Stephanie Neiman

Wednesday, April 30, AD 2014

Stephanie Neiman

The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thou shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

Catechism of the Council of Trent

 

 

Stephanie Neiman was murdered just shy of 15 years ago.  She had just graduated from high school.  She was an only child, beloved of her parents.  By all accounts she was hard working and fearless.  She was a Vacation Bible School volunteer so I assume she was religious.  This is how she died:

 

 

Stephanie Neiman was proud of her shiny new Chevy truck with the Tasmanian Devil sticker on it and a matching “Tazz” license plate.

Her parents had taught the teenager to stand up for “what was her right and for what she believed in.”

Neiman was dropping off a friend at a Perry residence on June 3, 1999, the same evening Clayton Lockett and two accomplices decided to pull a home invasion robbery there. Neiman fought Lockett when he tried to take the keys to her truck.

The men beat her and used duct tape to bind her hands and cover her mouth. Even after being kidnapped and driven to a dusty country road, Neiman didn’t back down when Lockett asked if she planned to contact police.

The men had also beaten and kidnapped Neiman’s friend along with Bobby Bornt, who lived in the residence, and Bornt’s 9-month-old baby.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong. Maybe that’s what Clayton was so scared of, because Stephanie did stand up for her rights,” her parents later wrote to jurors in an impact statement. “She did not blink an eye at him. We raised her to work hard for what she got.”

Steve and Susie Neiman asked jurors to give Lockett the death penalty for taking the life of their only child, who had graduated from Perry High School two weeks before her death.

Lockett later told police “he decided to kill Stephanie because she would not agree to keep quiet,” court records state.

Neiman was forced to watch as Lockett’s accomplice, Shawn Mathis, spent 20 minutes digging a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road. Her friends saw Neiman standing in the ditch and heard a single shot.

Lockett returned to the truck because the gun had jammed. He later said he could hear Neiman pleading, “Oh God, please, please” as he fixed the shotgun.

The men could be heard “laughing about how tough Stephanie was” before Lockett shot Neiman a second time.

“He ordered Mathis to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive.”

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49 Responses to Stephanie Neiman

  • Thank you for putting l’outrage du jour in context Donald.

  • God can forgive them, if He so chooses.

    We must put these murderers to death. And much quicker than we do now.

  • I have come to oppose the death penalty, but my opposition is for one reason, and one reason only: I believe that we should oppose the death penalty as part of an overall culture of life – to create a culture where NO life is unworthy of living and worth taking, even the life of the most hardened criminal.

    (Actually, I would add a second reason: the real possibility of executing an innocent person, alone, is reason enough to abolish the death penalty.)

    HOWEVER,

    I do NOT believe that the death penalty is cruel and unusual.

    I do NOT believe that the death penalty is immoral.

    I do NOT believe that one MUST oppose the death penalty to be a good Catholic, and I utterly reject the spewings of certain neo-ultramontanist arbiters of all things “Catholic” (ahem, Mark Shea) who insist otherwise.

    And, finally, whenever these discussions come up, I like to remind folks to be mindful of and merciful toward the sufferings of the murderer’s victims and their families, and to temper their outrage over the death penalty accordingly. Somewhere, someone is still grieving over the loss of a loved one or loved ones, and is wondering why people seem more outraged over the death of their loved one’s murderer than they are over the suffering inflicted by that murderer.

  • As a culture of life, we must execute those who take life.

  • I’m appalled that some people are more concerned about Lockett’s execution and it’s botching than they are about the brutal murder of this young girl. To me, people like Mark Shea are totally heartless toward the victims and their loved ones. A commentator over at Shea’s site called him out on it, and what was his reply? “I have a cousin who came within seconds of being murdered by Ted Bundy. Take your mind reading elsewhere.”

  • “I have a cousin who came within seconds of being murdered by Ted Bundy.”

    Sufficient murder victim empathy. Check.

    I suppose? What does his comment even mean? Is that anything like Beaver punching Larry Mondello in the stomach “right where [he] almost had [his] operation”?

  • My only regret is that Mr. Lockett had only one life to take for his crimes.

    Hmmm… now there’s a story idea. One where a society has a killer executed for each person they’ve killed by resuscitation after the execution. So if you’ve killed 3 people, they’ll execute you once by some method, then revive you to do it again, then once more. Wonder what I could do with that…

    “I have a cousin who came within seconds of being murdered by Ted Bundy. Take your mind reading elsewhere.”

    If I was a far less charitable man, I’d ask Shea how he’d feel if the adorable Lucy had been Lockett’s victim.

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  • St. Pope John Paul II calling the death penalty “cruel” in 1999 in St. Louis was the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics calling something cruel which Cardinal Dulles noted God mandated over 34 times in the Bible. It’s the drift away from scripture in this case by Popes. It was first done also on wifely obedience which is absent in Vatican II and in the catechism though 6 times referenced in the NT. Next was the death penalty. Subconsciously Rome needed two bones to throw to non religious elites in Europe and Manhattan in order for them to listen to us on abortion. They took the bones and gave nothing in return.
    Romans 13:4 is never mentioned in Evangelium Vitae…at all…and it was pivotal for Aquinas and requires that states be ministers to God’s wrath not ours with the sword, the machaira, which same machaira is used in Acts 12:2 when Herod executes James by it. Romans 13:4 was written in the context of the Roman empire which had inescapable life sentences ad metalla…in the mines…so the current claim that inescapable life sentences are spanking new and change things are ludicrous apologetics at work. Between 1796 and 1865, six Popes executed 516 criminals in the then large papal states via this papal executioner:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Battista_Bugatti

    What? They couldn’t find locked rooms for life for them for life. St. Pope John Paul II used in Evangelium Vitae the case of Cain being protected by God from revenge by others as iconic for us. But that same God mandates a bit later ( unmentioned in Evangelium Vitae) the death penalty for murder in Gen.9:6 when that same God is about to bring about the first government by Nimrod in Gen.10:8. Sorry folks. Our Popes don’t memorize scripture like Aquinas did. God then protected Cain from vigilantes in the abscence of government but then that same God instituted executions once He brought about government. Gen.9:6 is addressed to Jews and Gentiles and then is reechoed in Romans 13:4 at the end of the Bible.
    Christ referred to Gen.9:6’s death penalty when Pilate said he had power of life and death over Christ….to which Christ replied, ” You would have no power over me at all had it not been given you from above.”
    Drugs work against deterrence. Execution should be painful like a firing squad. For great deterrence studies, see link below….our new policy will get human victims killed every year if this lady at the Michigan Law Review is correct:

    http://www.michiganlawreview.org/assets/pdfs/104/2/Shepherd.pdf

  • Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the Lord GOD? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?”

  • Mark Harden,
    Ezekiel 20:38
    “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me”. God had the earth swallow Dathan and Abiram, God killed Uzzah for touching the ark, God killed the sons of Heli for misusing the priesthood, God killed 72 descendants of Jeconiah for not greeting the ark….the list is long and extends into God killing Herod in Acts 12 and Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
    Aquinas called such passages as Ezekiel 18:23 the antecedent willing of God as opposed to his consequent willing. You can see His consequent willing when He kills through the Romans kills 1.1 million people ( Josephus) in Jerusalem in 70 AD….after Christ noted that it would happen because Jerusalem had not known the hour of its visitation. Christ gave instructions how to escape that herem and He gave those instructions 37 years to circulate in Jerusalem.

  • Proverbs 11:21: “Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free.”

  • It is entirely possible you have never heard of (Stephanie) Neiman, but you have probably heard of the botched execution of her murderer Clayton Lockett…
    –Donald R. McClarey

    I haven’t heard of Miss Neiman in any of the soundbites from bishops who threw a pity-party for her murderer. And in this case I am willing to believe the omission is not due to the media massaging, snipping, and twisting what our bishops said.

  • No devout Catholic can endorse the death penalty.

  • “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost oned until he finds it?
    And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
    and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
    I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

    When we execute one of those lost sheep, do you think Jesus is pleased to find him…dead?

  • Mark Harden,
    You’re using one part of scripture against another part of scripture and that itself is a sin since Dei Verbum in Vatican II noted that ” both testaments with all their parts have God as their Author”. So for you to use a parable about sinners (NOT CRIMINALS) against Romans 13:4 ( about criminals) is non rational and Benedict at Regensburg said faith and rationality travel together.

  • LWC: Wrong. And I say that as as someone who does not support the death penalty. It is simple ignorance to imply being Catholic necessitates opposition to the death penalty.

  • And Paul, you are correct. The Catechism of the Catholic Church indeed ‘acknowledges’ the legitimate right and duty of public authority to impose the death penalty in cases of extreme gravity. However, If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. (2266)

    If such person is incarcerated they have addressed and neutralized the danger, thus negating the need for execution.

    As an aside, do you therefore consider Christ to have been executed or murdered?

  • And Paul, one more thing. Christ himself was quoted as saying in John 8:7, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” How much further clarification do you need?

  • LWC: is that why Christ permitted the two thieves to get down off their crosses and serve lifetime sentences? Oh wait…

  • Nate, no more than he pulled himself off the cross.

  • Because He was there as a sacrifice, the other two could have been spared. You asked “what more clarification” Paul needed – well how about a legion or two of angels stopping a just execution?

  • LWC,
    The catechism writer never thought of deterrence …lol. The catechism article only concerns protection from a murderer you have caught. It never even adverts to deterring other murderers. God gave over 34 death penalties partly to deter people from doing the act He was proscribing. Article 2267 drops all interest in God’s wrath of Rom.13:4 and switches to protecting us but ONLY from caught murderers which vary wildly within countries; and in the US is about 2/3 of murderers but in Guatemala is 1/20th of murderers who have killed.
    The catechism via life sentences has the country protecting you from caught murderers only. In Catholic Guatemala, the arrest rate for murder is c.5%. That means the catechism application in Catholic Guatemala is protecting you from 5% of murderers. 95% of murderers there feel that odds are they can kill you and not get caught. Their murder rate is 38 per 100,000 which puts them in the top 25 worst countries where six other Catholic countries are. We are almost a third of the worst countries on earth and only one of those has an death penalty (that is not used). The others are prison only and your family is multiples safer in Shinto Japan.
    …multiples.
    The two largest Catholic populations are non death penalty Mexico and Brazil and the Mexican prisons are 60% controlled by the cartels according to one of their Justice officials…cartels who in one case left the prison…did a murder and returned to the prison. Go to youtube and enter Mexican prison murder and you’ll see cartel people in another case, enter a prison, murder inmates and leave. Both countries have murder rates 50 times higher than death penalty China which also has many poor people. The catechism article is describing Euro safe country prisons with very middleclass dominant populations….irrelevant to the two largest Catholic populations on earth which are crime basket cases. Two Decembers ago, 1200 Brazilian prisoners left prison on Christmas leave and never returned. Brazil had a man rape a woman on a bus as he pointed a pistol at other passengers. Whoever wrote the catechism article was trying to please St. Pope John Paul II who was not great at protecting anyone from criminals….even after he was informed about them. He just wasn’t.

  • Having made such compelling arguments in favor of the State’s right to execute, could any of you bring yourself to participate in an execution?

  • And likewise what compounded this execution (beyond the horrendous competence of the phlebotomist) is that an actual physician is described as having participated–in direct contravention of his oath as physician (let alone if he was Catholic).

  • If such person is incarcerated they have addressed and neutralized the danger, thus negating the need for execution.

    .
    I suggest you Google/Bing “Ron Johnson and Eric Robert” and then Google/Bing “Lynette Johsnon.”

  • “Having made such compelling arguments in favor of the State’s right to execute, could any of you bring yourself to participate in an execution?”

    In this case most certainly. I would also have had no trouble at all prosecuting him and seeking the death penalty.

  • “No devout Catholic can endorse the death penalty.”

    Catholic opponents of the death penalty often display an astonishing ignorance of the fact that their position is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Church until the day before yesterday in terms of the history of the Church. For example, here is Pius XII on the death penalty on September 14, 1952:

    “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.”

    The Vatican had the death penalty until 1969. The official papal executioner under Pius IX had 562 executions to his credit. The idea that devout Catholics cannot be in favor of the death penalty is absurd on its face from the history of the Church.

  • LWC,
    Participate in an execution? I sleep next to a tactical shotgun because a thug from the ghetto area broke in two years ago in a mixed income town on the NY harbor and I beat him in a fight to within an inch of his life but he promised to return with a pistol for me. The house is now wired for soun by me. A security company rang my bell shortly after and tried to sell me their monthly plan. I responded, “If he returns, he’s dead.”. They both smiled and continued their sales talk….”you could get arrested if you kill him”. I responded, ” I know N.J.’s legal protocol on killing him after one verbal warning….he’s dead.” “But with our plan…” “He’s dead”, I interjected. They both left laughing.
    I pray for the man monthly as to God predestinating him and saving him from darkness as God did me long ago when I was dangerous myself…but I will kill him if he ignores one verbal warning or if he already is moving a pistol up horizontal. Survival from his pistol shots is around 80%…survival from a 3″ shotgun shell at close range is much lower. He may not return even after prison because he knows I’m at home in fighting and very quick on tactical decisions.

  • “Do unto others as you would be done unto.” Lockett ought to have been raped, shot twice and buried alive. It is an education into what his actions have done to an innocent person. Sheep are innocent, murderers, even when incarcerated for life are a constant threat to the warden, guards, doctors and other inmates in the prison. (rogue animals are put to death) It is double jeopardy of life inflicted by the state when the murderer is allowed to live. The first jeopardy occurred when the murderer committed his first homicide, the second jeopardy occurs when the murderer is not put to death. From The Preamble, the purpose of the state and our written Constitution, the state is constituted to “secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our (constitutional) posterity” (all future generations) who will not be brought into our world if their ancestors are victims of homicide.
    .
    Every condemned murderer ought to have done unto him/her as they have done to their innocent victim. Six feet under with rigor mortis is not better than life in prison. The murderer has deprived his victim of his civil rights to relate to God in thought, word and deed, freedom to peaceably assemble. Why ought a condemned murderer be allowed to live, when the death penalty might be the only venue he has for conversion? A condemned murderer expires with grief over his crime. A living murderer, retaining his life, is proof of his impenitence.
    .
    Yes, Jesus Christ suffered capital one punishment for blasphemy as Israel is a theocracy. “Let the innocent man cast the first stone.” God is the final judge of blasphemy. Every man who has hated his neighbor dies when a capital one murderer is put to death. Only cowards and liars refuse their just punishments. All mankind deserves to die as Jesus died…if we are lucky.
    .
    “My kingdom is not of this world.” Priests promise to pray constantly and minister to the Word of God. Priests’ lives belong to God in a consecrated way and priests must busy themselves praying for the souls of both victims and perpetrators. Priests can ask for leniency for condemned murderers. The state does not have to respond in an affirmative way. Obviously, the priests failed to save the victim’s life. Therefore, the state must do its duty to deliver Justice, bringing the murderer to Justice. If the murderer does not get his just deserts here on earth, he will in eternity. Here, there is still time for repentance before capital punishment. The murderer does not get to call the shots to the state. The state calls the shots to the murderer. “…and may almighty God have mercy on your immortal soul.”
    Atheists need not apply.

  • And Paul, one more thing. Christ himself was quoted as saying in John 8:7, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” How much further clarification do you need?

    Others have already adequately explained why your catechical understanding is defective, but I had to chuckle at this comment. Based on your “logic” not only is the death penalty wrong, but basically so is all imprisonment.

  • Well Paul, please enlighten me with your superior intellect and clarify my flawed logic as to how imprisonment exceeds the confines of 2266. And though my playground is generally in the realm of cardiac physiology and yours theology, please charitably attend to an obviously poorly catechized Catholic.

  • LWC,
    The original death penalty for adultery was mandated to the Jews by the three Persons of the Trinity…including the Son.
    Leviticus 20:1 ” The Lord spoke to Moses saying….verse 10….If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

    Christ’s ” let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” was not a comment on the law which Christ mandated as Son. It was a comment on how these particular men were oblivious to their own sinfulness and thus were seeing the woman as wholly other than themselves. It is very possible that Christ who was writing in the dirt in the incident was writing their own sins in the dirt with their names in a coded private manner because they leave one by one in perfect order of descending age….” they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones”.
    Jeremiah may have partly predicted this moment in Jer.17:13….” they that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth.”
    Christ brought those private sin death penalties to an end by bringing grace and by reducing the power of satan for all men. But prior to Christ men needed great physical threats from God just to avoid adultery.

  • [br] I see LWC’s “Proclamation of Righteousness Tour” has reached it’s next stop. [br]

    It would be nice, LWC, if for once you *didn’t* open with your usual posture of belligerent denunciation of arguments you don’t like. Just a thought.

  • Dale, I’ll give it consideration. Thank you.

  • And beyond finding whatever rationale allows you to sleep a night, I’d consider a reasonable test would be if you could, yourself, participate in an execution.

  • Because your prevailing logic would suggest participation in an execution would be no different than jury duty or serving in public office.

  • I would sleep perhaps uneasily. But so I would if I shot someone in self-defence or in a just war. And the next morning I would go to Communion because I would not have committed a sin. This, because the Church has always taught that self-defense is licit. It continues to do so in the Catechism in regards to the death penalty – the Church teaches it is licit for defense.

    That is, in the second edition of the Catechism. In the first edition there was the traditional teaching that others refer to. Has the Church declared definitively that the older arguments are invalid (a development of doctrine.) Of this I am not sure. But what I am sure of is that, at least in regards to the matter of the defence of the community, the death penalty is licit under proper circumstances. So I could participate in it.

    This relates immediately to the principle of double effect. I won’t go through it now but you can find good summaries of it on any internet search.

  • Execution should be safeswift, legal and rare.

    As to participation, I could bust out my St. Augustine, but why bother?

  • Wherein a James Woods “tweet” remembers the murder victim amid faux furor over a botched execution in OK.

    “Beaten with a shotgun, shot twice, then buried alive. Her name was Stephanie Neiman. Remember HER.”

    Not the two-legged rat (filthy animal) that vilely killed her 15 years ago.

    Genesis, “Who spills amn’s blood by man shal his blood be spilt. For man is made in God’s image.

    All you saintly people looking down your sanctimonious noses on me can . . .

    LWC: I’d particpate in the rat’s extermination. Only condition: let me use my K-Bar knife.

  • Thank you to whomever cleaned up by sloppy HTML tags.

  • Provided I can maintain plausible deniability, I’m cool with it.

  • To be more polite:

    T. Shaw, Provided I can maintain plausible deniability, I’m cool with it.

  • It wasn’t a botched execution if the guy died in the process. He may not have gone off into that good night according to plan, but the execution was successful.

    Jay, I am glad to hear that you do not ascribe lack of orthodoxy to those of us who support the death penalty, ala Mark Shea et al. I also understand your reason for opposing it, (i.e.the building of a culture of life). While that is a laudable sentiment, it does not square with the facts on the ground when you consider that the overwhelming majority of the anti-death penalty movement is rabidly pro-abortion and the striking correlation between the embrace of the Culture of Death vz abortion and euthanasia and the reluctance to administer capital punishment on the part of civil authorities western countries.

    Donald, if you are saying or implying that opposition to the death penalty stands contrary to the teaching of the pre VCII Church, that is not true. Church teaching has always allowed for opposition to the death penalty as much as it allowed support for it. The quote you cite from Pius XII is from a medical allocution he gave regarding research on issues dealing with the nervous system. http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/P12PSYCH.HTM

    If you read it in its entirety, it is clear that he is not attempting any magisterial pronouncement on the issue of capital punishment, but mentions it in passing as means to distinguish between unjust killing even for scientific purposes and the death penalty. I think those on our side of the death penalty issue make a mistake in citing that quote in that they make too much of it. After Pius XII himself unsuccessfully pleaded for clemency on behalf of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

    Although I support the death penalty, I do not think we should relish the idea of it. I support it because I think it is needed to protect the common good. I have the same sentiments regarding the waging of war.

    Seeing as how complaining about Pope Francis is the rage du jour here at TAC ever since he gave that first interview to Civileta Cattolica, I think it would be apropo to point out the thing I found most problematic (the only thing I really found problematic in that interview) . And has direct bearing on the subject at hand:

    “The pope comments: “St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. ”

    Thing is, out of all the bitching and moaning about this interview and Pope Francis in general, I can’t find anyone who has said anything about this line, which is by far the most problematic thing he said that we know of. It leads me to believe that those who complain about Pope Francis are no more concerned about the truth than those who mindlessly shill for him are. But they are more about stirring the pot for its own sake than anything else.

  • “Church teaching has always allowed for opposition to the death penalty as much as it allowed support for it.”

    If you mean that Catholics could call for mercy for the condemned that is correct, as Catholics have been free to call for mercy in regard to lesser sentences. If you mean that Catholics could teach that the Church forbid the use of the death penalty that is incorrect, since the Church did not. Now the Church, with a wink and a nod so that the prior history of the teaching of the Church in this area is not quite directly contradicted, does call for the de facto abolition of the death penalty.

    The late Cardinal Dulles wrote an excellent review of Church teaching on the death penalty.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment

  • “But they are more about stirring the pot for its own sake than anything else.”

    Incorrect. Pope Francis is coming under criticism because he has a habit of making loose statements that seem to be unorthodox. That of course is why he is also getting rave reviews from much of the secular media. We will see if the fears of orthodox Catholics are without foundation and if the hopes of the secular media are unfounded.

  • LWC: “And beyond finding whatever rationale allows you to sleep a night, I’d consider a reasonable test would be if you could, yourself, participate in an execution.”
    .
    The executioner in any capital punishment execution operates “in power of attorney of the condemned criminal” who is to be executed by the Justice the criminal rejected.
    .
    Some have ten executioners and no one really knows who shoots the criminal to death.
    .
    The innocent children, raped, strangled and buried alive cry out to God for vengeance. Polly Klass, Megan Kanka, Divina Genao, Amanda Wengert, 19 of John Wayne Gacy’s victims…
    .
    How do you sleep at night?

  • “The Catholic magisterium in recent years has become increasingly vocal in opposing the practice of capital punishment. Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae declared that “as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system,” cases in which the execution of the offender would be absolutely necessary “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Again at St. Louis in January 1999 the Pope appealed for a consensus to end the death penalty on the ground that it was “both cruel and unnecessary.” The bishops of many countries have spoken to the same effect.”
    .
    from First Things and Avery Cardinal Dulles. “both cruel and unnecessary” emasculates capital punishment. The victim is dead.
    .
    Both St. John Paul II and Cardinal Dulles cannot live another person’s life for them, nor can they run surety for a capital one murderer and guarantee safety for society. Therefore, both St. John Paul II and Cardinal Dulles cannot remove the protection guaranteed by capital punishment. The duplicity in their argument is not from God.

  • UPDATED to correct typo in first line
    This article leaves out many of the details.
    After the trial was completed in August 2000, the Associated Press reported that “Lockett was found guilty of conspiracy, first-degree burglary, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, three counts of forcible oral sodomy, four counts of first-degree rape, four counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery by force and fear. The charges were after former convictions of two or more felonies, according to the court clerk’s office.”
    For those of you wimps who still feel sorry for this vermin, if you run into someone silar, do not look for me to help you.
    Help yourself. – See more at: http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/04/30/stephanie-neiman/#sthash.5dJDeIMl.dpuf

A Few Topical Thoughts on Capital Punishment

Thursday, September 22, AD 2011

Sometimes I get the feeling I haven’t caused enough controversy lately, so here it goes…

1) It strikes me that in many ways the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia underscores a lot of the points that opponents of capital punishment which make cause even supporters to feel a bit uncomfortable: The execution occurred 20 years after the trail, and only after numerous appeals that cost the state more than life in prison would have. Several witnesses recanted their testimony after the fact and alleged police coercion (though other witnesses continued to maintain they had seen him commit the crime). Claims were made about poor defense representation. Claims were made about the race composition of the jury being an issue (though I’m unclear how this works, and Davis is black and the majority of the jury was as well.) Etc. All of this does not necessarily serve to clear Davis, but it is the sort of thing that could make many people wonder if it would be easier all around to simply lock such cases up and not deal with trying to use the death penalty.

2) On the other hand, the execution on the same day of Lawrence Brewer in Texas underscores why most Americans support capital punishment in at least some situations. There was absolutely no question as to Brewer’s guilt in the sadistic and racist murder of James Byrd, Jr., and the day before Brewer’s execution he told a reporter, “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” For all the claims that society can be kept safe from such people without the use of capital punishment, most people, I think, naturally feel both that someone like Brewer (who had been in prison and released twice before he participated in Byrd’s murder) needs to be executed for the safety of society and also that there is a two mile stretch of bloody highway which “cries out to heaven” for justice.

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44 Responses to A Few Topical Thoughts on Capital Punishment

  • I don’t buy the deterrence argument. Is life in prison not enough of a deterrent? I don’t buy the safety argument. Life without parole keeps society plenty safe. But I do buy the retributive justice argument. Justice for the murder of James Byrd can be satisfied by nothing short of the life of Lawrence Brewer.

    I think the most compelling case against capital punishment is that it isn’t foolproof. On rare occasion, innocent people will die no matter how careful you are. That’s a very powerful argument.

  • “Life without parole keeps society plenty safe.”

    Except for guards, fellow prisoners, lifers who order hits on those outside from prison, hostage situations, etc. True life without parole in a supermax facility is the most likely combination to keep murderers from murdering again. Ironically both of these have come under attack as “human rights abuses” by many of the same people who oppose the death penalty.

    The death penalty has never been a hot button issue for me, unlike abortion. Ban it, have it, use it, don’t use it, it matters little to me as a matter of public policy. I find the arguments of most death penalty opponents fairly weak, except the argument of an innocent dying under the death penalty. Of course the same could be said about an innocent being sentenced to prison. Death penalty cases at least receive high scrutiny, while appeals of sentences involving lengthy prison sentences receive much less.

    However, on a pure emotional level, I can understand why people support the death penalty. I have known two murder victims in my life: a three year old boy and a five year old girl. They were shot to death by their father. He dumped their bodies in a river and would not reveal their location or whether they were alive or dead after he was captured following a nationwide manhunt. Their mother, my client, lived an unbelievable agony for a week until a fisherman found the little boy’s body. After the river was searched, the little girl’s body was found the next day. I always regret that he committed that atrocity in a state which did not have the death penalty, and is still alive while his children have been in the grave now for almost 9 years. Yes, I can understand why for some crimes nothing but the death penalty will do.

  • I have always thought that deterrance (and rehabilitation, for that matter) is a somewhat dangerous idea to use around any punishment, not solely death penalty arguments. I am influenced by C.S. Lewis, among others, on the idea that the type and extent of punishment should be determined solely by one one has done, rather than whether the punishment one receives serves to deter other’s from engaging in similar crime.

    Lewis noted in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, that:

    “It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal. When this theory is combined, as frequently happens, with the belief that all crime is more or less pathological, the idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing and punishment becomes therapeutic.”

    And added:

    “…[T]the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice. There is no sense in talking about a ‘just deterrent’ or a ‘just cure’. We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter. We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds. Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’.”

  • I also remain somewhat on the fence on this issue, and, like Don, it’s not one where I care very passionately about either way. More often than not I find myself agreeing with supporters, particularly when it comes to its constitutionality.

    Your first point is one of the more compelling reasons against, though I have a slightly different take. The death penalty would be more just if applied even more frequently. There are some 50 executions per year in the US, a paltry sum when one considers the number of murders. The number of executions that have been carried out since it was re-instituted in the early 80s is barely more than the number of murders in some major cities per year. The haphazard way in which it is applied makes it an arbitrary punishment meted out on the people who weren’t able to string out the system.

  • One thing C. S. Lewis said of Captial Punishment: nothing better focuses the person onto death so that they can prepare for it if they wish.

  • Jonathan,

    I don’t think it would make any sense to support a punishment for its deterrent value if it weren’t already proportional. However, given proportion it seems to me that the deterrence factor would be one of the ways a society protects the common good through dispensing just punishments for crimes.

    RR, I would tend to think capital punishment has a more visceral deterrent effect than life without parole.

    Don, Agreed.

    Paul, Very much agreed.

  • A more traditional take on capital punishment. Not that it hasn’t been reformed by the Catechism. But it does provide a deep insight to the pre-Catechism view. And by someone that holds that all lying is sinful. 😉

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/catholicism-conservatism-and-capital.html

  • I think we could live just fine without the death penalty, but IF it’s going to be used, it should be reserved ONLY for cases in which there is absolutely no doubt that a murder took place and there is no doubt that the defendant did it — the only question is what was the accused’s mental state at the time.

    There seem to be plenty of cases in which no one, not even the defense attorney or the defendant himself, tries to argue that he didn’t do it, or that it was an accident. The only argument they offer is that he was temporarily insane or whatever. In those cases, the death penalty could justly be on the table IMO. But if there is ANY chance at all that someone else did it or that the death was not really a homicide, the death penalty should be off the table. Period.

  • The banned Catholic Anarchist made a futile attempt to leave acidic comments on this thread, the latest in a long line of such attempts to get around his banning. Sheesh, Iafrate, get a life! Do we have to take out an anti-stalking order against you?

  • Well, DC, as you might have suspected from my liberal politics, I found the killing of Troy Davis repugnant.

    A few things. First, I oppose capital punishment, so I oppose execution by the state either way, but the case was muddled with doubts — there was no forensic evidence and the whole case against him was eye-witness testimony based, with seven out of nine swearing they did not tell the truth during the trial, or are giving conflicting statements now, and so on and so forth. We don’t need to re-open that whole argument.

    I try dearly to steer clear of claims of racism. I generally find them highly unproductive. I am not even sure if this is a case of racism, but in 2008, the Georgia Parole Board of Pardons commuted the sentence of Samuel David Crowe to life in prison without parole, less than three hours before he was to be executed.

    This is wonderful, because I abhor unnecessary violence. On another level, it is most interesting. Crowe was convicted for armed robbery and murder, having shot someone three times with a pistol, and beat that person with a crowbar and a pot of paint. He plead guilty. This was a case where there was no doubt.

    The Parole Board gave no reason for granting clemency, though media reports state that Crowe’s lawyer argued that he had profound remorse, a record of good behavior in jail, and was “suffering from withdrawal symptoms from a cocaine addiction at the time of the crime.”

    Why clemency in one case, and not the other? It seems a mystery to me because I’d like to not simply assume the worse.

    Second, I opposed the killing of Brewer, and was given hope by Byrd’s son publicly opposing his execution.

    Third, this is true and there too are those who oppose both, at least consistently.

  • One thing I would note is that Texas did not have life without parole as a sentencing option until 2005, so if a jury wanted to ensure there was no chance a guy got out of jail and committed more crimes, the only way to do this was via a death sentence. Since 2005 the number of death sentences handed down in Texas has dropped 40% (though this isn’t apparent in the number of executions yet because of the lag time between when a person is sentenced to death and when the sentence is actually carried out).

  • The death penalty would be more just if applied even more frequently. There are some 50 executions per year in the US, a paltry sum when one considers the number of murders.

    Yes, but instances of homicide with multiple victims are far less frequent than instances of homicide per se. IIRC, instances with two victims average about 500 per year and instances with three or more average about 100 per year.

  • Ergo, the death penalty is morally equivalent to abortion.

    These people employ prudential judgments over capital punishment to contort consciences and justify voting for the radical abortion extremists so long as said pre-born baby mass murderers consistently recite their personal concepts of social justice.

    I blame this phenomenon for the one big a$$ed mistake America that is running America into a ditch.

  • Davis got to live 22 years after he killed the cop, became another poster boy/cause celebre for the libs and bleeding hearts. Can’t believe the Pope bought into his innocence and weighed in on the side of clemency. What does he know about the case? When guilt in a homicide is found by a jury to be beyond a reasonable doubt and all appeals have been exhausted, then the law and justice must prevail. There’s an infamous case in California where $22 million was spent trying a murderer who keeps filing paperwork to stay his execution. How much has it cost the state to keep Charles Manson alive when he should have been worm food years ago? On the other hand, the cost of a bullet or a piece of rope is not only a lot cheaper but expeditious and saves everyone the trouble of wringing their hands.

    And if I hear one more “insanity defense” like the Tucson shooter, I think I’ll lose it. If ever there was a justification for drawing and quartering that’s it. All you need is a couple of horses and some rope. Better yet, show it on TV.

    It boils down to one thing and one thing only: punish the guilty and spare the innocent. But many today have just the opposite view: kill innocent babies in the womb and let the murderers live.

    We live in a sick world and, as someone once said, there is no justice in or out of court.

  • Judge William T. Moore who ruled on the Davis habeas corpus petition last year, and who was affirmed by the US Supreme Court, wrote an exhaustive 174 page opinion in which he characterized the alleged new evidence that Davis was innocent to be largely smoke and mirrors, the judge’s phrase, and that Davis simply was not innocent of the murder. Read the opinion here:

    http://multimedia.savannahnow.com/media/pdfs/DavisRuling082410.pdf

  • Thanks for posting that, Don.

    I suspect that one of the things which causes so much doubt about these cases, in regards to guilt, in the mind of the casually sympathetic public is that the anti-capital punishment advocacy groups put massive amounts of time and resources into confusing each of the very small number of cases put up for the death penalty each year. While it’s certainly possible that at times all of the machinery of justice goes astray and an innocent man is executed, I suspect it’s far more frequent that those who are against the death penalty regardless of guilt manage to convince casual observers that someone is likely innocent when he is in fact not. (After all, it’s not really in their interest to take a balanced view of the evidence the way it is for a court — they are only looking for exculpatory evidence, regardless of whether or not it’s true.)

    The especially unfortunate side effect of this is that this creates in the mind of the public the idea that the justice system in general is constantly convicting innocent people.

  • Well, as a factual matter, Davis was certainly guilty. He fled the area after killing Officer McPhail, and bullet fragments from a shooting the prior evening that Davis certainly did, matched bullet fragment from the McPhail shooting. Of course, there were scads of eyewitnesses who fingered Davis as the shooter, and the supposed “recanters” don’t say Davis did NOT shoot McPhail, they now claim they can’t be sure who the shooter was. Two eyewitness still steadfastly maintain that Davis was the killer.

    As I point out on my blog, the irony of the two executions, Davis and Brewer, underscore the insincerity of a vast portion of the left about capital punishment. Davis, a favored killer because he feeds into leftist stereotypes, is virtually canonized, while Brewer, a despicable racist, did not generate a hundredth of the anti-DP fervor as Davis– because his execution did not feed into the left’s stereotypes.

    Why the Pope intervened in one and not the other I will have to pass over in respectful silence, lest I encourage the cynical to conclude that the Pope in this instance allowed himself to be used a tool for the left’s agenda.

  • Darwin, fret not… since the re-introduction of the death penalty in the 1970s, there has been not ONE verifiable wrongful execution, despite the frantic efforts of the groups you allude to. They throw lots of sand, and generate lots of heat, but there is no light.

    And frankly, even if it could be shown that there had been a wrongful execution, I’m not certain that it would be a decisive argument against the DP (while it would certainly be a propaganda coup), since there will always be cases of unquestionable guilt where the defendant deserves, and society needs, recourse to the death penalty.

  • I’m another fence sitter, but basically my thoughts mirror Paul’s. What it boils down to in this country is that if you have the money to afford competent representation, you don’t get the death penalty. The Menendez brothers being a case in point. Hell, sometimes if your case is notorious enough, you can still attract competent representation–the dreadful Ms. Anthony is Exh. A (thank you, Nancy Grace).

    What that leaves us with is a death row that is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white. That’s not just, even if all of the people sitting there are guilty. About which I have nagging doubts, too: a lousy trial performance can be fatal, as the family of Terri Schiavo will sadly tell you, albeit in a different context.

    What keeps me from joining the abolitionists are the truly heinous, hellish crimes that Don describes, as well as ones that have the potential to rend the fabric of society in a truly disturbing way (domestic terror incidents). Lines have to be drawn. Will the abolitionists be satisfied with life without parole? I have my doubts, too. The Western European example is instructive: it is astonishing to me that Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, will be free in twenty years.

  • My father, who works in health care, once told me that he found the reason people support the death penalty and the reason people support euthanasia seem to spring from the same impulse: that one is uncomfortable with the fact that the other is still alive. With euthanasia, it is usually the family and friends of the dying person who feel that they can’t go on watching this suffering, that they need some sort of catharsis that comes with an orderly death. With the death penalty, it is often the family of the victim and members of the public who can’t feel that they are “done” with the case until the perpetrator dies.

    In the James Byrd case, both the victim’s wife and children have stated their opposition to the execution of the murderers.

  • Side note: though I am opposed to the death penalty in the US (I don’t think we have a country where the DP serves the purpose it is supposed to: to eliminate the danger from the community for the common good) I do think it has application in some areas.

    It’s also rather unhelpful that many anti death penalty crusaders tend to focus on manifestly guilty people and hold them up as an example of someone who deserves freedom due to their innocence, rather than arguing the case that life without parole is fit punishment. Like Mumia Abu Jamal, who is certainly guilty of his crimes, and should never have been allowed to don the mantle of “political prisoner”.

  • What it boils down to in this country is that if you have the money to afford competent representation, you don’t get the death penalty.

    One might replace assigned counsel plans with professional public defenders’ offices with a similar salary scale and per capita caseload to the public prosecutor’s office. If county governments lack the skilled manpower, one can ensconse it in the state welfare department.

    What that leaves us with is a death row that is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white.

    Do not know what the situation is now, but at one time the proportion of blacks on death row was almost precisely the same as the proportion of blacks convicted of murder. Such was admitted by David Bruck in the articles he was writing a generation ago, at which time he and his confederates developed a more elaborate argument concerning the probabilities of being executed for black-on-black murders, black-on-white murders, white-on-white murders, and white-on-black murders.

    The criminal population in general is overwhelmingly drawn from the impecunious, except on television detective serials.

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  • @ Darwin

    “I don’t think it would make any sense to support a punishment for its deterrent value if it weren’t already proportional. However, given proportion it seems to me that the deterrence factor would be one of the ways a society protects the common good through dispensing just punishments for crimes.”

    A differentiation to make, given our comments, is between calculation and effect. For instance, one calculates punishment based solely upon what was done, a.k.a., retribution. However, deterrent effect is natural when laws include the threat of that punishment, and I think that is unavoidable.

  • The criminal population in general is overwhelmingly drawn from the impecunious, except on television detective serials.

    This is why WordPress needs to invent a line-item “like” feature.

  • Mr. McKenna’s additional information is why I’ve started to try to avoid coverage of legal actions where I don’t have either personal knowledge to help sort through stuff or a big enough interest to do a good job of it. The trial around that poor little girl’s death a few months back formalized it– these things are just way too prone to group-think, manipulation and story-making.
    Then, once you DO manage to sift the truth out, you have to figure out how to 1) get people to listen, 2) counter those who were misled (and figure out why/how) 3) deal with those who are deliberately misleading.
    There are few things more frustrating than good people who are trying to do good and thus excuse themselves from un-handy facts.

  • Tom McKenna, “Well, as a factual matter, Davis was certainly guilty. He fled the area after killing Officer McPhail, and bullet fragments from a shooting the prior evening that Davis certainly did, matched bullet fragment from the McPhail shooting. Of course, there were scads of eyewitnesses who fingered Davis as the shooter, and the supposed “recanters” don’t say Davis did NOT shoot McPhail, they now claim they can’t be sure who the shooter was.”

    All of that is consistent with Davis’ story that he was there but didn’t do the shooting. Combine that with the fact that the gun belonged to someone else at the scene and there’s no physical evidence linking Davis to any shooting, and you have reasonable doubt.

  • Of course, the jury convicted Davis and 25 years of appeals sustained the conviction and the sentence because the dude that owned the gun was white . . .

    Davis used the Obama defense (which all convicts use), “It wasn’t me!”

  • Capital punishment was enforced in the O.T. context of Israel. The New Testament is addressed to Christians who comprise a kingdom separate from the world and its political entities. The Bible does not speak to capital punishment in these times. It simply isn’t a matter for Christians and the Kingdom of God. That is not to say it doesn’t concern us as we live out our earthly lives. It is just to say that there is nothing we can say dogmatically either way. We can only argue.

  • [D]eath row… is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately non-white.Dale Price

    And overwhelmingly disproportionately non-female.

  • Although this may appear to be a VERY minor issue or even a distraction from the debate on the death penalty itself, there is also the matter of the State of Texas announcing that condemned prisoners will no longer be allowed to choose their last meals (they will simply receive the same fare as other prisoners). The announcement was prompted by Brewer’s over-the-top request for a triple bacon cheeseburger, meat lover’s pizza, a pound of barbecue and other items which, when finally delivered to him, he didn’t eat.

    The combox debate over this issue doesn’t seem to have reached the Catholic blogosphere yet, but I find it interesting nonetheless. Many people favor abolition of the last meal tradition on the grounds that last meals are wasteful and an insult to the victims who were never granted any such privilege. Why not, some argue, just not bother feeding Death Row inmates at all in their final week or so since they’re going to die anyway? Who cares whether they suffer or endure indignity, after all, they didn’t think about that when they killed their victims, right? Another “con” (pardon the pun) argument from death penalty opponents: does granting the condemned a last meal simply make the practice of capital punishment seem less barbaric than it really is and condition people to think of it as acceptable or traditional?

    However, it’s the pro arguments (still very much in the minority) that I find most intriguing. Yes, it may be true that a person about to be put to death for a heinous murder (or several) doesn’t “deserve” a fancy meal, but that’s not the point. The point is that even as the condemned is about to be ultimately punished, the State, acting on behalf of society, still tries to be more merciful than the criminal was and allows him to experience one of life’s great pleasures — eating a favorite food — one last time. The request can be kept within reasonable bounds (for example, only being allowed to choose items that are already in the prison kitchen or whose cost is within a certain range) but to abolish it altogether seems kind of petty. The fact that a lot of people no longer want to bother with this form of very rudimentary mercy to the condemned is not, in my opinion, a good thing.

  • I am against taking away the tradition of the last meal for the condemned Elaine, as I would be against taking away the right of the condemned to say his last words or to be offered a blind fold if he is to be shot. Traditions help guide us in a frequently chaotic world and their observance helps us find our way. Of course currently traditions are contstantly under attack and thrown away at a moment’s notice. This is a mistake and merely makes modern life ever more graceless, utlilitarian and gray.

  • RR,

    Wasn’t Davis’ story that he left before the shooting? My understanding is that the cops found McPhail’s blood on Davis’ shorts, but that this was excluded as the fruit of an unlawful search.

  • You anti death penalty folks must think the Catholic Church began around 1980,when Pope J P 2 started to talk against the death penalty. You are wrong.
    The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

    Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners. To answer the objection that the first commandment forbids killing, St. Augustine writes in The City of God:
    The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.

    In the Middle Ages a number of canonists teach that ecclesiastical courts should refrain from the death penalty and that civil courts should impose it only for major crimes. But leading canonists and theologians assert the right of civil courts to pronounce the death penalty for very grave offenses such as murder and treason. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus invoke the authority of Scripture and patristic tradition, and give arguments from reason.

    Giving magisterial authority to the death penalty, Pope Innocent III required disciples of Peter Waldo seeking reconciliation with the Church to accept the proposition: “The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation.” In the high Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy See authorized the Inquisition to turn over heretics to the secular arm for execution. In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses. The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.

    In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.

    Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.

    Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.
    The current Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, stated in 2004:
    3. 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” THATS A QUOTE
    “Here’s the site….READ IT
    http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm

  • BA, Davis says he was there for the fight but left before the shooting. I believe the bloody shorts rumor was started by Eric Erickson. There were shorts but they were of no forensic value.

  • Don Curry is right, I think. I know the Christian consensus has always favored the death penalty. I was unaware that John Paul II was the one who altered that. But I maintain that the death penalty in N.T. times can only be argued for or against. Nothing dogmatic can be said. Scripture doesn’t address it because it addresses the church, not the world.

  • “There were shorts but they were of no forensic value.”

    No, that is not the case. They were taken from a dryer at the home of the mother of Troy Davis. The defense successfully kept them out of the trial by a motion to suppress, on the grounds that the search of the home of the mother of Davis had been without a warrant. In the numerous appeals the State fought to have the shorts considered by reviewing courts.

    http://savannahnow.com/troy-davis/2010-06-22/bloodied-shorts-among-davis-hearing-evidence

  • Recantations years and years after the verdict from a jury are very suspect. And, if you look at the details, the defense HAD the statements years before they filed for new trial. (Why did they sit on them?) EVERY court…every one….ruled the jury verdict correct. And Ill tell you this—IF there were reasonable doubt at the jury trial…with a black defendant…I guarantee you, ONE of those 7 blacks on the jury would have held out for acquital. You can take that to the bank !As a former prosecutor, Ill tell you a black majority jury does not convict a black guy unless there is OVERWHELMING CREDIBLE EVIDENCE !

  • Don, you obviously didn’t read the opinion you posted. On page 161:

    “The State introduced evidence regarding Mr. Davis’s “bloody” shorts. (See Resp. Ex. 67.) However, even the State conceded that this evidence lacked any probative value of guilt, submitting it only to show what the Board of Pardons and Paroles had before it. (Evidentiary Hearing Transcript at 468-69.) Indeed, there was insufficient DNA to determine who the blood belonged to, so the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail. The blood could have belonged to Mr. Davis, Mr. Larry Young, Officer MacPhail, or even have gotten onto the shorts entirely apart from the events of that night. Moreover, it is not even clear that the substance was blood.”

  • Yes I did read it RR, but obviously not carefully enough to catch footnote 97. I assume that the Defense then filed their motion to supress just for the heck of it, or perhaps they filed it because the substance was blood and they were fearful what a DNA test would reveal, even though Davis’ mom had thougtfully laundered the shorts for him. I know in my defense cases I generally do not file motions to suppress evidence that I know will not hurt my client.

  • “In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses.” -Don Curry

    Sounds like an argument from Tradition. Now I’m curious if any books have been written about the Papal States’ domestic and foreign policy. I think that would be very illuminating.

  • The church is now against the death penalty. You may stop debating about it.

  • Completely untrue.

    “3. 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.”

    Cardinal Ratzinger

    http://www.tldm.org/news7/Ratzinger.htm

  • Hey Randy…nope you are totally wrong…I can still, as a Catholic, still be in excellent standing with the church, and not so with Abortion and euthansia. Here’s what the Pope says: QUOTE
    3. 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.”
    Here’s the cite
    http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm
    So when you dismiss my opinion…remember Randy…the Pope doesnt.
    .

Abortion, Capital Punishment and War, One of these things is not like the other

Friday, November 27, AD 2009

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. While I am disappointed by his answer (Faithworld is generally one of the better and more educational “religion blogs” in the secular media), it is understandable — as even many Catholics find themselves confused on this matter.

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33 Responses to Abortion, Capital Punishment and War, One of these things is not like the other

  • Thanks for this excellent clarification, Chris.

    It’s going on my facebook 🙂

  • What about Justice Scalia who not only disagrees with the prudential judgment of our bishops on capital punishment but rejects Church teaching on the matter entirely?

    Also, as pro-choicers like to point out, there’s a difference between supporting abortion and supporting abortion rights. Can’t one accept Church teaching on abortion and still believe that criminalization is bad? Isn’t the legal status of abortion a matter of prudential judgment? I realize that this still doesn’t apply to Rep. Kennedy who not only supports keeping abortion legal but also supports promotion through subsidies.

    And can’t some prudential judgments concerning capital punishment or war be so obviously correct no reasonable person can oppose it without supporting the underlying evil? For example, suppose Obama stated that we’re waging war against Canada to raid their natural resources.

  • “Also, as pro-choicers like to point out, there’s a difference between supporting abortion and supporting abortion rights. Can’t one accept Church teaching on abortion and still believe that criminalization is bad? Isn’t the legal status of abortion a matter of prudential judgment?”

    The distinction between supporting abortion and supporting abortion “rights” is completely fallacious. That is akin to attempting to argue a distinction between being pro-slavery and supporting the “right” to own a slave. As to criminalization of abortion Catholics are required by the Catechism to support that:

    “2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
    ‘The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.'(79)

    ‘The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.’ (80)”

  • I understand what Restrainedradical means — sometimes it seems reasonable to concede the legal matter (abortion is legal) and work on the practical one (getting people to stop aborting, or to not get pregnant). But that’s where prudence comes in. That approach has not worked, any more than (per D. McClarey’s example) attempts to get slave owners to give up their slaves worked when slavery was legal. Concentrating on the practical matters only ensures (barring a widespread change in social mores) they will continue as they are.

    All those practical things should be done, of course, because that’s all that most people CAN do. But it is a fallacy to think that because a thing has been declared legal, it is therefore right. Unjust laws can and should be repealed. People who make and influence legislation have a different obligation than the rest of us when it comes to action. We can and should work on the practical matters that are in our power, but we should also demand the legislative action that is within the LEGISLATORS’ power, and they have a moral obligation to do something about it. If a law is unjust, and a legislator does nothing about it, then is that legislator not guilty of perpetuating injustice and, in the case of abortion, murder?

    If we were talking about apartheid, wouldn’t we agree that the legislators had an obligation to end it, even if it were difficult and unpopular?

  • Ditto and amen to Gail’s, Donald’s and Christopher’s points above. Much like the ridiculous, one-sided “debate” b/w Chris Matthews and Bishop Tobin, the entire specious argument of “should women who procure an abortion be put in jail?” betrays a logical fallacy in thought. Nobody who makes that argument would ever make a similar one against women’s right to vote, legalized slavery, etc. And the ones who don’t recognize the difference b/w an intrisic evil like abortion and Just War or even the judicious use of the death penalty would also never make such an argument “defending” those who make the decisions to apply the death penalty or to prosecute a Just War.

    For the amateur philosophers out there, what kind of logical fallacy is the one that such wishy-washy “pro-lifers” use, namely the one we’ve all mentioned here on this thread? I’m no logician, but even I recognize that such thinking must be the result of some logical fallacy!

  • I’d like to clarify that Justice Scalia doesn’t reject Church teaching on the death penalty, he rejects the recent stand– counter to, in his phrasing, the “2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment”— where various members of the leadership claim that the death penalty isn’t needed to protect society.

    This is solidly inside of prudential judgment, although it has (of course) been very poorly reported. Ton o’info here, including a response from Justice Scalia and a defense of the Justice by Cardinal Avery Dulles. (who does not agree with him)

  • I’d like to clarify that Justice Scalia doesn’t reject Church teaching on the death penalty, he rejects the recent stand– counter to, in his phrasing, the “2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment”– where various members of the leadership claim that the death penalty isn’t needed to protect society.

    Exactly. As Cardinal Dulles himself emphasized the prudential nature of the disagreement:

    As to the Pope’s assertion that the death penalty should today be rare, I would reaffirm, against Justice Scalia, that this is to be understood as an exercise of the Pope’s prudential judgment. “Prudential” has a technical theological meaning with which Justice Scalia seems not to be familiar. It refers to the application of Catholic doctrine to changing concrete circumstances. Since the Christian revelation tells us nothing about the particulars of contemporary society, the Pope and the bishops have to rely on their personal judgment as qualified spiritual leaders in making practical applications. Their prudential judgment, while it is to be respected, is not a matter of binding Catholic doctrine. To differ from such a judgment, therefore, is not to dissent from Church teaching.

    It is of course possible to hold, with Justice Scalia, that the Pope is imprudent. Catholics are not obliged by their faith to hold that their pastors are always prudent. I personally agree with the Pope that the death penalty should be very rarely, if ever, applied in the United States today. In saying this I do not rely only on “steady improvements in the organization of the penal system,” the motive mentioned by the Pope. I would add that limitations and deficiencies in the penal system create a danger of miscarriages of justice. In our society, moreover, the death penalty is often seen as an instrument of popular vindictiveness and retaliation rather than of divine justice, since the transcendent order of justice is not generally recognized. The practice of capital punishment also reinforces that disrespect for human life which is all too prevalent in our society. For these and other reasons, I would be reluctant to approve of the death penalty except in cases of rare and prudential judgment assisted by the wisdom of the duly appointed pastors of the Church.

    And agreed with Scalia, that John Paul II’s intention was not to overturn traditional Catholic teaching on the death penalty:

    Like Justice Scalia, I doubt that the older tradition is reversible, but even if it were, I contend any ecclesiastical authority reversing it would have to propose the new doctrine with great emphasis and show why the older position is no longer tenable. In fact, however, the Pope says nothing against the traditional doctrine.

  • In my view, the greatest penalties ought to be reserved for the abortionist himself and whatever propagandists or pushers he might have at his disposal.

    I also don’t think a woman should be punished for abortion until an investigation into the father of her child’s status is conducted, due to the high number of coerced abortions.

    Hysterical liberals like Chris Matthews and NARAL promote the fantasy that every abortion is some kind of feminist triumph over patriarchy. The reality is that many abortions are coerced – the father has threatened the mother with violence, or with abandonment. Or her own parents have done the same.

    In the end, someone must be held responsible. But I don’t believe it should always be the woman who gets the abortion. And this we must make absolutely clear. Too many women who end up in the abortion clinic are themselves victims.

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  • Boo-Hoo for whomever is “responsible”, what we still have is A DEAD INNOCENT CHILD.

    With respect to the tradition of the Church on Capital punishment.

    There are serious fissures in the Catholic Church over traditions, that can be argued were “reversed” in Vatican II, so poo-poo on that Scalian argument, thus you have the discontinuity and continuity problems with many kinds of quasi-schismatic Catholics.

    Perhaps the Church needs a much more comprehensive revaluation than just what it is talking with the SSPX about. Perhaps Catholics in the United States need to see things in a BIGGER picture as well.

  • That is akin to attempting to argue a distinction between being pro-slavery and supporting the “right” to own a slave.

    Or being pro-war and supporting the right to wage war. There is a difference.

    As to criminalization of abortion Catholics are required by the Catechism to support that

    Thanks.

  • “Or being pro-war and supporting the right to wage war. There is a difference.”

    The analogy to war is telling restrainedradical. The Church acknowledges just war. The Church does not acknowledge a just abortion. It is also possible to support the right to wage war while being opposed to individual instances of war. Once someone is pro the “right” to have an abortion, the ability then to oppose instances of abortion goes out the window due to the support of a “right” to abortion.

  • Maybe a more fitting analogy would be “Or being pro-murder and supporting the right to murder. There is a difference.”

    Perhaps “Or being pro-rape and supporting the right to rape. There is a difference.”

  • This moral hierarchy you are discussing is imperceptible to most modern thinkers. One of the most unfortunate consequences of political liberalism and the democratic ethos is the overpowering influence of equality. Equality is the fundamental end of our moral thinking and our political life, even when it contradicts justice and charity.

  • Or being pro-obesity and supporting the right to be obese. Or being pro-smoking and supporting the right to smoke.

    A supporter of abortion rights wants abortion to be legal. A supporter of abortion wants to increase the number of abortions.

    Anyway, that’s the pro-choicer’s argument and it does make sense but I too use pro-abortion as shorthand for pro-abortion-rights just as I use pro-death-penalty to describe not only those who want to see more capital punishment but also those who think it should be allowed.

  • “A supporter of abortion rights wants abortion to be legal. A supporter of abortion wants to increase the number of abortions.”

    Not necessarily. Some pro-aborts do want to increase the number of abortions, usually for mercenary or ideological reasons. Others are merely content to have abortion remain legal. In both cases the key agreement is that neither would want any abortion to be prevented by the State, which is what makes them pro-aborts.

  • For this simile to work the thing substituted in has to be not just bad but immoral– war, the death penalty, being fat or being a smoker aren’t inherently immoral.

    Killing babies, committing murder or raping someone are inherently immoral.

  • Some war can potentially be inherently immoral – for example, Cheney’s 1% pre-emptive war doctrine. There may not be definitive pronouncement on it, but I would consider such a position to be very close to, if not actually, inherently immoral.

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  • To clarify I am against abortion! But it seems to me the church in its teachings apriory sets a double standard in at least two ways:
    1) in cases of war and capital punishment the justification for respectful disagreement is in knowledge or presumed knowledge / interpretation of the facts
    In abortion this ” caveat” is denied since the beginning of human life if postulated without any further proof or facts proffered.
    could it be that the abortion is an individual decision and war and capital punishment is a system’s decision , made by the “king”
    according to your response …..“The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”…..
    Hitler had the responsibility for the common good at least de facto therefor according to your thoughts the Germans really had no further responsibility but to say: The Fuehrer knows best…. ( Well most followed the churches advice? lead ? and said Sieg! Heil!)
    May be this is the foundation to Hochhuth’s novel The Deputy
    I think the Catholic Church should move away from its over reliance on legal maneuvers and learned logical reasoning and return to its roots which seem to me to require to make firm moral stands and demand firm moral comittments, especially where life and death questions are involved, regardless of the costs to itself or its members. Anything short of this, degrades it into a mere club
    Revelations come to mind: But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you… .(Rev3:16)

  • With regards to the determination of moral criteria, the Catechism maintains “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

    to my knowledge throughout history there never was an unjust war in the eyes of those who started it and have been at the time “responsibility for the common good” as you call it.
    This makes the Just War Theory a practical sham , without any significance for the people. It also is insulting to our intelligence and smells of the discontinued practice of the “Index”

  • …You’re really not even trying to understand the arguments, are you?

    If you really are, please try to say what, exactly, you’re having trouble with– I’d be pleased to try to help you understand it.

  • I thought the argument is pretty clear.
    there seem to be two standards in taking a life. One is ( in the case of abortion) to be on the safe side and and postulate when life starts since it cannot start any earlier than with conception therefor that’s when its starts . We have no proof for it but rather err on the possibility that it might start there. Fair and good, i fully support this.
    In the other two cases – capital punishment, war a different standard is invoked. It seems to me this is clearly expressed in the phrase given earlier ( (paraphrased)….the Prosecuting attorney can respectfully disagree with the Church on individual case of capital punishment….
    In this case a life can be taken even if the judgment of the person involved turns out to be wrong.
    In case of war there are 2 points , to my humble opinion involved:
    1) again the parties involved respectfully agree to dis agree and this is morally justified … Well we are all humans and mistakes are made….
    since never in history the aggressor felt the war was not absolutely necessary the whole just war theory became a mute subject it est meaningless
    2) Your argument that the moral decision should be left to the proper authorities seems to me to patronize any believer who is not in power. this leads to my comments regarding Germany etc.
    what is important to the argument here however is the willingness to agree to respectfully disagree
    This in my opinion is a double standard and is probably based on political considerations as it can be demonstrated throughout much of history ( especially since Constantin)
    What I think the stand of the Church should and has to be is consistent. Since I think the stance of the church and beginning of life is the prudent decision the same principles should apply to the other two cases. Anything short of this smells of intellectual dishonesty.
    By the way, in arguing this case I don’t think the Catechism can be invoked since the argument is consistency in reasoning the cases and not what the cases actually say.
    I thank you for your interest in setting me straight.

  • Innocent life vs non-innocent life.

    There’s no justification for me walking into a mall and shooting someone; there is a justification for me shooting a guy who is trying to kill me.

    We have no proof for it but rather err on the possibility that it might start there.

    Scientifically speaking, conception is the start of life– an embryo is a unique organism from the mother, while an egg or sperm cell is not. We don’t know when that organism gets a soul— but then, we’re guessing that you or I have a soul, as well.

    since never in history the aggressor felt the war was not absolutely necessary the whole just war theory became a mute subject it est meaningless

    Highly improbable. Beyond that the just war theory doesn’t just say whoever starts it has to think it’s needful, even with my horrible history education I can think of wars that were started for advantage, not need. I seem to remember Bismarck was famous for them– he had a tactical goal, expansion/reuniting Germany, but that’s not absolute necessity.

    Your argument that the moral decision should be left to the proper authorities seems to me to patronize any believer who is not in power.

    1)”It’s patronizing” isn’t a refutation of an argument.
    2) Hitler did have a responsibility for the public good. He did not fulfill that responsibility, needless to say.

    In human interactions there will always be leaders and followers– that’s the only way there can be cooperation. If there are leaders, they have to be able to lead– especially in the case of large organizations, it’s not possible for everyone to have all the information and properly assimilate it, and get everything else done.

    Life is highly valuable. What, then, does your notion of consistency make of those lives who try to take lives?
    Should those who are innocent be slaughtered at will by those who are not, simply because we’re all valuable– or is killing, as a last resort of defense, acceptable?

    By the way, in arguing this case I don’t think the Catechism can be invoked since the argument is consistency in reasoning the cases and not what the cases actually say.

    I try not to quote the Catechism unless the topic is what the Church believes– even if what I end up saying is simply a rephrasing of what it says. If someone agrees, then there’s no argument– and if they don’t, why cite something they disagree with to try to change their mind?

  • You dodged the topic by starting your defense with innocent versus non innocent life this does not seem to me a serious attempt to set me straight. May be that is not your intent?
    patronizing is a remark that is used in my opinion to indicate that the argument lacks substance and is movind into areas of emotional domination not a good thing to do in an argument.
    The Hitler example does not focus on Hitler but on the obligation of the Germans as suggested by your argument.
    Actually the historic response by the Germans can by justified with your argument. And by extension the dire consequences

    Life is highly valuable. What, then, does your notion of consistency make of those lives who try to take lives?
    Should those who are innocent be slaughtered at will by those who are not, simply because we’re all valuable– or is killing, as a last resort of defense, acceptable?
    Again this is not the argument. The question is are we consistent in our moral judgement
    take the Iraq war; it was deemed and turned out to be an unjust war , however you claim a different mechanism for the individual , up to the pope himself, than for the decision of abortion or euthanasia. What i am arguing for is that the same methods and principles are applied. After that we can start to talk about innocent life versus not innocent life.
    This latter discussion might prove even thornier than the first, especially if one allows for biblical guidance.

    I try not to quote the Catechism unless the topic is what the Church believes– even if what I end up saying is simply a rephrasing of what it says. If someone agrees, then there’s no argument– and if they don’t, why cite something they disagree with to try to change their mind?
    It might be that I see inconsistencies in the catechism and I said I might not that I necessarily did.
    In that case it would be good to grapple with the passage instead quoting it as gospel which it is not.
    I guess I subscribe to the motto Schiller coined in his poem “Die Glocke” what you have inherited from your fathers earn it in order to own it.
    this – I suppose – means grapple intellectually with it in order to understand it. It does not have much value intellectual or moral if one just accepts it without an earnest attempt towards understanding to ones capabilities. I think this would be demeaning to the human dignity.
    I still hope you will take the time and effort in truly showing me the light, since despite of what I wrote I feel the topic is much deeper and important than we both touch upon this far.
    thank you in advance for your effort.

  • You dodged the topic by starting your defense with innocent versus non innocent life this does not seem to me a serious attempt to set me straight.

    You seem to be dodging the topic by not seeing a difference between killing without cause and killing in defense.

    That’s what just war and the death penalty boils down to– it’s a nation-sized case of self defense.

    If you support self defense by individuals, but not by leaders on behalf of those they have responsibilities towards– or, more so, if you support defense on behalf of one’s children, but not on behalf of one’s citizens– then the lack of consistency lies with you.

    Actually the historic response by the Germans can by justified with your argument.

    A bold claim; so justify it, using my arguments.

    In that case it would be good to grapple with the passage instead quoting it as gospel which it is not.

    You’re getting off topic, reindl. You stated that I should not “invoke” the CCC because you disagree with it, and I did not quote the CCC.

    ((On the side– you can make it easier to read what you’re replying to by using < brackets around I and /I to trigger italics.))

  • Thank you for the suggestion I will try to use it, but I do not quite understand your hints Do you mean:
    I will try this!

    We are arguing two different things
    I am NOT touching the subject Killing versus not Killing.
    the subject – as I see it – is the way killing is justified in principle.
    in abortion case it is easy to argue not to kill no problem!!
    In case of war there might be the justification to as you call it self defense etc. the problem arises to determine when it is Justified.
    You seem to say in this case it depends on all sorts of things completely beyond the capabilities of the lay person , because he or she is incompetent.
    (that is where the patronizing comes in by the way)
    if that is the case however it is the Church’s responsibility to educate and support the “flock of sheep” so they can make the right moral choice. If the church is incapable of doing so it should say so.
    That it is possible for lay persons to make the right choice can be seen in the case of Franz Jaegerstaetter who resisted serving Hitler and was beheaded for his pains. he did this against his bishops advice ( Bishop of Linz Austria)who used precisely the argument you are using and urged him to serve in Hitler’s army.
    I am certain you are aware that the Church has beatified F.Jaegerstaetter proving him justified or right and his bishop or your argument wrong.

    I also would like to remind you that you intended to explain things to me. I am only raising questions and from me perceived inconsistencies


    You misunderstood me, I did not mean to imply that you cannot use the ccc as you call it, what I meant was that you would have , or should argue the points from first principles. I apologize for the mis-understanding.

    I am still looking forward to your responses to my original arguments. The ” stuff” in between as far as I am concerned was an attempt on my part to clarify my side of the argument and to give you enough info to refute correct … it as you please and can.
    Let me point out that I am trying to argue a Moral/ethical point that could be perceived as being “to the right” of your position as I perceive it now (if it would be a political debate of course)
    As always thank you for your interest

  • I tried to quote a passage of yours but it did not work I am too ignorant in these and of course also other matters If you could give me some more detailed instructions I would appreciate it. Thank you.

  • Use I to start, and /i to end.

    In case of war there might be the justification to as you call it self defense etc. the problem arises to determine when it is Justified.

    If you agree that it is ever justified, then your complaint that allowing the death penalty is inconsistent, due to allowing killing, is invalid. It becomes a matter of you not agreeing where the line is drawn, rather than if the line should be drawn at all.

  • You are avoiding the argument. I like you to comment on the Jaegerstaetter example I gave , as it is pertinent to this discussion. The argument was not whether killing might be allowed or not the argument IS to determine within a morally consistent framework when killing is allowed and it expanded – the argument that is – to who is allowed or has to make these choices.
    Please use the Iraq example I gave the pope determined that the just war theorem indicate that the looming – at that time- war would be unjust. Yet after the war started there was no further comment that participating in a unjust war – according to the just war theorem – is tantamount to murder.
    It is at that point that moral inconsistencies arise
    because murder is murder if nothing else killing a conscious being adds torture to the act of murder which – if one has to /wants to categorize these things-. The torture part comes with the fear and realization that you have to die I presume , never had to do it myself-.
    I think the abortion/ war/ capital punishment/… debate goes much deeper since there are corollaries to all this. And it are these corollaries that , in a practical sense might be even less palatable to us as a society than the results of the Killing argument.
    In any event I think any relativism in arguing the case should be avoided otherwise anything goes and the result is strictly utilitarian devoid of any claim to
    morality. one has to be able to argue the case consistently and continuously starting with abortion if you like and ending with war if you like.
    I am sure you understand what I mean.
    You asked in the beginning whether I am serious. I think this is and has been the defining challenge for the Church in the last and undoubtedly this century.
    The Church seemed to have failed its test during WW1 and WW2 (as well as many other conflicts thereafter. (see Jaegerstaetter example consider it a case study)
    But this does not mean we cannot remedy our transgressions in the future.
    Splitting up the argument of killing or shall I say murder – which would be unjustified killing and which would equally apply to abortion and war – certain wars etc into separately compartments to my mind is a moral dodge and with it makes our whole stand immoral one acts morally or does not.
    A murderer does not always have to kill in order to create immense suffering. it enough if he does it only in one case and not the other.
    thanks for the info on writing . the following is just a test so please ignore it.
    i test test test /i

  • Your original argument was that by differentiating between murder and abortion on one hand, and war and capital punishment on the other, there is a “double standard” in place.

    You futher claimed that, due to war and capital punishment being decided by the “system” or a “king,” Hitler was somehow justified.

    If you cannot manage to hold to your own argument and feel the need to accuse those who do of dodging the topic, I have no further time for you.

  • Sorry you feel that way

    I do have to respond to your interpretation – insinuation that:

    You futher claimed that, due to war and capital punishment being decided by the “system” or a “king,” Hitler was somehow justified.

    I never claimed that . What i did say is:
    IF your interpretation that responsibility for moral decision is vested in those of proper authority THEN
    The Germans where justified to line up behind their Fuehrer I think quite a bit different from your interpretation
    Unfortunately as in many of these discussions it often turns out that folks are not really interested in finding out or letting others find out the “Truth” or their truth and try to explain it in logical and dispassionate ways.
    It seems they are more interested in formulas than arguments and convictions ( I don’t mean just adopted beliefs) they can be passionate enough to defend.
    It was not me who offered to set me straight remember.
    the task obvious became too difficult
    Thank you for your time

  • a bit different from your interpretation

    No, it isn’t. Your argument against there being a difference between war and abortion was exactly as I stated.

    Unfortunately as in many of these discussions it often turns out that folks are not really interested in finding out or letting others find out the “Truth” or their truth and try to explain it in logical and dispassionate ways.

    Exactly why I am not going to waste any further time, barring some sign of actual interest in information– as opposed to dancing from claim to claim, then accusing those responding to you of “avoiding the argument.”

    If you admit any instance where self defense, unto death, is admissible– then you commit the same “inconsistency” you accuse the Church of committing. You may draw the line in a different spot, but still admit the difference exists.

    It seems they are more interested in formulas than arguments and convictions ( I don’t mean just adopted beliefs) they can be passionate enough to defend.

    A logical argument is a formula.
    And there is no inherent exclusion of conviction in an adopted belief, let alone an exclusion of passion in adopted beliefs.

    It was not me who offered to set me straight remember.

    Amazingly, it was not I who offered to set you straight, either; I offered, if you were truly trying to understand, to attempt to aid you in understanding. The latter has happened, but the prior is in doubt.

A Very Bad Argument Against Capital Punishment

Thursday, October 15, AD 2009

As an aside in an otherwise unrelated talk, I heard a priest say the other day, “How can there be any logic in capital punishment? How can you teach people to respect life by threatening to kill them?”

Regardless of what one thinks about the legitimacy of capital punishment, this is a bad argument. Throughout history, legitimate authority has used the threat of legally sanctioned violence (punishment) to prevent people from committing crimes, and it does indeed work pretty well. Not only that, but there’s an example from everyday life that most people have direct experience with: Telling young children that biting, kicking, scratching, hair pulling, kicking, hitting and any other physical attacks I haven’t thought of at the moment will be met with a spanking actually works very well. Indeed, at the ages of 3-8 when children are capable of more-or-less controlling their actions but have very limited ability to empathize with others (especially others who are making them angry) it’s often pretty much the only effective manner of preventing intra-sibling fights getting nasty.

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22 Responses to A Very Bad Argument Against Capital Punishment

  • “How can you teach people to respect life by threatening to kill them?”

    It is widely assumed that whenever the death penalty is under discussion, that if any theological considerations are to be invoked at all, these will weigh against it. “Surely, mercy is to be favored” is often the prevailing thought. However, the situation is much more complicated than that.

    In my own view, the underlying principle of retributive justice needs to be explained, especially since nowadays it’s largely misconceived.

    By retributive justice, I don’t mean the animalistic indulgence, impersonal spite, or maliciousness against an offender.

    Rather), there are important social values (i.e., the RIGHT TO LIFE) which MUST BE UPHELD for the sake of an orderly society and that those who affront these values by their violent behaviour must be called to account for their actions by proportionate punishment.

    For instance, in the case of someone who deliberately takes a life, our willingness to impose the death penalty is our testimony to how seriously we take the value against which he has offended.

    There is nothing brutal in treating a person as a responsible agent who can be held accountable for his acts and requiring he sustain the burden proportionate to the burden he has wrongly inflicted against others.

    Quite the contrary, what is brutalizing and dehumanizing (pace DarwinCatholic) is to overthrow our principle of retributive justice and, in effect, TREAT THE CRIMINAL AS LESS THAN A RESPONSIBLE AGENT — as some sort of behavioral animal who’s not really responsible and culpable for his crimes, who has to be treated and cured but not punishment.

    Finally, we can’t have a concept of mercy if we don’t have a principle of retributive justice to begin with.

    There first has to be an understanding that these offences demand such punishment and once we have a principle like this in place, then there can be mercy on the part of a governor or whoever can relax the strict requirements of Justice in an individual case.

    But if we try to codify the notion of mercy without a sense of retributive justice in the first place, we don’t have mercy — we have SENTIMENTALITY!

    Catholics should note that the previous Holy Father, John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae looked at the situation in terms of modern social conditions and judged, in his personal opinion, that the conditions under which Capital Punishment should be used would be quite rare. Yet, he didn’t eliminate it all together.

    Moreover, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, issued a memorandum subsequent to EV in which he pointed out that presumably because of the ambiguities that surround this question, there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics regarding when Capital Punishment should be used. Note that he expressly did not state that he was against it.

  • For instance, in the case of someone who deliberately takes a life, our willingness to impose the death penalty is our testimony to how seriously we take the value against which he has offended.

    Even though I am opposed to the death penalty, I think that the point above is a very astute one, especially against those who make the argument that the death penalty debases human life.

    It’s funny, but I generally find many if not most of the arguments against the death penalty to be pretty bad. That said, the ultimate argument against it – that it’s simply immoral (if not prohibited by the Church) still is ultimately persuasive to me.

  • If the death penalty is so immoral, then what kind of God exactly do we Christians believe in?

    Let me remind you that it was God Himself who commanded that murderers be executed.

    In Genesis 9: 5-6, God commanded Noah and his descendants to execute murderers.

    Why?

    Because murder is the ultimate violation of the divine image in humanity, and killing the perpetrator is the only proportional punishment!

    The rest of the Torah reinforces that command, and the New Testament doesn’t countermand it.

    Indeed, even Sister Helen Prejean herself admitted as much in her book, Dead Man Walking, when discussing Jesus and the adulteress in John 8:

    “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context.

    “This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment.”

  • I assume that the priest is perhaps unfamiliar with the copious portions of the Old Testament that call for death for numerous offenses. The current stance against the death penalty turns Church teaching on this issue on its head for the past two millenia. Both the State and the Church held throughout that time period that the death penalty could be justly exacted by the State.

    The Baltimore Catechism well set forth the traditional teaching:

    “Q. 1276. Under what circumstances may human life be lawfully taken?

    A. Human life may be lawfully taken:
    1. In self-defense, when we are unjustly attacked and have no other means of saving our own lives;
    2. In a just war, when the safety or rights of the nation require it;
    3. By the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution.”

    http://www.traditionalcatholic.net/Tradition/Information/Baltimore_No-3/Lesson-33.html

    If people of a state wish to abolish the death penalty, frankly that is a issue that doesn’t move me one way or the other. I am mildly in favor of the death penalty in extreme cases but it is not a hot button issue for me. However religious arguments from a Catholic perspective I find difficult to take seriously considering the vast amount of Catholic teaching to the contrary until the pontificate of John Paul II. I find it impossible to believe that the Church was mistaken on this issue for almost 2000 years.

  • A side note, but: Pulling examples of Catholic moral teaching, the priest focused a lot on both abortion and capital punishment (which he presented as absolutely forbidden). I think many priests who feel worried that they’ll be cast as too political by talking about abortion seek to balance it by condemning capital punishment equally — feeling that this shows how they aren’t partisan.

  • Even though capital punishment in today’s circumstances may be wrong, I think it is also wrong to try and say it and abortion are issues of equal importance. Abortion claims millions of lives every year, ruins entire nations (look at Russia!), destroys families, places souls in jeopardy… it is a scourge on all society. On our list of priorities, abortion has to come before capital punishment.

    I also can’t get too enthusiastic about trying to save the lives of cold-blooded murderers and rapists. As a Catholic, I will assent to the teaching of the Church, but as a human being, I won’t deny that I have a desire to punish violent crime so severely that others will be terrified to undertake it.

    I’ll also add, though, that I think no one should EVER go to prison for possession of drugs, that we have FAR too many laws, obscure, arcane, hidden laws that sometimes trap people unjustly. The punishment has to fit the crime, and in our society, the punishment is too light for the worst criminals, and too harsh for the vast majority. Our priorities are entirely out of order.

  • Generally speaking I’m against the death penalty, but I definitely make an exception for whoever invented television reality shows.

  • *shrug* It’s from the same school of argument that claims making war for peace doesn’t make sense, or that “F*ing for virginity” doesn’t make sense.

    (Hint: both of those most reliably result in peace and virgins, respectively….)

    If everyone that commits premeditated homicide were exicuted, they wouldn’t commit another murder and thus the number of murders would go down.

    Natch, how effective something is doesn’t argue for or against the morality of the action….

  • foxfier:

    Were you by any chance intoxicated when you wrote the above? ;^)

    I’ve heard “Make Love, Not War”, but what exactly does “F*ing for virginity” mean?

    That’s the first time I’ve ever encountered such an expression.

  • Run a google search e. It is ubiquitous on the Left, and Foxfier cleverly demonstrated what an inane phrase it is.

  • Lucky you, e– there’s (bleeped and unbleeped) bumper stickers of it all over. Usually the full phrase is “Making war for peace is like (making love) for virginity.”

    Was quoted at me in high school– I think it’s from the 60s?– and the other teens weren’t impressed when I pointed out that it would result in a net gain of virgins…. But I fear I’m derailing the topic; just meant to point out the school of thought.

  • Where I’m at, I’ve never encountered such bumper stickers.

    Although, I’ve quite recently encountered license plates that, for some reason or another, carry the insignia “War of Warcraft”, which seems particularly odd for me, personally; I mean, isn’t this some sort of video game?

    As far as the death penalty is concerned, I am still of the opinion that not only is it a categorical imperative (in the Kantian sense) but also a moral one if anything, especially if we are to give any sort credence whatsoever to Holy Writ.

    Furthermore, there is also the fact that much of the criminal elements in prisons are quite encouraged by the fact that in place of any such death penalty, the worst they can suffer are multiple life sentences; hence, we’ve virtually bestowed upon these a “license to kill”, so-to-speak.

    The degree to which we deem the value of life itself is illustrated quite nicely these days by a society that hardly thinks the taking of life deserves nothing more than merely time away in prison!

    How very apt as such values are much in keeping with the Culture of Death!

    Obama is indeed a worthy recipient of the Noble Peace Prize given the kind of society that exists today where its very values are so warped.

  • Although, I’ve quite recently encountered license plates that, for some reason or another, carry the insignia “War of Warcraft”, which seems particularly odd for me, personally; I mean, isn’t this some sort of video game?

    *big grin* Yes, yes it is– one with a really good sense of humor. I’d be delighted to have more Warcraft stickers instead of political ones….Given my luck, I’ll just end up with political Warcraft ones. (Palin is <a href="http://www.wowwiki.com/Varimathras"Varimathras! Warlocks pwn as Demo-crat!”)

  • Actually, the one I encountered wasn’t a bumper sticker; it was a license plate.

    I know they make custom plates for certain causes (e.g., “Save the Whales”, etc.); but I take it that the prominence of this particular video game is such that it too became deserving of the honor of becoming a custom plate as well?

    Curious, your link didn’t turn up (maybe due to the html coding); but were you actually indicating that Palin also plays this video game?

    If anybody could provide an incentive for folks to play that video game, it’d be a hot babe like her! *wink*

  • Oh, nice— guessing that it’s one of those states that lets most anything be made into a plate, then.

    Heh, I did mess up the HTML– tried to remove the Palin example, ended up only removing the closing tag. (figure less is more when it’s an in-joke)

    I’m pretty sure Palin doesn’t play WoW– although her kids might, especially that son in the military. (Amazing number of military folks in online games- pay 12 bucks a month for subscription and you can visit friends any time you’ve got an internet connection. Plus, the game and a six pack are a pretty good evening on the cheap.)

  • Lamartine wrote of the abolition of the death penalty: “Que messieurs les assassins commencent”.

    It seems to me that many Catholic commentators overlook the fact that death is not a final end. You can get run over any day.

    I am reminded of the prisoner on death row who was seated on the metal seat of his toilet, while fiddling with his radio, and managed to electrocute himself.

    The question should be about the effect on the society that uses the death penalty, not on the person executed.

  • No, what people need to realize is the total disregard for life that our society has (and, in particular, Catholics themselves), such that the deliberate taking of a life is deemed as petty as a lesser offence wherein we practically impose upon murderers penalties equal to those of the latter!

  • I can’t say I’d agree that being dead is less about the dead person than what it does to society…by that reasoning, murderers should get off easier if they kill folks whose death ends up being a net gain, and that’s rather nuts.

    Based on the fact that those places where they don’t use the death penalty, the folks who murder tend to get off (Only chart I can find fast– average of 10 years served for murderers) rather lightly, and with rather high recidivism {35% here, although location etc will matter.} it’s not so good an idea….

  • I just have no luck with HTML today….

  • Doctrine develops. Times change. JP2 didn’t reverse anything. The state may execute. But in modern America, it is unnecessary. Completely compatible with the Baltimore Catechism which states that it’s acceptable “when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution.”

    As for the “bad argument,” I don’t find it bad at all. When less drastic measures are sufficient, preserving life is a great testiment to how much society values it.

  • Development of Doctrine a la Newman is one thing restrained radical, reversal is another. I defy anyone to say with a straight face that John Paul II did not intend to abolish the death penalty. This stands traditional teaching in this area on its head. One of the great strengths of the Church is how heedless it has been over great gulfs of time to the momentary shifts in popular intellectual prejudices and emotional passions that sweep over almost all other human institutions. The mainline Protestant denominations are dying proofs of what happens to religious organizations that shift Church teaching to embrace the zeitgeist.

  • …preserving life is a great testament to how much society values it.

    Imposing criminal penalties on murderers that are equivalent to those of even lesser offenses is sheer testament of how trivial this society deems murder to be — but, hey, that’s not all that surprising given how abortion (which is nothing more than murder) is also treated so casually and how facets of the Culture of Death itself is promoted quite enthusiastically by even certain Catholics that they would deliberately ignore Scripture itself concerning these two things.

Tortured Credibility

Friday, May 22, AD 2009

It has become an oft repeated trope of Catholics who are on the left or the self-consciously-unclassifiable portions of the American political spectrum that the pro-life movement has suffered a catastrophic loss of credibility because of its association with the Republican Party, and thence with the Iraq War and the use of torture on Al Qaeda detainees. Until the pro-life movement distances itself from the Republican Party and all of the pro-life leadership who have defended the Iraq War and/or the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, the argument goes, the pro-life movement will have no moral authority and will be the laughing stock of enlightened Catholics everywhere.

Regardless of what one thinks about the Iraq War and torture (myself, I continue to support the former but oppose the latter) I’m not sure that this claim works very well. Further, I think that those who make it often fail to recognize the extent to which it cuts both ways.

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42 Responses to Tortured Credibility

  • I don’t think being “pro-life” will lose credibility because the position is True, but “pro-lifers” who associate with other violations against human dignity might.

    Personally, I do not understand how a thoughtful Catholic can support the Iraq War. I’ve yet to really hear air tight moral justifications for it, and if memory serves the entire run up to the invasion reeked of jumping the gun while post 9/11 emotions still ran high. Not exactly conditions for sober decision-making.

    The decision was not only an act of aggression, it was unconstitutional and a strategic blunder. It put us on the road to bankruptcy and rather than secure our safety I believe it to be contributing to an environment for further violent conflict. The truth is, almost a decade out from 9/11 and we were given Saddam Hussein on a platter instead of Osama bin Laden.

    The fact of this occurring under a Republican administration is rather irrelevant. If party actually mattered the war funds would have been taken away by the Democratic congress at any time after 2006. Now, half a year into Obama’s tenure and the line on withdraw is “give us three years”.

    The fact that this messy war has tainted other Republican “values” is not surprising. Look at everyone suddenly crying out that capitalism has failed!

    I would expect that if Obama does not end the war in a satisfactory way by the next election, or if there is a new conflict in Pakistan or Africa… leftist values too will begin to be dragged down. Voters will become sick of everything he says, just like Bush. The anti-war left would likely be as deflated and the pro-life right.

    If you ask me its the insanity of tribalism at work. If you take the “us vs. them” two party system and combine it with the general ignorance… well what do you expect? And besides, its not as if people on the genuine left and the genuine right really make it into power, is it?

    The war was never about securing the American people. It was however, about securing the American federal government; it dominance and control. Thats something both center-left and center-right can agree on. Ironically, they are losing both bit by bit, British-style.

    To this day I believe that the path to regain power is within Republican hands: all they have to do is repudiate the war. Maybe change their name, too. 🙂

    As far as the pro-Life movement is concerned… I do indeed think it is in their best interest to grow beyond the party. I think they have to if they are looking to build majorities that can withstand the back-and-forth of American politics.

    Most libertarians seem to be pro-choice, which is mind-boggling. There’s room there to grow a little bit.

    Pro-lifers do not need a majority of Democrats on their side. Just enough to make the larger party think twice when it comes to abortion legislation. They have to consider which piper they are going to pay. If abortion were more often argued in terms of the civil rights movement, perhaps left-leaning politicians could be persuaded.

    I guess, Darwin, my broader point is – none of it matters. Its tit-for-tat politics and none of the influential players are interested in moral consistency, just majority-building. By defending the Republican alignment of values or that the pro-life movement is perfectly at home where it is, you’re playing into the hands of pollsters and politicians.

    Or, perhaps I made no sense, even to myself.

  • Personally, I do not understand how a thoughtful Catholic can support the Iraq War. I’ve yet to really hear air tight moral justifications for it, and if memory serves the entire run up to the invasion reeked of jumping the gun while post 9/11 emotions still ran high. Not exactly conditions for sober decision-making.

    Well, I think I can at least claim to have been sober, in that I’d supported forcibly removing Hussein from power ever since 1991. I considered it profoundly immoral for Bush Sr. to have called on the people of Iraq to rise up against their dictator, with the implicit promise that the US would support them, and then leave them to die in the hundreds of thousands instead. I would have supported an invasion at any time since then, and I considered it to be justified, given that Iraq had never satisfactorily obeyed the 1991 cease fire anyway. If Clinton had been willing to get rid of Hussein at any point during his term, I would have supported that.

    I do think that the WMD justification was poor at best. Yes, there was a general belief (even among Iraq’s military) that they had chemical weapons. But they were not a great threat to us. However, given that I’d been in support of deposing Hussein for over ten years already, I didn’t consider the punitive justification a major obstacle to what seemed long overdue already.

    But, I can certainly understand why other Catholics would believe differently.

    By defending the Republican alignment of values or that the pro-life movement is perfectly at home where it is, you’re playing into the hands of pollsters and politicians.

    I don’t know that I’m so much defending the status who as pointing out that it’s hardly surprising to anyone. There are parts of the GOP platform that I absolutely disagree with (I’d support open borders) but I don’t think anyone does himself any favor by getting all worked up over where the current alignments are. It’s ludicrous to claim that the pro-life movement has lost credibility as a result of being associated with the GOP in a way that immigration reform and opposition to the death penalty haven’t as a result of being associated with the Democrats. All are known to be highly partisan agendas with established bases of support, and pretending that’s news to anyone does not strike me as doing one credit. Even if one would appreciate realignment.

  • “It’s ludicrous to claim that the pro-life movement has lost credibility as a result of being associated with the GOP in a way that immigration reform and opposition to the death penalty haven’t as a result of being associated with the Democrats. ”

    I suppose it would depend on how you see credibility. The movement is philosophically credible by being moral and constitutionally correct. But politically I can see how some would say they’ve lost credibility in terms of their ability to win elections, win court cases and influence legislation. If a movement is going to cast its lot with one party, then its goals are inevitably tied to the success or failure of unrelated issues. Only the thick-headed would exclusively equate political success to intellectual legitimacy.

  • Anthony,

    If a movement is going to cast its lot with one party, then its goals are inevitably tied to the success or failure of unrelated issues

    the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.

    You’re not proposing some ridiculous third-party option, are you?

    The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.

  • The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.

    This is due to american historical amnesia, of course.

  • Rather a reaction to the coming Obama Crash. Unless there is a major terrorist attack, and I wouldn’t rule that out, the economy will be the overriding issue in 2010 and 2012 and the signs are not good currently for Obamanomics.

  • Michael I,

    what Donald said. But also, the American people realize that right or wrong the Iraq invasion was a bipartisan decision that most of the people agreed with as well. Their disatisfaction was almost entirely due to the poor state of affairs until it was rectified by the surge which President Bush (R) ordered at the recommendation of General Petreus (R?), and the urging of Senator McCain (R), and the majority of the Republican party. The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over, or that Obama snapped defeat from the jaws of victory, very unlikely since he kept on the Robert Gates(R) to ensure that it wouldn’t happen.

    Donald is exactly right, the issue of 2010 and 2012 will not be Iraq 2003-2008. If I had to predict, sadly, it will be economic malaise, inflation, crushing federal deficits, massive tax increases, and quite possibly devastating terrorist attacks or other security issues (Russia, Iran, North Korea, take your pick).

  • “the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.”

    I think the point is not whether or not the choices, in the short-term, of what seemed best for the survival of the movement is correct. After Roe v. Wade, the Democrats became increasingly dominated by pro-choice politicians, supported by the abortion-minded groups, etc. The GOP was very welcoming.

    I think the point of the criticism (right or wrong) is that possibly unforeseen affects are what we’re experiencing now.

    I think he is saying that the pro-life movement by making itself dependent solely on the success of a single party has made its own success contingent on that party. If positions predominantly accepted by that party are, largely down-the-list, against one’s best judgments of what better achieves justice then despite their pro-life convictions, some will feel disenfranchised and/or uncomfortable or even alienated by the rest of pro-lifers, some, not all, of which give a blind stamp of approval to the platform because of the party’s stance on life issues.

    And because this issue has divided itself across party lines, it appears to be a partisan issue when it really should not be.

    I posted a link from a story in the Human Life Review a while back talking about trouble pro-life Democratic candidates had in receiving funds, despite their records, from pro-life groups; other problems included Republican candidates being endorsed over pro-life Democrats with untainted abortion records — though, as far as I know, this hasn’t happened so much on the federal, rather than, state level. It’s why people — rightly or wrongly — say that some pro-life groups might as well be Republican PACs.

    Another problematic case is the fact that pro-life Democrats are so “diaspora” and not collectively organized at the local levels that it makes it rather difficult, even for principled, pro-life Democrats to actually launch a campaign. They don’t have the resources, even for those who are unequivocally pro-life. Some settle and work in the trenches for pro-life groups or other justice causes. Others simply — and I imagine this happened during the Reagan years — became Republicans.

    As a result, it is very very difficult for the pro-life movement to enter the realm of the Left because fellow pro-lifers are suspicious, perhaps with valid reason, to suspect “double talk” or false pro-life credentials.

    However, this very reality, I think makes the pro-life movement a house divided against itself while the pro-choice movements is moving in lock-step and that’s the source of their temporal victories.

    Now, I’m sure no one is saying that a one-party pro-life party is the way to go to. Some are hesitant, I’m sure for valid reasons, that it is difficult, or even counter-productive, to support self-described “pro-life Democrats.” Perhaps they’re right.

    However, here are my criticisms — some valid, perhaps some not. Everyone will have to judge for themselves.

    When Reagan was the president, the pro-life movement gained quite a bit of ground. Yet, the Clinton Administration quickly turned the direction of abortion and bioethical policies the other way. The Bush Administration was eight years of undoing the damage done by the Clinton Administration and restoring and adding new pro-life policies. Now we’re in another reversal.

    This tit-for-tat can keep going, or the other party can be infiltrated from within. There has not been much ground on this made, necessarily, but the organization Republicans for Choice (http://www.republicansforchoice.com/) are all but invisible. After the election, I’ve read a many articles and seen many people claiming that it was the “values-sector” of the party driving out moderates with their alleged extremism and litmus tests. I’m not making their argument; I am simply stating their assertions. The GOP, as seen, has no problem recruiting pro-choice Republicans to run for office (more than likely in liberal districts) to win office. I suppose the thinking is that it’s better to have someone with you 90% of the time then 0%.

    This reality tried to manifest itself in the 2008 GOP presidential primaries. The pro-life movement responded forcefully — not for the best candidate in my view — but responded nonetheless. Yet, I cannot help but wonder: what if?

    What would happen if the GOP with its new RNC Chair, Mr. Steele, so committed to “inclusion” and diversity and non-application of litmus tests went in a different direction? What if, God forbid, at some point, the pro-life movement split between viable candidates and all pro-choice and socially moderate Republicans concerned with fiscal conservatism, not cultural values, line up behind a single, less-than-pro-life candidate?

    I think that’s the bind. What is a pro-life person to do in this situation? Surely, a hypothetical, cynical GOP strategist might ask: would they really go to the other party? If this did occur: what would you do? Some I imagine would put a protest vote and not vote at all. Others would vote for the GOP, take what they can, and work to change the case next time. But it would surely be a source of division and debate: a house divided against itself. It seems that if voting is a moral obligation, then, one can’t simply sit at home and let good pro-life Republicans lose their seats and more pro-choice seats be taken in Congress by the Democratic party. What about pro-life Governors? What about the Presidency? The latter of two who appoint judges (depending on the State) and can realistically set a judicial seat in the pro-choice camp for perhaps a generation. Right now, that’s the scare with Obama’s SC nominee coming. Surely it would be better — and on this no one disagrees — that power can exchange between the parties and there would be little concern over nominee’s abortion positions.

    It seems that the success of the pro-life movement rises and falls with the GOP. I think it’s problematic.

    I don’t think it’s nonsense per se to envision Republican strategists, pure pragmatists, to realize that abortion is a potent electoral tool and not so much a human rights issue. This isn’t to say that there are several candid and sincere pro-life Republicans serving in public office.

    In the last 40 years, there have been only 2 Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court. Reagan chose two nominees that ended up being pro-choice and so did Bush I. Seven of the nine Justices since Roe have been made by Republicans and the pro-life movement has not garnered the votes needed by the court in order to get a 5-4 majority.

    This goes back to the question of pro-life Democrats. I think many Democrats who are pro-life cannot garner the resources or support to make it to office. The Democratic party won’t fund pro-life candidates, but rather would search for pro-choice candidates — anyone — to run in opposition to such candidates in primaries. That’s the key. A pro-life Democrat might do fine in a general elections against a Republican. In recent decades, they usually win. But rather it is the Democratic primary is an incredible challenge because of a lack of resources to compete against their fellow party-members who are singling them out surely over abortion. The GOP doesn’t hesitate to fund it’s pro-choice candidates: primaries are fair game. Let the voters decide.

    The list of pro-life Democrats who had high political ambitions who realized this reality is growing. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and many more were all at one point pro-life.

    Now certainly there change of conviction is morally incorrect and a reflection of poor character and courage. Many of such candidates do so for political expediency; others remain “pro-life,” but compromise their position and “moderate themselves” to win some base votes that they otherwise cannot win office without. Some later become explicitly pro-choice; others try to uphold the pro-life facade. Surely, the cooperation in evil doesn’t justify such actions. However, I think the fact that this occurs reflects a support that is not there, not just for cowards who will compromise, but for those who genuinely will seek office and never win it because they aren’t willing to sell out their principles.

    Yet, it just makes me wonder, if a pro-life Democrat launched an exploratory committee to seek the presidency and actually made it onto the ballot for the Democratic primary, how many pro-life groups or pro-life Americans, might actually extend help in resources for such a candidate to survive the assaults of NARAL, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood which is without a doubt the most organized, financed political movement in the U.S.? I’m skeptical of the number of people who would cross over from the GOP and cast their vote to ensure the pro-life candidate wins. I’m sure they have their reasons for it as well.

    I’m not sure anything I’ve said is valid or just my jumbled, ramblings.

    Perhaps, my most controversial thought is this…

    I won’t say it is a double standard.

    I just will say I dislike the reality. It seems that to be authentically a pro-life Democrat you must support Republican candidates, even with the most strident conviction that these candidates will not work fervently, or even with passion, to curtail the horror of abortion — but are rather giving you lip service. Right or wrong, I believe this to be the case. Yet, if you vote for or support pro-life Democratic candidates, some, again, not all, will see this as a moral compromise and support for “pseudo-pro-life” candidates. To such candidates, much scrutiny is given; but this same critical eye is not extended to the pro-life politicians in the GOP; it seems to me, perhaps, I’m wrong, they get quite a bypass. Nor do such individuals see any sort of necessity in helping such candidates win and defeat pro-choice candidates in a party direly in need of pro-life presence.

    Pro-life Democrats can never achieve leaders seats on committees and roles of leadership if they aren’t greater in number to be a force not to be thrown around.

    So, at the end of the day, pro-life Democrats seem to have a responsibility to ensure that Republican candidates beat pro-choice Democrats; yet, the issue of pushing their party in a more pro-life direction, seems to be an issue that is sort of “their problem” — and I cannot see how this current reality doesn’t lend itself to helping the Republican party politically. It maintains its hold on a crucial voting bloc.

    So, not so surprisingly, I agree, at least, in part with critics that the pro-life movement in some respects behaves like a Republican PAC.

    As it so happens, two parties that are pro-life forces competition, competition produces results. It seems then that pro-life Democrats are a potent tool for pro-life success. Even from 2000 to 2006, not a piece of pro-life legislation could pass through Congress without the remaining pro-life Democrats to neutralize and overcome pro-choice Republican votes.

  • But also, the American people realize that right or wrong the Iraq invasion was a bipartisan decision that most of the people agreed with as well.

    Not true, and also irrelevant.

  • “the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.

    You’re not proposing some ridiculous third-party option, are you?”

    No, I’m proposing that we patiently persuade… a lost art in the United States.

    There has to also be a way that makes the pro-life cause and Democratic political interests better partners. Recall that after 2004, some Democrats began to wonder aloud (perhaps not seriously, but still) of becoming more friendly to the pro-life side of things. I had hoped the “Blue Dog” Democrats might be a moderating force, but not so it seems..

    Though, a third party would always be welcome in my view, however unlikely. It will never happen until enough disillusioned but still caring individuals decided to organize and work to breakdown election rules.

    “The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over”

    I don’t agree. I think people will see it as an expensive mess (fiscally and morally) by Republicans that had to be cleaned up with more expenses by Republicans.

    And in the not-to-distant future they will see that Obama is carrying on that proud tradition, just in a lefty, Oprah-y way with nice posters and logos. Whether they have the courage to see past it remains to be seen.

    “The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.”

    You’re joking right? If they don’t repudiate it then why would those of us who can remember past last week believe them ever again? I used to be fairly Republican 8 years ago. I’ll never vote for either major party again unless there is fundamental changes in attitude. I don’t care how naive or idealistic it is. We’re Catholic, for pete’s sake. We’re supposed to be better than this.

    The Republicans either lied, were incompetent or made bad judgement. All are good reasons to be kept from power as long as possible. “The Surge” no matter how militarily successful is irrelevant to the underlying issues that got us into the situation in the first place. If “winning” in Iraq looks the same as our perpetual “victories” in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Germany, etc. then… no thanks.

    Don’t get me wrong… the Democrats are guilty of all that too!

    “Donald is exactly right, the issue of 2010 and 2012 will not be Iraq 2003-2008. If I had to predict, sadly, it will be economic malaise, inflation, crushing federal deficits, massive tax increases, and quite possibly devastating terrorist attacks or other security issues (Russia, Iran, North Korea, take your pick).”

    The Iraq war is not over, so it is not “2003-2008”, its “2003-present”. Its Obama’s War now, just like Afghanistan and his little games in Pakistan.

    I agree that economic issues are going to be the issue. But gee, I wonder what contributed to this mess… perhaps our ludicrously expensive foreign policy based on principled values like bribery or blowing things up.

    Will inflation be the issue? Of course, thanks to the billions spent, borrowed or created at the start of Bush’s term and exponentially increased under Obama.

    If a “security issue” (real, imagined or just for fun) does come up, you can bet that they’ll sell it as beneficial to our economic woes. Which is like saying WWII ended the Great Depression (it didn’t). Or perhaps they’ll say that this war (presuming its Iran) will be cheaper because the troops are already there! The cannons can be adjusted just a few degrees further east!

    I must say… if there is another “devastating” terrorist attack and the U.S. goes into another post-9/11 funk of spending and shooting…I’m not certain the “Republic” can survive in anyway thats worth describing as free.

  • Anthony, I agree. Despite my own previous assumptions, I’m not so sure I’ll be crossing over and helping the GOP in 2010; maybe not in 2012.

    I might have a straight down the line Pope Benedict XVI ballot.

  • “I might have a straight down the line Pope Benedict XVI ballot.”

    My mind is being tragically torn into a million pieces that the very thought of Pope Benedict XVI, Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome… and POTUS!

    Thomas Jefferson would be very, VERY disappointed!

  • If you say you won’t support pro-life Republicans in 2010 or 2012 for office against pro-abortion Democrats… what’s the logical conclusion?

    If you say you don’t want the Republicans back in power any time soon, and you’re not insane enough to think that somehow a magical third party will take sweep the congress in 2010 and the presidency in 2012, then the only conclusion is you prefer the RADICALLY pro-abortion Democrats.

    If you don’t see the strategy of supporting the Republican party straight ticket, then vote your conscience on each legitimate candidate on his own merits. That’s the ONLY moral option.

  • I said I’d write in candidates.

  • Michael J. Iafrate,

    Not true, and also irrelevant.

    Of course it’s true, 70% of the population supported the invasion, and both parties with a very few exceptions.

    Relevence? It’s relevent to the point of what will happen in 2010/2012.

    Anthony,

    No, I’m proposing that we patiently persuade… a lost art in the United States.

    I agree, we should patiently pursuade the luke-warm to be on fire for pro-life, and for the pro-abortion to be pro-life or at least luke-warm. THis applies to either party of course. Franly though, you can have a much greater influence on Republican platforms that you like or don’t like than you will on dropping abortion from the Democrat platform. THere is just a lot more tolerence for dissenting views in the Republican party.

    “The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over”

    I don’t agree. I think people will see it as an expensive mess (fiscally and morally) by Republicans that had to be cleaned up with more expenses by Republicans.

    I don’t think most people really have as short a memory as you do about the invasion (bipartisan and popular support), if their memory is short they’ll probably only remember that we won (unless Obama snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and that they’ll REALLY remember. Expensive? In 2003-2008 terms perhaps, but it is so small compared to Obama’s spending sprees it will not really factor on the decision.

    You’re joking right? If they don’t repudiate it then why would those of us who can remember past last week believe them ever again? I used to be fairly Republican 8 years ago. I’ll never vote for either major party again unless there is fundamental changes in attitude. I don’t care how naive or idealistic it is. We’re Catholic, for pete’s sake. We’re supposed to be better than this.

    Actually you may not be aware but there are bigger things at stake than a popularly supported invasion in 2003, the Church is pretty clear on this, abortion is a much more serious issue. 40 million murdered innocents and counting… no comparison.

    The Republicans either lied, were incompetent or made bad judgement. All are good reasons to be kept from power as long as possible. “The Surge” no matter how militarily successful is irrelevant to the underlying issues that got us into the situation in the first place. If “winning” in Iraq looks the same as our perpetual “victories” in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Germany, etc. then… no thanks.

    Shame on you.

    The Iraq war is not over, so it is not “2003-2008?, its “2003-present”. Its Obama’s War now, just like Afghanistan and his little games in Pakistan.

    That’s my point, Iraq war, initiated under popular support, waged by the Republicans (poorly at times, but later brilliantly and successfully) from 2003-2008. The wrap-up is Obama’s to screw-up, it will not help him if he lets the job be finished properly, but it will devastate him if he screws it up.

    I agree that economic issues are going to be the issue. But gee, I wonder what contributed to this mess… perhaps our ludicrously expensive foreign policy based on principled values like bribery or blowing things up.

    Have you actually looked at military spending as % of federal spending or GDP? It’s tiny. Other “foreign policy” spending is money that’s been wasted for decades, nothing new here, I’d drop most of it immediately.

    If a “security issue” (real, imagined or just for fun) does come up, you can bet that they’ll sell it as beneficial to our economic woes. Which is like saying WWII ended the Great Depression (it didn’t). Or perhaps they’ll say that this war (presuming its Iran) will be cheaper because the troops are already there! The cannons can be adjusted just a few degrees further east!

    I must say… if there is another “devastating” terrorist attack and the U.S. goes into another post-9/11 funk of spending and shooting…I’m not certain the “Republic” can survive in anyway thats worth describing as free.

    are you a pacifist? I’m wondering, because you seem to make no distinction between just and unjust wars, ie. real = just, imagined, or just for fun = unjust.

  • Eric Brown,

    I said I’d write in candidates.

    let me get this straight. You consider your objections to the Republican platform to be on such a morally equal level to abortion, even when balanced against the alternative’s incredibly immoral policies… that you would vote AGAINST a viable and authentically pro-life candidate in your congressional district, or for president?

    Think about your position here, it’s untennable. If there is a viable and authentically pro-life candidate you have a moral obligation to support him. In the case of two less than authentically pro-life candidates the Church leaves your conscience to measure the best course, but not when one of them is authentically pro-life.

  • Well, I voted for quite a few Republicans in 2008 and not without a lot of hesitation.

    However, the problem is, that I don’t take at face value that the GOP and Republicans are “authentically” pro-life. Better on abortion than Democrats by far, but not per se…

    And I am not sure if it is a Catholic moral obligation to vote straight ticket Republican.

    I might have reservations to cooperate in the scheme, but I’m not opposed to doing it.

    Read my earlier post.

  • “Actually you may not be aware but there are bigger things at stake than a popularly supported invasion in 2003, the Church is pretty clear on this, abortion is a much more serious issue.”

    Killing is killing. Maybe you’re capable of making value distinctions between innocent, unborn children and innocent Iraqi lives (unless you’re convinced none are innocent), but I’m not.

    The “bigger picture” you refer to is only a numbers game. But the result is the same: death, unintended consequences and damage to human dignity.

    “Shame on you.”

    I’m going to explain myself rather than take that personally. This is the internet after all.

    Our intervention in Japan and Germany is not over. We’re still there, in one capacity or another. And we shouldn’t be, regardless of whether the Germans or the Japanese wish us to be. Here it is 60 years after a terrible and bloody war and American treasure is still being sent abroad to places in which the native peoples are more than capable of taking responsibility for themselves.

    Oh yeah, and dropping two atomic bombs? Morally reprehensible. Nothing to be proud of about that. I can’t imagine Christ doing anything other than weeping.

    So sorry, I’m not going to take The History Channel view of American “victory”.

    “Have you actually looked at military spending as % of federal spending or GDP? It’s tiny. Other “foreign policy” spending is money that’s been wasted for decades, nothing new here, I’d drop most of it immediately.”

    Its a trillion dollar war now, Matt. Plus untold losses on the Iraqi side and an incalculable amount lost in terms of productivity. Who cares about percentages at that point?

    If that money had to be spent, it would have been better but towards meeting our burdensome domestic obligations. The bills are adding up…

    By other “foreign policy” spending… do you mean wasted things like… diplomats?! Linguists?! Negotiators?! You know, the guys that try to resolve problems without killing someone. 🙂

    I’ll give you one thing, if you’d get us out of the U.N. I’d back you up. Thats some prime property here in Manhattan I’d love to see sold off.

    “are you a pacifist? I’m wondering, because you seem to make no distinction between just and unjust wars, ie. real = just, imagined, or just for fun = unjust.”

    I don’t consider myself a pacifist. I do however, believe that the threshold for a just war is extremely high and rarely reached. Additionally, in cases where it is justly reached rarely is it justly executed. I have the same attitude towards the death penalty.

    The American Revolution and The Southern War for Independence to my mind were justified. (I also want to include The Texas Revolution, but my memory is a bit faded on it) Our involvement in WWII was justified, but I think we should have no delusions about the politics that lead up to our entering the war. I also believe portions of how WWII was executed were unjust.

    The Spanish-American War, WWI (a special shout-out here), the Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War I and II etc. are unjust wars in my view.

    The current war in Afghanistan should have been formally declared after 9-11, with victory clearly defined. My opinion has been that it should have been declared specifically against Al-Qaeda, since they did the same to us in the late 90s. War against the state of Afghanistan should only have been declared if they chose to continue material support to Al-Qaeda.

  • I think the issue is less guilt by association than it is the fact that association can draw you into defending things that really shouldn’t be defended. Over the past month, for example, folks at EWTN, First Things, Inside Catholic and the American Life League have defended the use of torture (or enhanced interrogation, or whatever they’re calling it these days). They didn’t have to do that, and I suspect that if the sides had been reversed (with Dems largely supporting these methods and Repubs opposed) that they wouldn’t have done so. But there’s something about politics that makes people feel that they need to “defend their team” regardless of the system.

    To some extent this may be inherent in the nature of politics (if it weren’t for this political ‘team spirit’ I doubt you could get very many people to participate in the political process or even vote). And it certainly applies on the left as well as on the right. But the danger is real.

  • Blackadder is correct.

  • In the last 40 years, there have been only 2 Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court. Reagan chose two nominees that ended up being pro-choice and so did Bush I. Seven of the nine Justices since Roe have been made by Republicans and the pro-life movement has not garnered the votes needed by the court in order to get a 5-4 majority.

    In the interests of precision it should be that George Bush – pere made just two appointments to the Court, one of which worked out badly. Please also note that Republican presidents have had to maneuver eight of their last 12 court appointments past a legislature controlled by the political opposition. This reality has been salient with regard to the tenure of Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. One might also note the list of registered Democrats who have sat on the Court since 1969 (one of which was nominated by Gen. Eisenhower):

    1. William O. Douglas
    2. William J. Brennan, Jr.
    3. Byron White
    4. Thurgood Marshall
    5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    6. Steven Breyer

    Not one of them had to run an obstacle course erected by a Republican Senate. Only one of these (White) ever showed much resistance to enactment by judicial ukase of whatever the prevailing ethos was in Georgetown (and it is doubtful that Mr. Justice White’s most controversial acts of refusal would have been regarded as remarkable either in the legal professoriate or among politicians at the time he was appointed in 1962). Seven of the twelve Republican appointments have been failures, in part because of negligence (Gerald Ford’s and George Bush-pere’s), incompetence (that of Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, and John Dean), and in part because (it is reasonable to surmise) of successful deception by the candidate in question (Sandra Day O’Connor).

    What is a more interesting question is why Mr. Brown would have more than a laconic interest in the competition between the two parties with regard to any other nexus of issues. Both parties are promoters of some version of the mixed economy. The Democratic Party is a reliable ally (the Republicans merely acquiescent) in the promotion of the designs of the social work industry, the organized appetite of academia, the teacher’s colleges, and the public employee unions. Certain subcultures within the population appear to be tribal Democrats). Why should these distinctions excite Mr. Brown’s loyalty?

  • Anthony, I think a lot of it depends on whose ox is being gored. Being partly of Cuban ancestry, I would take issue with your statement that the Spanish American war was unjustified–or at least, that element within it that consisted of Cuban citizens fighting to rout their foreign rulers. And while my Southern creds are impeccable, I confess that I remain deeply divided about the legitimacy of the Wah of Nawthun Agression–particularly the nasty little bit of Confederate adventuring in Charleston Harbor that set off the whole powder keg.

    I am glad to see, however, that you have no false illusions about WWII. Though there is no doubt in my mind that it was justified, I have often reflected recently that the brutality inflicted by all sides–Allies included–in that conflict, makes the sturm und drang about the Iraq War seem doubly ridiculous.

  • Art,

    Then it seems then that more careful vetting would be something GOP presidents should work on and pro-life advocates should strongly affirm that they desire anti-Roe judges and won’t settle for compromises.

    Even in the 1980s, the Democratic party was markedly pro-choice, but there were still a few pro-life Democratic votes in the Senate and I don’t think it was filibuster proof. I’d have to look into that; I’m not so sure if compromise and “moderate” candidates was so necessary.

    Agreed, however, that O’Connor was successful. I must say that I’ve been disappointed with the most recent women firsts — Supreme Court Justice, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, to be particular. They were all pro-choice…so sad.

    On another note —

    I am a Democrat because I agree predominantly with the party’s platform. And I feel that I simply wouldn’t fit in with the GOP. I practically diverge away on every issue.

    In regard to competition, my only point was that if the Democratic Party had a pro-life plank, the GOP couldn’t half-ass deliver on its promises or fail to give abortion the priority it deserves because pro-life advocates could find a home and place in the Democratic Party. Therefore, competition would increase and the party’s would try to out do each other — but the effect of that is real progress in stopping abortion.

    In other words, the tit-for-tat of pro-choice vs. pro-life means one Administration puts in place pro-abortion policies, another Administration rolls it back, then again, and again. Progress is very slow; if this were not the case, then progress would quicken.

    My feeling on this is that the pro-life movement because of the grave evil of legalized murder doesn’t have the luxury to make up strategy as it goes. I happen to think our current strategy is too tied up in one party. People can disagree; but I think my reasons are valid. Thanks.

  • cminor – Wars for political independence usually to my mind are justified. Or perhaps I just have soft spot for people who wish to be left alone and chart their own course. As I’ve argued over in the past – I believe there is great value behind the principle of secession.

    What I object to in my list of unjust wars is the element of military intervention. Its one thing to philosophically support foreigners, or offer them peaceful-oriented material support (food, medical aide, etc. – mostly for civilians). Violent intervention is a bridge too far. I’m one of those guys who think neutrality is a legitimate and respectable response to foreign wars, especially ones at great geographical distance.

    Eric –

    I’m of the personal view that if the Democrats did have a pro-life bench they would be wildly successful and almost impossible to defeat.

    Granted I’m not a Democrat and never will be. The concerns that their platform addresses I might have heart for, but their solutions more often than not have unintended or misunderstood consequences. LBJ’s Great Society, for example, was anything but. FDR’s social security has contributed ironically to making us less financially secure. These policies, sold to the American public as being in line with liberty, over time make the population dependent – and I would even say pawns or slaves – to the state.

    The Democrats are in essence the party of social and economic intervention. The Republicans are a party of moral intervention and militarism. When politically convenient or necessary, both parties will swap philosophies.

  • Wars for political independence usually to my mind are justified. Or perhaps I just have soft spot for people who wish to be left alone and chart their own course. As I’ve argued over in the past – I believe there is great value behind the principle of secession.

    Interesting. In most ways, I think I would tend to say the exact opposite.

    Indeed, one of the American wars I have more difficulty justifying is the Revolution. And my sympathies in the Civil War are definitely with the North.

  • The Republicans are a party of moral intervention and militarism.

    that’s the talking points anyway. In reality, the Republicans as a policy advocate for intervention in the cause of justice, to protect the lives and rights of the citizens. As to militarism, look again, far more military interventions under Clinton than under Bush or Reagan. Regime change in Iraq was a Democrat policy also.

    Eric,

    I am a Democrat because I agree predominantly with the party’s platform.

    Wow. That’s quite a statement since many of their platform items are contrary to Catholic teaching.

    – abortion
    – contraception
    – secularism
    – limiting the rights of parents to educate their children

  • Matt,

    Last time I checked, party platforms are quite long lists.

    National security policies (which covers an array of issues), foreign policy (again an array of issues), health care, public funding of education, energy, taxes, fighting poverty through private and public sector solutions, and the list goes on.

    If you consider the whole of the platform, I agree with the vast majority of the points.

    Lastly, I don’t think anywhere in the party platform does it state we support “secularism.”

    I’m not saying that many Democrats have a wonderful understanding of the idea of separation of Church and State, but that’s flat out not in the platform.

    I didn’t say I agree with every point of the platform.

    If we had a point list and went down the party platform of each party and I had to respond ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ — the Democrats would win. Ask me to vote between candidates and probably not.

    Matt, could you really work on not being so overly aggressive and condescending as a commenter? Seriously. It’s not really in this post, but there are more charitable and engaging ways to address people.

    You could have said quoted my comment and asked:

    “Eric, could you clarify what you mean here? A few tenets of the Democratic platform contradict Catholic teaching.”

    That’s very charitable and not so assuming.

    I’m sure we’re all guilty, but we argue on this blog so much about “good” Catholics and “bad” Catholics, let’s strive to actually imitate Jesus.

  • Darwin –

    Perhaps living in Texas will influence your outlook. Certainly myself having been born and raised in Houston I experienced a subculture in America that took pride in its republican sovereignty as a historical footnote. However, Texas by and large is mostly just ‘bark and no bite’ when it comes to independence. Post-Civil War they’ve been properly beaten into submission and made to feel guilty (like the rest of the South) for ever daring to give Washington the screw.

    In the case of both The American Revolution and The Civil War the ultimate goal was not destruction of the enemy but merely her expulsion. If the South succeeded in gaining independence, perhaps the war would have been known as ‘The Southern Revolution’ or ‘The Second American Revolution’. Had both the above conflicts been genuine ‘civil wars’ I would think the endgame would involve usurping power in London and Washington D.C.

    Thats all I’ll say… I’m already too far off topic.

  • The American Revolution and The Civil War the ultimate goal was not destruction of the enemy

    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.

    As for the second, I think one can argue that secession was permissible as a matter of positive law. The thing is, both the continued subjection of the slaves and the effort necessary to discontinue that involved the use of force.

  • ****
    that’s the talking points anyway. In reality, the Republicans as a policy advocate for intervention in the cause of justice, to protect the lives and rights of the citizens. As to militarism, look again, far more military interventions under Clinton than under Bush or Reagan. Regime change in Iraq was a Democrat policy also.
    ****

    Matt,

    Maybe I’m being dimwitted, but I think you just responded to my ‘talking points’ with your own set.

    The Republican record is atrocious, especially when it comes to the litmus test of a strict reading of the Constitution and following what I can only presume are Jeffersonian principles. On matters of free speech, spending, declarations of war, states rights and social/government programs they have not lived up to their speeches. They pick and choose which rights and which liberties and which kind of justice just as much as Democrats.

    Our politicians are ‘Cafeteria Constitutionalists’ if I can paraphrase.

    Clinton might indeed have more military interventions (Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq immediately spring to mind), but the cost was no where near that of Bush II. My ‘militarism’ reference is more geared toward the current state of the party and the cultural attitudes attracted to it.

    Like I said above, those described philosophies are also quickly swapped depending on the political weather. Right now, for instance, the Republicans have become much better on a variety of issues. The problem is they have zero credibility.

  • *****
    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.

    As for the second, I think one can argue that secession was permissible as a matter of positive law. The thing is, both the continued subjection of the slaves and the effort necessary to discontinue that involved the use of force.
    *****

    I’d love to debate all these points, but it is another topic thread. Unless we have permission to go free-for-all. 🙂

  • Anthony,

    Following the self-indulgent principle of “it’s my thread so I’ll take if off topic if I feel like it”, because this strikes me as an interesting topic:

    I guess the hang-up for me is that as a conservative (and also looking at Church just war teaching) that regional independence (or national self determination, or call it what you will) is not an absolute good. In the case of the American Revolution, it strikes me that the injustices being imposed by the British were arguably very small compared to the evils of a drawn out war. Though the political philosophy of the American founding fathers strikes me as sufficiently far superior to that of the British empire that I an strongly tempted to say it was worth it anyway.

    In the case of the Civil War, I’m mildly sympathetic to states rights, but the stand was only being taken over states rights in order to insist on slavery. In that regard, I would happily have carried a rifle for the Union.

    Still, interesting conversation. I hope you’ll be around next week when I post my review (possibly multi part) of Empires of Trust. That should generate some interesting conversation.

    Blackadder,

    I think you’re right on tribalism. The temptation seems to have been too strong for some pro-life advocates to defend what they should not. Though at the same time — I don’t necessarily see the mistakes of those people as discrediting the movement as a whole. Or at least, it should not do so in the eyes of people who have long been used to swallowing the bitter pill of abortion support in the leaders they look up to on various “social justice” issues.

  • *****
    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.
    *****

    I don’t think I’ve heard anyone argue that the British crown was illegitimate, just tyrannical. The grievance, as I remember, was basically that a.) the crown’s actions were unjust and economically destructive, and b.) there was not sufficient representation in Parliament for the American colonies to voluntarily submit if they wanted to.

    Had those matters been better negotiated I would not have seen much cause for political separation. But they weren’t, so in my view it was justifiable to expel the threat to life, liberty and property and replace it with a better suited form of governance. It was time, as they say, to ‘appeal to heaven’.

    With regard to the war between the states its messier and more complicated, but similar to the situation with Britain.

    Let me first say that slavery is as reprehensible as abortion, contrary to any conception of liberty and should be rejected at all times and by all peoples. Were I living in America circa the 1850s, 1860s I would have been anti-slavery, but at peace with Southern secession.

    I often wonder if perhaps by allowing the South to secede, in time slavery could still have been done away with; particularly if Southern states sought to rejoin the Union at a later date. That way we could avoid the half million American deaths and a century of racial and and cultural resentment that is the Civil War’s sad legacy.

    I do not believe that slavery was the exclusive issue at stake in the Civil War. Not every individual fought for the same reason. If truly the war was one of liberation and not one of radically changing our Union’s understanding simultaneously, then permitting secession followed by an invasive mission to free slaves would have made more sense. Abolishing slavery in those states that did not secede would also have been more consistent on the part of the Union. Buying slaves and freeing them would also have made more sense. But both sides dug in… there had to be more to it than the lone moral debate over slavery.

    The South, in my view had a natural and popular desire to dissolve a political arrangement; no matter how imperfect or disgusting their own house could be. (Slavery, if I recall rightly, was enshrined in the CSA Constitution).

    Also I believe there to be legitimate historical and philosophical arguments over Lincoln’s goals at the war’s outset and the role tariffs and taxation played in further aggravating the conflict. Pro-Union historians who concede certain points about Lincoln usually argue that the president grew into being ‘The Great Emancipator’ over the course of the war thus legitimizing the “it was all about slavery” view. But if that is to be allowed then it could also be allowed that for the South what began as a wrong-headed defense of slavery grew into a larger and legitimate cause for political liberty.

    Its a real historical shame that the principle of ‘state’s rights’ – or rather a deference to local government – is tainted by the stench of slavery. Perhaps its only fitting that large, federal government is duly being connected to the stink of abortion, euthanasia, war and economic foolishness.

    *****
    I guess the hang-up for me is that as a conservative (and also looking at Church just war teaching) that regional independence (or national self determination, or call it what you will) is not an absolute good.
    *****

    I’m not certain there is much to say from the Church’s perspective and I only have a few, sketchy thoughts here.

    For one, after life, liberty is a natural and necessary condition in order for mankind to pursue good. I tend to think that if liberty is abridged (either by a state or individual) it further complicates pursuing a moral good via moral means. An individual or a people placed in a desperate situation they’re likely going to react desperately I’d imagine. The slave is legitimate in his revolt against the master, just as the South had legitimacy in its desire to no longer be under Washington’s growing power.

    Second, and perhaps more telling, concerns the general attitude towards ‘the State’. Where as I see the Church as a ‘higher’ form of institution that teaches and loves (however imperfectly some times), the State is considerably lower or lowest in my estimation. Indeed, I find it positively parasitical and unproductive.

    I would note that this does not mean I am not patriotic. I love my country. I love its peoples, my family, my friends, its lands, its culture and even its intellectual traditions. I cannot transfer that love to the State, indeed I find love of state to be dangerous and inescapably competitive with the things I ought to love (my neighbor, my God, etc.).

    Were I to run for office, my platform would likely be to tie the federal government’s hands as much as possible and follow the Constitution to the letter – even when inconvenient.

  • As has been remarked, parliamentary representation in Britain prior to 1832 was quite haphazard – – rotten boroughs, pocket boroughs, dominacy of Lords over Commons, &c. The lack of assignment of representation to the colonies was an aspect of that. (To this day, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and the residuum of overseas colonies do not have such representation). Why a series of excise taxes should spark a territorial revolt is an interesting question, from a sociological standpoint. Excises on paint and paper and tea may be good or bad policy. Such does not ‘tyranny’ make.

    Lincoln’s original motivations are an historical question. My purpose was to make a rough and ready statement as to why I would conceive of the use of force in that circumstance as legitimate.

    Personally, I think the U.S. Constitution is manifestly defective and should be scrapped.

  • I did not know about the sketchy representation in Parliament. Huh… the more you know!

  • Anthony

    As to Lincoln and the Civil War

    As a Southern one hears that often the Victors write hisotry. However as to the Civil War I often find the losers(we southerners) have often wrote it or “rewrote it” with amazing success. This was whiched one of its climaxes when Woodrow Wilson was elected and suddenly that horrid film he screened became the offical line

    First there is no evidence that Slavery would have gone away. It seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds in Texas. That was once a Catholic NO SLAVE STATE. It is without a doubt that SOuthern Leadership wanted a slave empire. Their constant designs on Cuba and Central America a prime example. In fact a slave Manifest Destiny with desgins on California. I suspect if things had gone differently if DC had been captured and even Philly I am not so sure that areas like New Mexico and Arizona to say the least would have been given back. There was consideravle Confederate action in New Mexico for example and the COnfederate recognized a Arizona Seccesionist Govt

    As to the “growing Federal Power” if you look at the Seccession Declarations of the States SLAVERY was the issue. While a few threw in talk of light houses and the occasional tariff this was the prime concern

    Southerners had used Federal Power quite a bit. They imposed a gag rule on Slavery in Congress, the mails could be censured of anti slavery things. Also what they wanted in the end was a Federal Slave Code. That would have been the largest exapnsion of Federal Power ever. In fact it was largely on this that the SOutherners broke with the Democrat party on that fateful day in Charleston at the Democrat Convention

  • First there is no evidence that Slavery would have gone away.

    Counter-factual speculation is somewhat idle. However, it ought be noted that the abolition of slavery in the United States was appended to the abolition of hereditary subjection all over Europe and Russia over the period running from 1789 through 1864. (Admittedly, serfdom is a qualitatively different institution). Also, I believe that the abolition of slavery in Brazil was enacted just a few years after the close of the American Civil War.

  • Well, the boll weevil would have done in the cotton industry one way or another, so retaining large quantities of slave labor would have become considerably less profitable for one major export at least. Importing new slave labor would also have become increasingly difficult and unprofitable, considering that standard practice on the big plantations in immediately antebellum Georgia and the deep South was to work slaves more or less to death over several years and then replace them. Slave escapes would likely have largely emptied border states (maybe we’d have a wall down the middle of the continent!) There might still be slavery, but not to the same extent as before; likely the system would have gotten extremely draconian before finally starting to fizzle, however.

    Currently I live in a South that, all things considered, is in pretty good shape. If a war (that we started) is what it took to bring the abomination that was slavery to an earlier close and my Confederate forefathers had to lose it so that this corner of the country wouldn’t degenerate into a demagogue-ridden third world state, though they haunt me for saying it, it’s just as well.

    For the record, I got the full Southern version of history in grade school. The victors didn’t write it all.

  • BTW Anthony, what other issues governed the decision to secede to anywhere near the degree of slavery? Please.

  • My favorite history of the Civil War was written by Shelby Foote, and the best study of command in the Civil War, Lee’s Lieutenants, was written by Douglas Southall Freeman. When it comes to the Civil War, the Southern viewpoint has produced myriad first class histories.

  • “BTW Anthony, what other issues governed the decision to secede to anywhere near the degree of slavery? Please.”

    I never said slavery was not part of it. My view has always been that the debate over slavery poured into a lager crisis over the meaning of the Union.

    I merely reject the argument that the Civil War was exclusively over that acute issue. The question of both liberty for slaves, political liberty for the Southern States and the Union’s meaning under the Constitution.

    You can’t disconnect the slave issue from its Constitutional aspects, its economic aspects any more than you can its moral ones. I’d also add that as one who leans rather libertarian the lens through which I’m viewing things is liberty itself. Questions of authority are antithetical. Why can’t one believe that slaves should be free and Southern states free? It seems rather “American” to me.

Capital Punishment And Abortion, An Argument From Doubt

Sunday, May 3, AD 2009

I think we all have, if we are fortunate, a few good friends with religious and political viewpoints very different from our own with whom we regularly hold long discussions. For me, one of these is an uncle of mine. My mom is the oldest of seven, so this uncle is actually only fifteen years older than I am. He’s a long lapsed Catholic (he describes himself as believing in God but having no religion), a comic book and movie buff, an independent rocker, and someone who thinks a lot about the meaning of life, though he does so from a very different perspective than I do.

A few months back, my uncle was telling me about how he’d recently become pro-life (or anti-abortion, for those who ride the hobby horse of not being willing to accept the common use of the term.) His reason, he said, was basically the same as the reason he’d come to oppose capital punishment a few years before.

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24 Responses to Capital Punishment And Abortion, An Argument From Doubt

  • This is a particularly useful approach for Protestants who believe scripture is silent on abortion and euthanasia. As capital-punishment-lover President Bush said “government should err on the side of life.”

  • The only good argument as far as I am concerned against the death penalty is the risk of wrongful conviction. I am all too aware that courts and juries are quite capable of making dreadful mistakes. I agree with your uncle on this point. Having said that, I am still in favor of the death penalty for heinous crimes. It is, however, not a hot-button issue for me. If a state wishes to abolish the death penalty it will not raise a protest from me. My concern in regard to abortion is the protection of innocent human life, but if the polity wishes to extend this protection to convicted murderers, I may regard this as soft-headed, but I can understand the desire to protect all human life.

    I can understand someone who is pro-abortion also being in favor of the death penalty. If the right to life of a child in the womb means nothing, how much less the claim to life possessed by a convicted murderer.

    What I cannot understand are the huge number of people who simultaneously believe that the life of the child in the womb is worth nothing, if the mother desires to end that life, while simultaneously holding sacred the life of those convicted of heinous crimes.

  • As someone who was anti-capital-punishment before I became anti-abortion, I can personally attest that it’s very difficult to hold that combination of views without major cognitive dissonance. Something had to give eventually, and I’m glad that it did.

    Rather than discredit, attack, or mock people who are anti-capital-punishment but pro-abortion, I think the best approach is to praise them for the instinct of mercy, and just suggest — suggest — that the unborn deserve that mercy, too. I think there’s a great potential for a seed to be planted. Even if you are yourself not against capital punishment, I hope that an instinct to err on the side of mercy is something that you can praise, and use to gently suggest that we should also err on the side of mercy toward the unborn.

  • I tend to agree with Bearing. I’m curious though, Mr. McClarey, if you don’t see the possibility of conversion – of giving a criminal the full opportunity of repentance – as being perhaps a worthy motive in avoiding the use of capital punishment when possible.

    For my part, I think that the only things that should be immediately eligible for capital punishment are those crimes the continuous commission of which would undermine the stability of society. For example, the intentional killing of a police officer is, in my view (and subject to certain requisite determinations), a crime that would automatically invoke execution as a punishment. I can think of others, but not that fit my premise as well (by which I mean they do not compel me to demand the death penalty as stridently as does cop-killing).

  • Yes, DW. I should add by the way that I continue to be anti-capital-punishment in the United States. I’ve always acknowledged that it’s not inherently evil and that it’s appropriate and even necessary in certain circumstances, but (a) I don’t think those circumstances exist in the US and (b) I think that mercy is a greater witness to the sacredness of life than is retribution. And I think we could use more witnesses to the sacredness of life.

    Personally, I am very frustrated by the power of the argument “you people love death when it comes to criminals, how pro-life can you be?” I wish that more pro-lifers agreed with me, because (whether WE like it or not) that argument is very convincing to people for whom the humanity of the unborn is not obvious. Since few people argue that guilty criminals are not human, it means that pro-death-penalty, anti-abortion people appear to be supporting the death of clearly-human beings while claiming moral high ground for supporting only “maybe”-human beings at great cost to other clearly human beings.

    Darwin, I’m just curious. How does being anti-abortion correlate with being anti-death-penalty? Do you know?

  • I oppose capital punishment, but I have always thought the “repentance and conversion” argument was one of the weaker points in opposition to the death penalty. In fact, I think the imminence of one’s death probably focuses the mind on the hereafter and thus serves as a catalyst toward repentance.

    Bearing describes my reasons for opposing the death penalty in the second paragraph of his second comment.

  • Not to be overly pedantic, but St. Thomas Aquinas has addressed this issue of conversion of the convicted murderer, and here’s his thought:

    The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.

    We see this routinely in actual practice, where lifers continue to kill and maim in prison, escape and do harm, or are pardoned or paroled by a new governor. We also routinely see condemned men reconciling with God at their execution. Sr. Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist, has personally witnessed this happen and written about it.

    At any rate, in this country, where we have probably the most searching and exacting rule of law in human history, and very restrictive capital statutes, it doesn’t seem to be a realistic risk that any innocent person will be executed. There has in fact been not one indisputable case of this, despite the exhaustive efforts for over 30 years of many lobbying groups to find that one “poster” case.

    On the other hand we have hundreds of examples of life imprisonment failing to protect innocent people. If we can’t effectively render these offenders harmless, the state has a right, and probably a duty, to execute them.

  • I oppose the death penalty in the US, at least generally, and have for many years, even though I concede that prison murders or murders ordered from prison may present special cases. That said, I question the appropriateness of applying the “instinct of mercy” to abortion. While mercy may be a fair description of what Christ calls us to do in our treatment of a convicted murderer, it is not what is owed to the unborn. What is owed to the unborn is simple justice. The innocents have done nothing to warrant mercy. The all too common conflation of mercy, charity, and justice makes thinking clearly about these very different virtues more difficult.

  • I believe there is some confusion about the morality of abortion as against the morality of the death penalty. That confusion arises from the failure to distinguish about the doer of the deed.
    It is not the state which commits the abortion; it a [nowadays] a doctor commissioned by the mother. Both are equally guilty of the sin as are participators such as Unplanned Parenthood. These are personal choices.

    The death penalty is a difficult matter; it may be an error but it is not a sin. A state cannot sin.

  • You are correct, Mike, but remember I am trying to meet pro-abortion people where they are. It’s common rhetoric to classify the unborn as a “parasite,” “invader,” or “aggressor,” or to identify children conceived in rape with the aggressor who begat them. When people feel as if the unborn is an aggressor, even when they feel that incorrectly, mercy is indeed the instinct that needs to be awakened.

    Gabriel, the state cannot sin, but *if* the death penalty is wrong, then a prosecutor sins in asking for it, a jury sins in applying it, a governor sins in withholding clemency, and executioners (and all involved in the process) sin in carrying out the execution.

  • bearing,
    As to your first point, as disgusting as it is, I agree. The notion that holy innocents should be regarded as “parasites” is beyond my understanding, but I appreciate your point nonetheless.
    As to your second point, I’m not so sure. I think that the responsiblity rests largely with the legislators who design the “rules of engagement” that prosecutors, juries, and governors must apply. The prudential decision as to whether the state can “effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it” is a charism and responsiblilty assigned primarily to legislators, not judges, juries, and governors who must abide by the legal standards promulgated by such lawmakers. Under ordinary circumstances I would think that such parties have a right to assume that the legislators have exercised their prudential responsibilities appropriately. I certainly do not think that one can presume “sin” absence special circumstances.

  • The notion that there are large numbers of “pro-abortion” campaigners is a misleading one. Such identity politics dehumanizes the opposition and pretends that there is only one possible moral stance involved. As the Catholic Church itself did not declare authoritatively that ensouled life began at conception until the 19th century, it is evident that not everyone will share this view.

    Most “pro-choice” people would not regard abortion as a good option, and would wish to see its incidence drastically reduced. The question is, how is this desirable outcome to be achieved?

    Whether abortion is legal or illegal appears to make little or no difference to the incidence of abortion. This can be seen from the US before WW2 — contemporary estimates put the rate far, far higher during the Depression than today’s rate — and from countries where the law has changed recently.

    It only makes a difference to the number of legal abortions, and to the circumstances under which the procedure occurs. I do not think any of us would want to see a return to backstreet abortions, or to self-induced abortions. The death rate would be appalling. We surely need to address the desperate demand for any kind of abortion, no matter how dangerous, rather than trying to make the supply of safe abortion illegal.

    So, what would actually reduce the incidence of abortion? Here, we can contrast the low rates seen in most of Western Europe and the astonishingly high rates seen in Eastern Europe.

    What makes the difference? Education; social attitudes towards illegitimacy; the financial and medical circumstances of young mothers.

    Most of the women who have abortions in the US already have children. Indeed, if my memory serves, most are married. When asked, what do they say is the reason for having an abortion? It’s their inability to feed and clothe their children. Much the same applies to young mothers.

    This society may bewail the resort to abortion, usually an agonizing choice for the pregnant woman, but it does nothing much to make the life of a woman who gives birth any easier. Indeed, by comparison with most developed countries, the United States punishes mothers, as soon as they have given birth.

    Where is their paid leave? Where are their benefit payments? Where is their free medical care? How do they buy diapers if they are surviving on food stamps?

    Where is the public transport for them to visit their doctor? A Mississippi Delta mother on Medicaid may be faced with a 60-mile round trip.

    Most of the measures needed to reduce the incidence of abortion could be supported both by secular liberals and by all but the most savagely punitive Catholics and evangelicals. We need to get past this debate if we are going to find some common ground about policies upon which all well-intentioned people can agree.

    Changing the law is not one of them. Believing that it is the only measure required is a magical view that just gratifies the self-righteousness of people who do little or nothing to ease the situation of mothers and children, and especially poor families. Indeed, there are many prominent lay Catholics who actively oppose making the lot of the poor any easier.

    We need a pro-children movement, a pro-mothers movement, a pro-poor movement. That would begin to reduce the incidence of abortion, as the politics of gesture would not.

  • @ Mike:

    I’ll confess, I find the suggestion that our legal system prevents the execution of innocents (or at least mitigates it) un-compelling. I’ve read far too many cases regarding criminal constitutional law to believe anything other than Justice Holmes’ aphoristic observation that he sat in a court of law, not of justice – drawing a thick line of demarcation between the two.

    I should also warn you that I put a lot less stock in Aquinas than I did when I was younger. I’m far more Platonic in my theology, and I think that his observations regarding the repentance of condemned criminals might have carried more weight when they were facing death by boiling in oil. When I think of modern executions, I think of Timothy McVeigh.

    As to the fact that lifers are violent, I think that the problem is less with the punishment as much as it is with the system. We quite frankly have created a penal Frankenstein that turns inmates into tribalists.

    Would you rather just execute all the lifetime prisoners?

  • Der Wolfanwalt,

    I am mostly at a loss as to how to respond since though your post is addressed to me it is not germane to anything I wrote.

    I would add though that while our prison system is certainly imperfect, my nephew the prison guard would find your thesis blaming bad prisoner behavior on our penal system both naive and amusing.

  • David Harley,

    While the notion that there are large numbers of “pro-abortion” campaigners may be inaccurate, the notion that there are none is even more inaccurate. Reading a good dose of 60s through 90s feminist literature makes it clear there are a number of people who think abortion is just swell, and they happen to be some of the same people running NARAL, NOW and Planned Parenthood.

    On your international abortion stats argument, your argument does little to account for the fact that abortion laws are in fact much more restrictive in Europe than in the US, and reached even their current levels of liberatity much later than in the US. Because abortion was totally legalized in a very spectacular way only a decade after birth control became mainstream, the US developed a highly abortive culture (like Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union) while Western Europe which legalized gradually and with more restrictions developed a highly contraceptive culture.

    Also, note that contries that have near total bans in Europe (Ireland and Poland) do indeed have _much_ lower abortion rates than the rest of Europe. Clearly the law _does_ make a big difference.

    This is not to say that there’s no value in programs to help single and poor mothers (your stat on the majority of abortions being procured by married women is wrong) but the legal and medical availability of abortion is clearly one of the largest determining factors.

  • Bearing writes:
    “Gabriel, the state cannot sin, but *if* the death penalty is wrong, then a prosecutor sins in asking for it, a jury sins in applying it, a governor sins in withholding clemency, and executioners (and all involved in the process) sin in carrying out the execution”.

    The matter revolves around “if the death penalty is wrong” [i.e., sinful]. Alas, the numerous instances in the Bible indicate that it may not be sinful.

    There are two prongs to this discussion:
    1. Death sends the executed to his final judgment. It is not the end of his existence. Nor is killing the worst of sins.
    2. It is difficult to decide what, in effect, is a matter of prudence. The Holy Father has written that while the death penalty is not sinful, there seem to be few [or no] occasions for its application.

  • David Harley Says:
    Monday, May 4, 2009

    A large number of weary undocumentable cliches, especially the number of abortions before the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
    One has but to consider the large number of employees at Planned Unparenthood to recognise the error in the statement that there are no large number of pro-abortion advocates. That’s how they make their living.
    Plus such of the feminist groups as NOW, and the like.

    The statistics from Europe are easily misleading [although 200,000 abortions in Britain cannot be called minor]. That country has ended with a large number of women no longer fertile.

    The undocumentable fiction of back-street abortions is yet another cliche.

    But most vicious is the suggestion that pro-life people do little for the unwed mothers, or the unplanned pregnancies [how do you get pregnant without a partner?]

    “As the Catholic Church itself did not declare authoritatively that ensouled life began at conception until the 19th century, it is evident that not everyone will share this view”.

    Where did you come up with this bit of unhistorical nonsense? The Church has condemned abortion from the very beginning.

    “the self-righteousness of people who do little or nothing to ease the situation of mothers and children, and especially poor families. Indeed, there are many prominent lay Catholics who actively oppose making the lot of the poor any easier.
    “We need a pro-children movement, a pro-mothers movement, a pro-poor movement. That would begin to reduce the incidence of abortion, as the politics of gesture would not”.

    I do not know any prominent lay Catholics who actively oppose making the lot of the poor any easier. Perhaps you could give some references.

    All of your suggestions – pro-children, pro-mothers, pro-poor – have been the standards of the Church since the beginning. Why else should the Church be running orphanages, hospitals, clinics to a far greater number than any other organization?

  • If I antagonized posters, I did not mean to do so, and I apologize. As I wrote spontaneously, rather than as an expert, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of all my remarks, and should withdraw or qualify some, on reflection, and so I accept most of the criticisms above.

    I will try to limit myself to statements that rest on well-documented research, or which can be checked from the academic literature. I apologize for being prolix.

    On American abortions in earlier times.
    Frederick Taussig’s estimates of the death rates from criminal abortions have been much challenged, and I do not want to debate them. The court cases I have seen from states such as Nebraska and Oklahoma indicate that it was doctors and midwives who performed the abortions, and that was the case in Eastern cities in the 19th century, during the Madam Restell scandal. One would not expect many to be botched to a fatal extent.

    As I recall, however, he estimated an incidence rate of 1 abortion per 2.5 pregnancies in cities and 1 per 5 in rural areas. Statisticians in the 1950s came up with figures ranging from 200,000 per year to 1,200,000 per year.

    To some extent, the impact of Roe v. Wade was to publicize the availability of abortion, which would increase demand. In like manner, publicity about contraception increased demand even before the arrival of the pill. The key issue, as in earlier times was family limitation strategies.

    If one believes that families should continue to increase in size until menopause, as the Quiverful movement does, one would have no sympathy for this desire to limit families. However, Catholic women use all the available methods, other than the few who try rhythm, as frequently as other American women.

    The so-called Sexual Revolution did increase the level of pre-marital sex, but age at marriage also increased, and it seems that couples who had sex before marriage have been more stable than those that did not. This appears evident from the divorce rates among Southern Baptists.

    I may well have misspoken, through carelessness or ignorance, about aspects of the US situation. Perhaps I should focus instead on international comparisons, at this time rather than across periods for which statistics are hard to come by.

    The situation abroad
    About 3 out of every 4 abortions worldwide occur in countries where abortion is illegal, as far as can be estimated from obviously problematic statistics. However, it does seem reasonably certain that about 1,500,000 women die as a result of unplanned pregnancies.

    There are countries where abortion is illegal or very severely restricted, but the incidence is higher than in the US. Examples include Chile, Nigeria, Peru and the Philippines. In Guatemala, abortion is legal only to save the mother’s life, yet the rate is higher than in the US, and a third of the women are hospitalized as a result of complications. This devours a tenth of the entire budget of hospitals and a third of the budget allocated for maternity. The rate for Guatemala is comparable to that for the rest of Central America, and the higher rate of the cities is comparable to that of Latin America as a whole.

    Some of the lowest rates are found in continental Western Europe, where abortion is legal and covered by national health systems, but sex education is comprehensive and the rate of unintended pregnancy is very low.

    The current US situation
    About a quarter of pregnancies end in abortion, involving 2% of women of childbearing age. At present rates, about a third of all US women will have had an abortion at some time in their lives.

    During the last couple of decades, abortion rates were falling, but this fall has ceased during the present decade. Although rates are still falling among the educated and those of average or above-average incoming, rises have been detected among the under-educated, the poor and low-income groups.

    About a third of all American women of childbearing age are eligible for publicly funded contraception, because of their low incomes. Proper financial support and publicity is estimated to be able to prevent 1,300,000 unwanted pregnancies per year, half of which would end in abortion.

    Over half of those seeking abortions were using contraception of some sort, but were ill-informed on its use. Nevertheless, whether properly used or used in more typical manner, the most commonly used methods were substantially more effective than any of the periodic abstinence methods.

    Those using abstinence properly were about ten times more likely to become pregnant in any given year than users of the commonest methods — except the male condom and withdrawal — and a quarter of those who used abstinence in a more typical manner became pregnant. This is markedly better than those using no method — 85% — but it would, over time, give women larger families than most in the US would want, and periodic abstinence is not something that could be exported or imposed on poor countries.

    It is surely unintended pregnancies that need to be addressed, unless one believes that having a child every year is a woman’s duty. We need to focus on the well-being of mothers and children who are already with us, as well as those yet to be born. Legal abortion may be ten times safer than childbirth for the pregnant woman, but it obviously isn’t safer for the life she carries within. And the psychological effects, largely brought about by the conflict between morality and desperation, are insufficiently addressed by health systems.

    The Best Intentions: Unintended Pregnancy and the Well-Being of Children and Families (National Academies, 1995)
    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=4903&page=R1

    Catholics and the debate
    As for the Catholic Church, it did not take a strong position on abortion until the long argument about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin was finally settled. At that point, ensoulment at conception became a necessary belief. Indeed, that had been a major issue during the centuries of debate. To say that the Catholic Church had always condemned abortion is true, but abortion was defined differently, for church and state, before the 19th century. Abortion was a category that was applied after 16 weeks of pregnancy. This distinction is ignored by much of the literature.

    However, condemnation and active opposition are not the same thing. Before the Second World War, the Catholic Church in the US was not active in opposition to abortion, partly because it was a largely unseen practice after the Comstock Act. 19th-century anti-abortionists were relatively isolated figures, drawn from across the spectrum of political and religious views. It was the 1950s debate about abortion for medical reasons that began to rouse the sleeping forces of Mother Church. Before that, the main group involved had been those demographers who advocated zero population growth.

    As for pro-life campaigners and pro-choice campaigners taking care of young mothers and newborns, I don’t myself see a lot of Catholics and pro-life Protestants or pro-choice Christians and non-Christians getting personally involved, by adopting or mentoring or financially supporting individual mothers and children. However, I live in a relatively pro-life community, so I may have a skewed perspective. At a broader social level, I would say that both groups do a certain amount but nothing like what is now needed, let alone what would be needed if abortion were suddenly to cease.

    Above all, I don’t see the political will to change the level of support for pre-natal and post-natal care, and for financial support. Both Democrats and Republicans have been all too willing to cut back on programs, partly as a result of the “Welfare Queen” stereotype. I do not see a groundswell of opinion among any group involved in this debate to change matters, and the terrible divisions created in the country have made a consensus about social programs almost impossible to achieve.

    That is why I said we need a pro-child and pro-mother movement. Indeed, an anti-poverty movement. I do not see politicians of any stripe putting their reputations on the line for this. It would be political suicide for many conservatives.

    I don’t need to list all the Catholic neo-cons who have deserted doctrines of social justice, but how central to lay thinking is the pastoral letter of the bishops, “A Place at the Table,” or their statements on political responsibility? Is there a single good word ever said by the Rev. John McCloskey in favour of social justice? Does Michael Novak think that the poor need anything more than moral admonitions and tax cuts for the rich? Senator Santorum thought they needed charity and marriage.

    On listening
    The sneer at Planned Parenthood and NOW needing abortion is an unworthy caricature. It may be that some radicals feel obliged to pretend that abortion is inherently good, but that is hardly the case with mainstream groups. This is like taking Randall Terry as the voice of the pro-life movement. Now he certainly does need abortion.

    Caricaturing one another is one of the main ways to prevent listening. It buttresses the aim of imposing moral absolutism. Pro-choice campaigners accuse the pro-life movement of having no concern for the rights of the mother, and pro-life campaigners do the same with the rights of the unborn. This is a dialogue of the deaf.

    Planned Parenthood is a non-profit group, relying on donations, which provides a wide range of health services for men and women that are not adequately covered otherwise. We may deplore their involvement in abortion, but it is far from being the only focus of their attention or their reason for existing. So too with NOW, which has a host of other issues on which it campaigns.

    http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
    http://www.now.org/issues/

    It is often forgotten, among both Catholics and feminists, just how many of the founders of the present feminism, including NOW itself, and campaigners for what came to be called reproductive rights were Catholic religious. One might mention Sister Mary Joel Read, Sister Mary Austin Doherty, Sister Mary Aloysious Schaldenbrand, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the National Coalition of American Nuns.

    Both younger feminists and increasingly conservative Catholics gradually shut out such voices. The days of the civil rights and anti-war movements had gone. It is surely time now to get back to a position where abortion is one of the issues about which faithful Catholics care deeply, rather than apparently being the only one. How often have I seen Sister Helen Prejean attacked for spending her time on anything other than abortion?

  • Isn’t this just a regurgitation of the CFFC talking points? What exactly is the poster proposing here?

  • David,

    When you throw up that must stuff in one comment (very little of it sourced) it’s hard to respond in any systematic manner. However, the stats involved are something that I’ve done a fair amount of work with, and I’m pretty confident that you’re wrong on most fronts.

    A few major items:

    – Basically all reputable analyses agree that abortion rates went up after Roe, peaking in 1980 and going down since then. It’s not just pro-life analysts who say this, some of the major pro-choice arguments (such as the eliminating-unwanted-children argument from Freakonomics) are based on the understanding that abortion went up quite a bit after Roe.

    – Your international numbers are way off. Check Guttmacher’s stats here. The solid majority of the world’s abortions are performed in a small number of countries in which abortion is legal and to a great extent encouraged: China, Russia, Vietnam, the United States, and India.

    – There’s little evidence that putting more money into making birth control available to people in the US reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. We’re already awash in free birth control, and yet the incidence of unplanned pregnancy creeps downward only rather slowly.

    – No one is saying that Catholics should care only about abortion, but too often the claim that “we shouldn’t care only about abortion” is made by people who would basically like permission to care nothing about abortion. During the 50s through the 70s it was certainly not required to care only about civil rights, but if one repeatedly insisted on voting for strict segregationists people might start to suspect that one didn’t care about them.

  • David Harley:
    Monday, May 11, 2009 A.D. at 2:00 pm

    Recommended a Planned UnParenthood site for information. My librarain’s soul went and looked.
    There is nothing about diapers, formulas, pediatrics, and the like. Which is to say, nothing about caring for babies, except warnings against “fake clinics which are anti-abortion”.

    Among the interesting bits of information are:
    “# our biological sex — male, female, or intersex
    “# our gender — being a girl, boy, woman, man, or transgender.

    Intersex? Transgender?

    Where is the neuter gender?

  • In the end the decision of abortion must be left to the individual. Only a pregnant woman can make the decision to have or not to have a child.
    For society to mandate that she give birth to a child she can not afford or does not wish to raise is nothing but another government enforced unfunded mandate that Conservatives are so quick to condemn.
    Better for everyone to make their own decision on this matter.
    We do, after all, live in a democracy.

  • “In the end the decision of abortion must be left to the individual.”

    There are two individuals involved in any abortion, and the individual whose life is at stake doesn’t get to decide anything.