Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

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By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 16, 2005

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The US bishops' conference has called for an end to the use of the death penalty in America.

You may agree with the bishops on this issue, or you may disagree.

And that's just the point.

Many liberal politicians have used the bishops' position on capital punishment for leverage, saying that although they disagree with the Church on some issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia), they agree on others (execution, welfare spending). That's predictable; you can always expect politicians to try to justify their stands. What's shameful is that bishops have sometimes promoted the same sort of thinking, with election-year statements that provide an undifferentiated checklist of issues-- some vitally important, some mundane-- on which candidates should be judged, and issuing statements to the effect that no candidate is "with the Church" on every issue.

The truth-- which every intelligent Catholic should know, and every conscientious bishop should proclaim-- is that not all issues are equally important. Some are matters of life and death; others are matters of convenience and taste. Some (like abortion) are issues of moral principle, on which the Church teaches authoritatively; others (like capital punishment) are issues of prudential judgment, on which thoughtful Catholics may disagree.

This week, at least, USCCB representatives were preserving that distinction. Brooklyn's Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio led the charge for the statement against capital punishment, but told reporters that reasonable Catholics might disagree.

The Boston Globe invariably sides with Catholic politicians who support legal abortion and oppose capital punishment; the paper has done its editorial utmost to blur the distinction between the levels of Church teaching authority on the two issues. Yet a Globe reporter went into a press conference with Bishop DiMarzio yesterday, and came out to write:

The bishops drew a strong distinction between the church's stance on capital punishment and its absolute opposition to abortion and euthanasia, stating that the death penalty was an issue on which 'people of good will can disagree."
At a news conference following the passage of the statement, DiMarzio said 'there would not even be a question of refusing Communion" to Catholic politicians who advocate or enforce the death penalty.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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