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“Pro-Life” Californian Catholics?

The South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys built a highly successful stage career by making fun of South African politicians, other public figures, and a range of South African character stereotypes.  Especially clever were his takes on then President PW Botha, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Johannesburg kugel (the local counterpart to a New York Jewish Princess). With skilled mimicry, quick change wizardry, and sharply pointed scripts, he kept us laughing at ourselves as well as our “leaders” through the darkest days of apartheid, and beyond. When asked about his success, he always declined credit for his clever scripts. He did not need to write them, he said- just to listen to the news. His characters wrote their lines themselves.

In that spirit, I fondly recall one specific politician from the bad old days who fed me a particularly good line, which I heard live in a radio interview. This man, a deputy minister in the government, was being asked about the death penalty, which of course he fully supported. The interviewer wanted more, and asked about the alternatives – wouldn’t rehabilitation of offenders be more humane? “No, ” came the firm and clear reply. “We must have the death penalty. Rehabilitation can come later.”

The problem with the death penalty of course, is that it is so final – thereafter, rehabilitation is no longer possible, and neither is the possibility of correcting a faulty verdict. The big argument in South Africa was always that the penalty was necessary as a suitable “deterrent” against serous crime, but there never was any evidence that it deterred anyone. The sentence cannot be imposed unless the culprit is first caught and convicted – and no murderer or rapist ever commits his crime with the expectation of being caught in the first place.  In practice, furthermore, we known that the burden falls disproportionately on the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized, who are least able to pay evoke the sympathy of jurors or pay for teams of expensive lawyers. The wealthy are seldom convicted, let alone executed. So, there are fundamental practical arguments against the death penalty, but even more moral and philosophical ones. The blood lust that drives it is in total conflict with the Christian Gospels, and entirely out of place in the modern civilized world. It is also in conflict with the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church.

“Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life.”

A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005

In California this week, the Field polling organization has been issuing a series of news releases giving results of a poll on the views about some hot-button social policy issues: gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty. “California Catholic Daily” reacted with outrage, pacing the headline

Who cares what the Church teaches?

Poll shows 62% of Catholics want to keep California’s liberal abortion laws — or make getting abortions even easier.

This in itself was misleading. The actual result was that almost half of Catholics want to no change – and those that do, are more likely to want to make it more difficult. The headline could more accurately be written as

Poll shows 82% of Catholics want to keep California’s liberal abortion laws — or make getting abortions even harder.

The comments thread was even more hysterical. For instance:

This is the result of: 1. Liberalization of the Church due to Vatican II (or liberal interpretations and implementations of the same), 2. The Hierarchy’s inaction (excommunications, censures, etc.) against prominent “Catholic” politicos that claim fidelity to the Church but support infanticide, sodomy, and sexual “liberation”, and 3. The pastors and Bishops not teaching the moral absolutes of the Church. These Catholics in the study were probably taught this fuzzy thinking in their respective parishes (if they go to Mass at all).

Those of us who are pro life should be demanding that our Bishops and priests get off the immigration hype and back onto the human life is precious, don’t kill us, message.

California has a big split in the ground (San Andreas fault), and if it breaks open and wipes out half the State, don’t ask why us Lord?

I pray, and let us all pray, that our Bishops will instruct the priests to give the authentic Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and all of today’s non-negotiable issues from the pulpit each and every Sunday.

Don’t get me wrong: I emphatically do not want to argue for abortion, or even to discuss here the question of “choice”. But I do want to ask, where is the corresponding “pro-life” Catholic anger over the death penalty? Yesterday, Field released its findings on the death penalty. For a report on the findings for Catholics, CCD could have followed up yesterday’s story with the headline:

Who cares what the Church teaches?

Poll shows 75% of Catholics want to keep California’s savage death penalty — or have no opinion.

What did they report?

Nothing. Not a word.

Are we to conclude that the the Catholic pro-life, “always support the bishops”, Catechismophile lobby are cafeteria Catholics – just like the rest of us?


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