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
The Roman Catholic Church is also very strongly against
the death penalty.
I have two situations for you to ponder:
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
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? }
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.
Abortion and the death penalty are not in the same
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.
does not teach, however, that the death penalty is
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
You said: Wow!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
These are some good postings on the Bible issue you
brought up and why there are differences among Bibles.
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?
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,
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.