you explain this injustice done by Catholics on a death penalty versus abortion issue? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Bud —

Sure, we can explain it.

Direct abortion is intrinsically evil in Catholic theology. It can never, under any circumstances, be allowed. Capital punishment is not. It is justified under limited circumstances.

In the case of the Congressman, he is supporting the legislation that legalizes the knowing and intentional killing of an innocent human being.

In the case of the governor, he is supporting the intentional killing of a guilty human being. It is immaterial that some individuals are innocent; what matters is your intent.

It is OK to intend the killing of a presumed guilty party even if some innocents are accidentally killed, so long as there has been no negligence of justice (e.g., the governor is aware of gross flaws in the system that unjustly convict the innocent and can do something to stop them but willfully refuses to). Therefore, it's not enough to say:

"One innocent person got killed, therefore it is immoral to execute anyone."


"It is possible for an innocent person to die, therefore it is immoral to execute anyone."

A similar argument applies with a just war; it is permissible to carry out an operation which may kill civilians so long as the death of civilians is not the intent. (A similar principle allows an operation that would kill a fetus in utero if the intent was not to kill the fetus but to address a medical problem the woman has.)

The point is well made that some Catholic politicians prosecute the death penalty more enthusiastically than they ought to. They should be rebuked. Ideally both would be forbidden but when there is a hard choice between allowing the death penalty and allowing abortion, as there often is in American politics, it's more important to not allow abortion than to not allow the death penalty.


Mary Ann replied:

Bud —

Abortion and the death penalty are not in the same category.

Abortion is an absolute and intrinsic evil. It is always forbidden for an individual to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being. Scripture and tradition agree that the state has a right to exercise the death penalty.

Out of respect for human life, the Church teaches that the death penalty should be implemented only when there is no other way of protecting society. The Church's prudential judgment today is that the conditions that would allow for the death penalty are lacking in developed societies, because they can afford secure and humane ways of permanent incarceration. So, yes, the Church is against the death penalty, both because of modern conditions and because of a modern disrespect for life.

The Church does not teach, however, that the death penalty is intrinsically evil.

The situations you describe are unreal. Usually the opposite reactions take place from the ones you describe. However, the analysis is made very easy if you substitute another absolute intrinsic evil, racism, for abortion.

The congressman says that he would never engage in racism, but he doesn't think the government should stop it. He thinks that speakers advocating racism should be welcome at Catholic colleges, and he personally and financially supports many racists with whom he agrees on other issues.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Bud —

Thanks for the question.

I want to echo Mary Ann's sediments when she said:
The situations you describe are unreal.

The congressman in situation 1, cannot exist.

  • Why?

If he is a strong Catholic from a strong Catholic family, he will not only go to Mass but go to Confession on a regular basis (at least monthly). A practicing Catholic's words will always strive to be translated into action, and because this congressman has swore to protect and defend all Americans, he will act to protect the child in the mother's womb. That baby has a right to make choices too Bud!

To say only the mother has rights, is to make the mother a type of slave owner, who can kill her slave in her womb, as she wishes. A strong Catholic would never allow that to happen. A good example of a strong Catholic is Congressman Christopher Smith from New Jersey.

The governor in Situation 2, who is aware of that there are affordable, secure and humane ways to permanently incarcerate criminals, yet would allow for the death penalty, would not be classified as a good Catholic as well.

In addition to what Eric and Mary Ann have said, I answered this posting a while back.

Hope it helps,


Bud replied:


It is OK to kill someone as long as you think the person was guilty. I will have to remember that and it is OK to kill innocent people in times of war.

I guess that would explain why it was OK for the US to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, children, and babies in Japan during WWII.

Sounds like you are saying, killing innocent babies in war time is OK.

You explained your position. I don't interpret the teachings of Jesus the same way you do, but you gave me your explanation.

For that I give thanks.


Eric replied:

You said:

It is OK to kill someone as long as you think the person was guilty.

Sure. The Old Testament, for one, justifies the killing of the guilty, both by war and by law, so it is OK in certain circumstances to kill the guilty. Let's use an example.

Suppose it's nighttime and you hear a noise. Someone is breaking into your home. You find a combative person who attacks you. You kill them by some means, whether a gun or whatever.

  • Are you justified in doing so?

Now suppose the man mistakenly thought he was entering his own home, and mistakenly thought you were the intruder.

  • Were you now wrong for what you did?

Catholic moral theology would say no, because you acted in good faith. You did not intend to kill the innocent, and killed justifiably in self-defense.

You said:
I will have to remember that and it is OK to kill innocent people in times of war.

I didn't say that. I said it not wrong to execute military operations that have some risk of killing civilians unintentionally, so long as the intent is not to kill civilians. Surely you admit this is different from saying, It is OK to kill innocent people in times of war?

You said:
I guess that would explain why it was OK for the US to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, children, and babies in Japan during WWII.

This is a different situation. Dropping an atomic bomb obviously intends to kill civilians. Therefore it is not morally acceptable.

You said:
Sounds like you are saying, killing innocent babies in war time is OK.

Not if done deliberately and intentionally.


Mary Ann replied:

Actually, it is never morally permissible for an individual to intend the death of anyone.

It is morally permissible for the state, or an agent of the state, however, under certain restrictive circumstances.

However, in an act of self-defense, it is permissible to use force, even lethal force (if it is necessary, and only if it is necessary) for the purpose of protecting one's own life. It is morally obligatory to use it to defend the life of another, and St. Thomas holds that one has an obligation to defend one's own life also. The intention is not to kill, but to defend life. The use of force to repel an invader or attacker is meant to repel and deter. One is not willing destruction of that person's life.

Mary Ann

Bud replied:

Hi guys,

I have heard that Catholics have a different Bible than other Christians. To me, the teachings of Jesus is very clear in His opposition to the death penalty.

Maybe the Catholic Bible isn't so clear but thanks for providing me with your point of view.


Mike replied:

Hi Bud,

These are some good postings on the Bible issue you brought up and why there are differences among Bibles.

Hope this helps,


Bud replied:

Mike —

I don't know of any place in the Bible that says birth begins at conception. and

  • Why is it that as a fetus, we are innocent children, but as soon as the baby is born, that child becomes a sinner?


Mike replied:

Hi Bud,

Your thinking is based on a false assumption:

That unless it is written down literally in the Bible you don't have to believe it.

This is not true. The Bible refers to an Oral Tradition that the early Christians and even Jews believed in.

Here are some references:

The Holy Bible alone or the Holy Bible plus Oral Tradition?
Matthew 23:1-3
Chair of Moses; observe whatever they tell you.
(Moses’ chair was a prefigurement of the chair of St. Peter.)
Mark 13:31
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words won't.
Mark 16:15
Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Luke 10:16
"Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me."
John 21:25
Not everything Jesus said was recorded in Scripture.
Acts 20:35
Sayings of Jesus were not recorded in the Gospels.
Romans 10:17
Faith comes from what is heard.
1 Corinthians 11:2
Commends them for following Apostolic tradition.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached.
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Hold fast to traditions, whether they are oral or by letter.
2 Timothy 1:13
Follow my sound words; guard the truth.
2 Timothy 2:2
What you heard entrust to faithful men who will also teach other faithful men . . .
[from generation to generation to today.]
1 Peter 1:25
God's eternal word equals the word preached to you.
2 Peter 1:20
No prophecy is a matter of private interpretation.
2 Peter 3:15-16
Paul's letters can be difficult to grasp and interpret.
St. Athanasius (360 A.D.)
Let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian. (Four Letters to Serapion of Thmius 1, 28)
Origen (230 A.D.)
"The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession, from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as truth which is in no way in variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition." (Fundamental Doctrines 1, preface, 2.)

Interested in what other Christians in the Early Church thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on these two topics: The Church as the Expounder of the Scriptures and On Sacred or Apostolic Tradition.

You said:

  • Why is it that as a fetus, we are innocent children, but as soon as the baby is born, that child becomes a sinner?

I think we need to clarify things.

First, no baby them self can sin. Boys reach the age of reason at age 7 according to the Church and medical science. At that point, they have the ability to sin.  Nevertheless, whether inside or outside the mother's womb, the new born baby still has original sin until [he/she] is baptized.

In order to be saved whether inside or outside the mother's womb, the baby needs to be baptized by water. The Catechism states that for those babies that died without baptism, we leave to the mercy of God.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," (Mark 10:14; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4.) allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Hope this helps,


Mary Ann replied:

Bud, your meaning is unclear.

The Church does not teach that fetuses or children are sinners. All children are innocent, but all children exist, from the first moment of their existence, in a state of estrangement from God which is a result of original sin, the sin of Adam and Eve.

The sin is not a personal sin, not a crime, for anyone except Adam and Eve. It is a situation, a state, a damaged condition whereby our nature is not at peace in itself and is disordered in its relationship to God and others. It makes us prone to sin. This proneness to sin is what people are referring to when Scripture states all are sinners. (Romans 3:23) We are all weak and need salvation, even the innocent.

I hope this answers your question,

Mary Ann

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