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What's a voter to do: Tough choices for Catholics in the Badger state

By Robert E. Meyer
web posted July 10, 2006

Very recently, five Roman Catholic Bishops in Wisconsin, have come out with statements against capital punishment and also against same-sex unions. This is especially noteworthy for at least two reasons besides the normal doctrinal implications such edicts might evoke. First, both issues will be referendum questions on the election ballot in Wisconsin this November. Secondly, the politicians who support capital punishment are usually opposed to same-sex unions and vice-versa.

This brings to light an interesting dilemma. How does one faithfully perform their civic duties, while at the same time remain faithful to the requirements of their faith, especially when two important issues are in apparent conflict?

One thing I want to emphasize to readers, is that I am puzzled by the Roman Catholic Bishops declaration's on capital punishment, in light of the historical analysis below that comes from Roman Catholic sources itself?

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000, "At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate's power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (Jn
19:1 l). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Lk 23:41). "

"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. "

"The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an
extremely serious crime. Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the Consistent Ethic of Life here at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the classical position that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

St. Augustine: "The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. 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", for the representative of the State's authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice." The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21

St. Thomas Aquinas finds all biblical interpretations against executions "frivolous", citing Exodus 22:18, "wrongdoers thou shalt not suffer to live". Unequivocally, he states," The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state." (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146

I can't help to believe that the recent declarations are more of a modern trend than a traditional exegesis of scripture or catechism.

Having stated all this, this isn't the hill I'm willing to die on. The conservative commentator, Bill O'Reilly, himself an Roman Catholic, believes that capital punishment is too easy an end for some criminals. It's hard to argue against that sentiment, but such a position is hardly rooted in the intention of greater compassion which is frequently a rationale in spurning the death penalty! I think the real problem here, is that the clergy does not want to appear in contradiction with a
consistently pro-life position. Advocating capital punishment, even as the duty of the state alone, might create a bad impression, and appear inappropriate for a clergyman.

Let's turn to same-sex unions. They are supported by liberal Protestant denominations on the principle of "fairness" and inclusiveness. Liberal Protestants have moved so far from their historical roots and biblical grounding, that what they believe today is hardly tantamount to historical orthodox Christianity. It is really mere Humanism under a religious flag.

I have heard numerous secular arguments in support of allowing and promoting an expanded definition of marriage. On the other hand, I don't know how one can be faithful to either the scriptures, or to any Christian tradition, yet support modifying the biblically sanctioned understanding of marriage, as some apparently would like to do. Such advocacy seems to fly in the face of what Jesus himself reiterates about the "created order" in Mark 10:6-8.

6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

As Christ defines what marriage is, by default we are informed of what it is not.

It is certainly true that traditional marriages have been degraded by the parties united in them, via numerous divorces, unfaithfulness, abandonment, physical abuse and neglect of children, etc. Still, it is hard for me to see how opening up marriage to encompass a new configuration will solve any of those problems.

When I was in High School, people would talk about the problems with alcohol. They would then argue that marijuana produces many of the same effects as alcohol--and since alcohol is legal, why shouldn't smoking dope be also?

But does that make any sense? Correct a vice by adding additional complications? Think of how this principle is parallel to the same-sex marriage arguments.

The decision is really easier than it seems. You may object to capital punishment, but would you rather elect a civic leader who wants to tinker with the created order itself?

Robert E. Meyer is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. Columns by this author can be read regularly on TheRealityCheck.org.

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