Catholics and the Politics of the Death Penalty


On January 29, the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty (CMN) was launched. According to its executive director, Karen Clifton, the CMN was created “with the encouragement of the USCCB.”

The support of the bishops’ conference is substantial. The Coordinating Committee includes both Kathy Saile, the director of the Office of Domestic Concerns, and John Carr, the executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development. The organization’s Web site carries the logo of the USCCB and contains welcome videos from Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin.

As most Catholics know, Church teaching on the death penalty developed under the leadership of Pope John Paul II. His encyclical Evangelium Vitae did not rule out use of the death penalty altogether, as some people think, but stated it should be used only “in cases of absolute necessity,” adding “such cases are rare, if practically non-existent” (56). For John Paul, the dignity of the human person demanded that Catholics look for “bloodless means” to protect the common good from the threat of those who are guilty of taking innocent human life.

Thus, there’s no avoiding the fact that political arguments about the death penalty are going to play a role in the pro-life debate. Clifton makes this point in her article written for the Catholic Conference for Kentucky:

To have a consistent ethic of life, we need to deliberate and come to understand that all life is precious to God, even those guilty of heinous crimes. As Catholics we are called to be consistently Pro-Life.

The “seamless garment” argument used by Clifton, of course, raises questions about what those connected with the Catholic Mobilizing Network will be saying about the pro-life position of politicians. As everyone knows too well, this version of Catholic social teaching has been used for more than four decades to provide cover for Catholic politicians who do not oppose abortion.


Clifton herself does not seem disposed to raise the bar very high when it comes to describing a politician as pro-life. Her name can be found on a petition on the Catholic Democrats‘ Web site endorsing then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama as “pro-life.”

The statement signed at the time by Clifton says the following:

Looking through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, Senator Obama has spent his entire career striving for the common good. He supports health care programs that will cover all Americans, a living wage for working families, and solutions that allow distressed families to stay in their homes. And rather than trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, an ineffective strategy for 40 years, Senator Obama will reduce abortions. How? By promoting health care for pregnant women and better infant care, day care and job training. In fact, data has shown that social and education programs actually reduce abortions.

Clifton was quoted on the NETWORK Web site saying she got the idea for the CMN at a conference sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. (See my article on the conference, “The Catholic Left Meets in Philadelphia.”) Catholics in Alliance predictably supported Obama, having received start-up money from a foundation funded by the pro-abortion, anti-Catholic George Soros.

Clifton reports on NETWORK that CMN has “created one hour workshops for parishes . . . and is finishing up a 6 week course on the Sanctity of Life.” I sent Clifton an e-mail asking if she still considered Obama pro-life, but had not heard back from her by press time.

The stated purpose of Clifton’s organization is to “end the death penalty” by educating “the lay community through our courses on the Church’s teachings on the death penalty” and facilitating “respectful and informed discourse within the Catholic community and the community at large.”

These are all admirable goals, but the obvious caveat is how the effort of CMN will result in applying the pro-life label to politicians who support abortion but oppose the death penalty. Conversely, will CMN staff argue that members of Congress with a 100 percent pro-life voting record are not really pro-life if they do not want to end the death penalty?

This kind of misapplied moral equivalency was the hallmark of the Catholic effort for Obama during the campaign. It’s implicit in the statement endorsing Obama signed by Clifton herself.

Most of the pseudo-equivalency arguments about a candidate’s pro-life credentials during the 2008 campaign were based upon their support for the Iraq War. With Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, this kind of argument will no longer work. Let’s hope the work of CMN is not used to supply the missing leverage to bolster the pro-life credentials of abortion supporters or diminish those who oppose it.

Any arguments about the sanctity of life, after all, make no sense if they don’t arise from the obligation of protecting the not-yet-born.

Deal W. Hudson


Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    Would there be redemption if there was NO CROSS? The Cross, THE DEATH Penalty of the day, was the redemptive CHOICE of GOD… through the tortuous shedding of His Blood, we are made whole/saved. And It doesn’t seem that Jesus had anything to say about the two hanging alongside of him. If a society has no rules TO LIVE by and no real consequences that could include losing your life, then how can a truly JUST World come about? There is Hell isn’t there? We are where we are today because anything goes…. you can be a priest, molest children and not go to jail…. even today, when they should be in jail, they are left out and placed in another Parish, only to reoffend again. (I know of at least one case in the last couple of years where this is absolutely what happened!) We don’t want to face THE FACTS about what happens when Capital Punishment is taken off the table as a consequence for grevious acts… but just look around… we are THERE…. and it is ugly!

    Let’s look at a Corporation for example; it has a “Rule Book”, the Employee Handbook; in it most will outline expectations of work ethics in order for you to retain employment and most have at least a page or two of what would be cause for termination of employment. The Owner and the Management Team and often a Supervisor along with HR judge each case and make the decision to terminate. Corporations would not be able to conduct business, make money, pay its employees, who feed their babies, if they didn’t have clear RULES and clear Consequences; if they just allowed people (and they do and pay the price)to fail to carry out their responsibilities and never terminated anyone, EXCELLENCE would never show up!!!

    We need to STEP Up to our CALL, we are supposed to JUDGE and at times those calls break our hearts; but to allow individuals to continue to do heinous acts without the clear expectation of DEATH as a consequence, is the same thing as giving them permission to do it. Going to Jail for Life is a reward not a consequence… it is not the Riviera but it is more than 80% of the world’s population enjoy as life, every day. We have systematically gotten SOFT on SIN, oh I’m sorry, CRIME, when we got Catholic anti-war media-campaigned to be soft on Punishment! Like it or not, we are at war…. for the very soul of our Church and our nation, and we must draw a line in the sand as to what will and will not be tolerated if you are going to continue to live this precious and short time on this EARTH.

    It is like when LIFE truly requires us to use our higher faculties, we cower! Trust me, when we die, God will not cower. Jesus was pretty clear about the ultimate consequence of quite a list of sins, with regard to the final consequence…. When we get on the RIGHT side of this BATTLE for Life… LIVING is for those who do not cause death to others…. even if they were drunk, stoned or angry… that we actually have Abortion clinics where young girls are counseled to take the life of their unborn baby, what kind of a society have we become!!

    Our moral compass is way off…. and it has caused a complacency to take over the vast majority of Catholics; all because they are focused on “what will happen to them after they are dead?”. Well, they will meet their Maker and be judged; and I believe that we will be amazed when we get to Heaven how that shakes out!
    We have a MISSION, to build His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven; unless I have that wrong too…. and you cannot do that without laying down The Law and having clear consequences if The Law is not followed. There are Laws in Heaven, too, or The Devil isn’t real, nor Hell (a far worst consequence than the death penalty).
    Give me the dollars being spent on people who already should be dead and I will use it to teach parents how to parent with LOVE and with clear expectations and consistent JUST consequences!

  • Bill bannon

    Catholic high murder rate countries in Latin America should consider the death penalty; Mexico may vanish without one.

    There are not only developments in Church teaching, there are also regressions like Pope Leo X’s 1520 AD support of burning at the stake…. unless infallibility is accessed by the given Pope. But backward slides are possible by Popes not using infallibility.
    The current position on the death penalty even with it’s caveat is a regression. Ten predominant Catholic countries are in the top 20
    most murder plagued countries and nine have no death penalty. It is as though we separate theory from what is actually happening within Catholic country history.
    We criticize Anglicans for caving in at Lambeth in 1930; but our current death penalty position is exactly a caving in to the NY Times and to Euro claims of barbarism as to the death penalty. Thank God for the Protestants in the US who will not subtract Romans 13:4 from God’s word under liberal secular pressure.

  • Deacon Ed

    no one in the institutional Church should be promoted to lead the cause against capital punishment unless and until they have established their bona fides against abortion. This would involve more than a superficial nod of being ‘pro-life.’ It would mean being in the forefront of working for politicans who are against abortion. This is would be a ‘consistent ethic of life.’

    I guess Karen, Kathy and John we’ll be seeing you on the steps of the Supreme Court next January…yes?

  • Ender

    There are two significant concerns in regard to this topic. The one Deal raised, which addresses the political significance of the issue, is very real and the issue will unquestionably be used – as it has been in the past – as a counterbalance for those politicians who support abortion. In this case the seamless garment is simply a slipcover masking what is underneath.

    The other concern, however, deals with the nature of the death penalty itself and while this is not a political issue and should not be debated as such, it is surely a moral issue and should be discussed on those grounds. I know what is in the Catechism. However I also know what the Church teaches and am familiar with what she has always taught and can find no way to accommodate both views, the old and the new. JPII’s opinion as expressed in Evangelium Vitae is at odds with what the Church teaches even today about the nature of punishment and at some point the Church will have to readdress this question to resolve the problems section 2267 of the Catechism has created.

  • PJC

    As someone who does not believe in abortion or the death penalty (only recently have I come to be against the death penalty), I find the conversation interesting that when the death penalty is discussed, Evangelium Vitae is used. Anti-death penalty people will invoke it as their “rule of faith” so to peak. However, what needs recognized, when JP II discusses the death penalty, he is doing so in his own opinion. To understand this, just read the document in careful detail, you will see that it reaffirms that abortion is evil, as well as other issues, and never to be supported. This is one of a few infallible statements reiterated in the document and the language is clear in doing so. One would have to be blind to miss it. But the language used is the key.

    In the end, I think JPII is harmonizing his beliefs with what the Church is developing when it comes to the death penalty. With that said, abortion and the death penalty are NOT on the same level, the Church teaches this, and anyone who tries to say so is misguided. There is a fundamental difference in the unborn and the crime of murder committed against them and the death penalty. All this is is a way to dilute the immorality of the abortion issue.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    Capital Punishment
    2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.[67]

    2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
    “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should 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.
    “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’ [68]

    What I read here is something that can be easily manipulated one way or another depending on one’s leaning…. and I also think that no one redeems himself/herself; Christ alone redeems.

    God is the final JUDGE but we have a responsibility to establish His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven; we are so lukewarm about God’s Order, Law and the consequences to not following His Law, that even “Righteous” people who love Him and are seeking Him are doing things they would have never done had we not allowed all the tolerance of everything/”make an excuse for every behavior possible thinking” to take hold!
    We need to get clear about our values as a God-fearing country, or we will cease to exist. We need to get clear about our values as followers of Jesus the Christ or watch our Church become irrelevant or worse collapse from within. In my mind, if we have the Heart of Christ, we LOVE but we also come to hate what God hates…. do you really think that when God sees someone abduct a child and sexually and physically abuse that child and maybe even kill that child that He doesn’t want to tear that person apart limb to limb….. our ministry is to get those people, legitimately facing the death penalty to do so voluntarily so that it can take the value of expiation for them! What you tolerate, multiplies! Just look at our television programming, movies, video games most of our boys are playing….. we have more Prisons today than ever, more heinous crimes being done… not even counting the 50 million babies killed through Abortion. Abortion would never have happened if the slide… the Peace Love and Pot generation has taken us on as a Church would not have happened… I am sick of holding hands and singing Kumbaya… there is REAL EVIL and we are in a REAL Spiritual War…. where are the warriors?….. protecting those on Death row?

  • Catholic State Legislator

    As a Catholic state legislator, I have sponsored and cosponsored landmark bills in our state that would protect innocent human life, including the fetal homicide law, pre-abortion ultrasound requirement, pharmacist conscience protection, and prohibitions against human cloning and ESCR. I could never, in good conscience formed in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, support legislation that would permit or promote an intrinsically evil act such as abortion or euthanasia. To the extent that the US Constitution has been construed to permit such acts, my oath of office is to uphold the Constitution as it is written.

    But I have supported, in the same good conscience, capital punishment in limited circumstances. It has always been my understanding that the decision to authorize and implement the death penalty rests within the prudential judgment of state authorities. Traditionally, the Church has taught that retribution is an important objective of our penal system. The Catechism states:

    “Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2266

    Therefore, if capital punishment is “proportionate” to aggravated murder, then state authorities have the right and the duty to impose the death penalty. If capital punishment is disproportionate to aggravated murder, then the state cannot resort to capital punishment.

    Although Pope John Paul II believed that recourse to the death penalty should be rare, he did not preclude its availability. To my knowledge, neither John Paul nor the magisterium has stated in writing that capital punishment is a disproportionate punishment for aggravated murder. In fact, the Catechism describes murder as gravely sinful.

    “The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance…Infanticide,fratricide, parricide, and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2268

    I recognize that my support for laws protecting innocent human life in all circumstances and for capital punishment in limited circumstances will win me no friends among our state Catholic Conference, but I still believe my views are consistent with those of the Magisterium. The law must protect innocent human life first and foremost. Of course, I welcome any links to information indicating that the Catholic Church has taken the official position that capital punishment is either (a)intrinsically evil (b)evil as applied in all circumstances or (c)disproportionate to the crime of aggravated murder.

  • Bill bannon

    Verbally in 1999 in St. Louis, Pope John Paul II called the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary”. There verbally he contradicted
    ccc #2267 and then the US Bishops entered the unfortunate remark in writing and as relevant and praiseworthy in their own subsequent document on the matter. Written Catholic documents can be incorrect. Written infallible Catholic documents cannot be incorrect but that is irrelevant here. Benedict said “congratulations” to the visiting Phillipine president early on at the Vatican when she told him that she did away with the death penalty in her country. I can’t see how his congratulating her on such complete abolition therein honors even the faulty ccc 2267.
    We are now tending to the opposite extreme of long ago Popes.
    Centuries ago Pope after Pope were too severe in these areas supporting the torturous death in writing of burning of heretics at the stake (see Ex Surge
    Domine/ 1520/article 33 condemned / Leo X).

  • Ender

    “I recognize that my support for laws protecting innocent human life in all circumstances and for capital punishment in limited circumstances will win me no friends among our state Catholic Conference, but I still believe my views are consistent with those of the Magisterium.” Catholic State Legislator

    First, I agree with this comment in all of its particulars and second, that’s the position CMN appears to have been created to exploit – as Deal points out. We need to recognize the battle going on to influence Catholic voters. That the bishops are either unaware of the attempts or amenable to the results is not helpful.

    As to the question (a) of whether capital punishment is now or ever will be found to be intrinsically evil:

    The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity. (Archbishop Chaput,2005)

    As to (b) whether it could be found evil in all circumstances:

    If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4). (Cardinal Dulles, 2002)

    As for (c) whether execution is disproportionate to the crime of capital murder, it cannot be so or capital punishment would always be unjust and therefore intrinsically evil. If it were disproportionate to execute a criminal in retribution for what he has already done it surely would be disproportionate to execute him to defend against what he might yet do in the future, yet both Chaput and Dulles affirm that there are – and will always be – situations where capital punishment is legitimate.

  • Jason Negri

    Some of you may remember back in 2002 when Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a cogent piece in “First Things” defending his support for capital punishment and placing himself squarely at odds with Pope JPII and the US bishops. Many “pro-life leaders” wrote to challenge him in the next issue, but Justice Scalia defended his position admirably. Nothing I have read since then has changed my opinion that he was right and the hierarchy is wrong on this one. Their attempt to cast their anti-death penalty opinions as an organic development of Church teaching fails to persuade anyone who doesn’t already share their position.

  • Rick C

    The late Pope’s comment that in today’s world the need for the death penalty is “rare if not non-existant” is the personal philosophical/political/legal opinion of a 20th century European, nothing more. It is not dogma, and no one is required to agree. It must be given full weight and analysis, but does not stand on its own. it is one man’s opinion, not dogma.

  • Mary

    I support the death penalty. I find the Pope’s assertion rash when California executed a man — not that many years ago — for murders commissioned while he was serving life in prison.

    But I have to point out to Mother of Two Sons that it wouldn’t’ve happened without Judas’s treachery, too. Does that mean treachery is good?

  • Nathan Cushman

    I have to say I support Pope John Paul II’s belief that the death penalty should be rare (though probably not non-existent).

    In a country like America there is hardly a need for the death penalty. Crime rates in America have not actually gone up with the decreased use of the death penalty (from any statistics I’ve heard). But I have very particular views on when it should be used.

    1st: The death penalty may be necessary for more murder cases in third world countries, where prisons may be less of a viable option.

    2nd: In a country like America, with secure prisons, the death penalty still be must be kept as an option for severe (and murderous) crimes against our justice system itself, or for people who are dangerous even while in prison. By this I mean the murder of witnesses, jurors, judges, or police officers involved in your case should result in the death penalty. Also, leaders of criminal or terrorist organizations may be too dangerous to hold, because their followers may commit crimes in order to seek their leader’s release.

    3rd: Reserving the death penalty for the murders most harmful to our justice system may help serve as a deterrent for those who are facing a life sentence and might otherwise feel they have nothing left to lose.

    4th: the death penalty should be reserved for cases where a person is convicted not just because there is no reasonable doubt, but only when guilt is abundantly clear. I have heard too many disturbing cases of (mostly Southern) prosecutors who cared more about convictions than about guilt, and callously sent men they believed to be innocent to prison.

    For these reasons(and possibly others), I believe the death penalty needs to be kept on the table, but that it needs to be used rarely.

  • Nathan Cushman

    I suppose it’s funny for me to say I agree with JPII and then to go on to disagree with him by saying the death penalty should be left on the table.

    I should have said I feel my position fits within the framework set up in the Catechism, which does not deny recourse to capital punishment, but does seek to limit it to a very limited number of necessary cases.

  • Nathan Cushman

    Wish I could edit my comments. Turns out my link had a typo in it… well my blog url should work now. Sorry ’bout the extra comments.

  • Bob Curry

    I believe in the death penalty and I CAN, according to Pope Benedict. Read what he said when he was a Cardinal…union.htm

    Read #3 in the letter. 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” (QUOTE)
    Its different from abortion. I support Catholic tradition of execution. If Hitler were captured instead of killing himself, you mean you would have executed him after a trial…6 million Jews?? The Bishops are WRONG !!! and we Catholics who support the death penalty CAN do so !!!

    Read Aquinas too

  • Matt Bowman

    Great work spotting this danger on the horizon Deal: not so much the DP opposition, as you note, but its likely use per its leaders’ record to make 1.2 million murders the equivalent of 800 due process capital punishments. Sham pro-life Catholics are fond of saying that no pro-lifer can legitimately speak against abortion if they don’t support Obamacare. Well, no Catholic can legitimately speak against the DP as a life issue when they define pro-life as Obama the abortion enthusiast.

  • Randy Horras

    It never ceases to amaze me, how people of good will can consistently “screw the pooch” on this issue. There is NOTHING in the 2000 year history of the Church, at the level of INFALLIABLE MAGISTERIUM, that categorically precludes the death penalty. Indeed, just the opposite is the true standard based upon Scripture and Tradtion, that the death penalty is not only permissable, but in some instances required.

    The statements by our Holy Father JPII in the current CCC concerning the application of the death penalty are “prudential judgements” and, must be given proper respect, but are not infallible nor necessesarily binding, just as not everything in the Cathechism is infallible. The quote from BenXVI, provided by Mr. Curry, succintly illustrates this fact. The USCCB does none of their flock a favor when it fails to TEACH WHAT THE CHURCH HAS ALWAYS TAUGHT concerning this issue, but instead, leads many believer to erroneous and scandalous conclusions when they instead pretend through their “Seamless Garmet” rubbish, by implication, that there is no difference between the taking of innocent life and non-innocent life.

  • MRA

    As someone pointed out above, we’re only able to restrain prisoners from re-offending if we don’t care about what harm they do their fellow-prisoners. My understanding is that homicide in prison (usually unprosecuted and not publicized) is extremely common. As are rape, assault, etc. Unless we’re going to put all murderers in solitary, I don’t see how we’d prevent such acts. And that would indeed be cruel and unusual.

    Another assumption JPII’s here that I don’t quite understand: why is execution considered cruel and unusual, while life imprisonment is considered more merciful? It seems to me that an ancient or medieval suddenly transported to our time would consider the very notion of perpetual imprisonment barbaric beyond belief. As I understand it, such a thing was unheard of among civilized people before modern times, except in war, and even there was viewed as something of a warcrime.

  • Mary

    MRA, that’s not all. A man in prison can hire a hit man. He’s still guilty of murder at law and can be executed — now. At least in civilized countries.

  • Jerry Hurtubise, Attorney at Law

    Thank you so much for introducing your readers to the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN). It sounds like a group that really has a good understanding of the Gospel message. Your article made me realize that maybe pro-life means so much more than abortion. Respecting life on issues like the death penalty, as Karen Clifton argues, may indeed pave the way to bring about respecting life more feasible on other pro-life issues. If its not too much trouble, please post CMN

  • Micha Elyi

    Until murder and assault by prisoners is rendered impossible, “Catholics (can) look for ‘bloodless means’ to protect the common good from the threat of those who are guilty of taking innocent human life” but no such means will be found.

    I want to know why our bishops are blind to the spilling of the blood of prison guards, doctors, nurses, and aides by prisoners.

  • Samuel

    execute Clifton

  • Rick

    I strongly agree with Mother of Two Sons and the other negative reactions here.

    I believe God sees abortion as wrong in almost all instances, but I’ve never felt right about identifying myself as “pro-life”, because I feel that in many instances, God recognizes killing as justified and necessary. I think abortion is some cases is an example (eg rape victim, health issues of the mom, a child or minor is pregnant).

    I always suspected that the pro-life movement would eventually morph into some kind of “cult of life”, where it was no longer about protecting “innocent” life, but would take on the view that all life is sacred, even the most hardened rapists, killers, etc. So I’m not surprised to see a piece like this.

    What I find fascinating is that some of John Paul II’s writing on the “culture of life” vs the “culture of death” (which I agree also exists, and is wrong) sounds less like Christianity and more like paganism, which was so obsessed with life that in virtually all its variations, ended up worshipping fertility. Paganism’s obsession with the creative process of life eclipsed its worship of life’s Creator, and certainly disregarded God’s laws and sense of right and wrong. I think that’s what is going on in Catholicism today, unfortunately.

    My questions for people who agree with this piece, and advocate a “consistent” pro-life position, are:

    1) How do you reconcile the idea that all killing is wrong, with the Bible, where God at times commanded the Israelites to not only kill individuals, but entire populations. Please note: the commandment “Thou shall not kill” actually reads “Thou shall not murder” in the original languages, because, if the Bible is correct, there were occasions where God saw killing as justified (eg the penalty for virtually every Biblical equivalent of a felony was death). How do you feel about pre-Vatican II and other Catholic teachings that might contradict the “no kill” idea as well, such as doctrines of “just war.”

    2) How would you govern American society based on the idea “thou shall never kill”? Would you disarm police officers? Ban the ownership of firearms? Eliminate the right of self-defense? Eliminate the US military?

    I think the Catholic Church, like many Christian bodies, is becoming more and more a tool of social liberalism. For example, a few generations ago, I think many Catholics would have had a hard time with the issue of illegitimacy vs abortion. I’m not say they would have necessarily supported an abortion to avoid this – my point is that both laity and clergy would have been uncomfortable with both. Today’s church parades around unmarried preganant teens as if they are little heroines in God’s eyes because they only fornicated but didnt get abortions. Abortion is seen as so evil that any shame about sexual sin is forgotten, even discouraged in comparison. The effect on our society, and the message it sends to young Catholics, is not good. I think years ago, the church put almost all its efforts into encouraging chastity rather than suppressing (then illegal) abortions, not just because abortion was banned, but also because they saw both abortion and sexual immorality as evil. These days, the church puts almost all its efforts into fighting legalized abortion, yet in comparison almost no resources into fighting the “culture of sleaze” and sexual promiscuity that stimulates abortion to begin with.

  • Carl

    The Purpose of Law: Educate, Protect, Deter, Punish and often forgotten—convert.

    As it was Moses

  • Carl


    CCC 2266 Presevining the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm…including death.

    An unborn baby from rape is not an aggressor, neither is an unborn baby of a child or minor!
    Both your questions are answered by 2264-2267.

    And Rick, Deal’s point as well taught by Pope’s!
    “Any arguments about the sanctity of life, after all, make no sense if they don’t arise from the obligation of protecting the not-yet-born.”

  • Karen Clifton

    I regret your not having given me sufficient time to respond to your August 11 email, asking do I still consider Barak Obama pro-life. Had you done so, your insidecatholic piece on “Catholics and the Politics of the Death Penalty” might not have mischaracterized my support for the Obama candidacy and the Catholics for Obama petition I signed prior to his election. Your misapprehension about the purpose and programs of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty (CMN) might also have been set straight.

    I signed the Catholics for Obama petition because I believed at that point, that the then Illinois senator would make a better president than his opponent. My principle focus during the 2008 campaign was upon the health-care debate and the health care-for-all position of Barak Obama was closer to mine (and the position espoused by the USCCB) than was his opponent’s position. You claim that the petition I signed “endorsed Obama as ‘pro-life'”. It did not. Nor did I ever consider him “pro-life”. Indeed, nowhere on the petition was the term “pro-life” used, nor was any other reference made to the abortion debate. This fact, which you would have learned had you taken the trouble to contact the organization, is that the staff of Catholics for Obama unveiled the “pro-life” characterization when it posted the list of signatories on its web site, where you found it.

    CMN was conceived at a luncheon with a friend, who asked what we might do to help meet the challenges of A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, the 2005 publication in which the U.S. bishops called for a Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. “In light of Catholic teaching,” the bishops wrote then, “we see the lack of justification for the death penalty and the overall toll it takes on society.***It is time for U.S. Catholics to come together to work to end the use of the death penalty in our land.” Planning for a national Catholic Campaign began in my home not long after that luncheon and, soon thereafter, CMN was launched. Appropriate USCCB offices, including USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, guide its trajectory. Its recognition by the USCCB as a collaborative organization is based, at least in part, on the understanding that we will not engage in partisan politics; like the USCCB itself, we will not directly or indirectly support/oppose political parties, party platforms, or candidates for public office. Your intimation that we somehow might be politically partisan is flat wrong. Our belief, and the exhortation we convey to the Catholic groups with which we meet, is that responsible Catholics should view their politics through the clear lens of their Church’s teaching, not the other way around.

    Catholic Mobilizing Network will continue to support the policy of the USCCB in opposing the death penalty as a pro-life issue and hope that you too will see the wisdom of this policy.

  • Deal W. Hudson

    Thank you, Ms. Clifton, for taking the time to respond to my article, and, I too am sorry you did not have the time to respond to my email. But, as you know, journalists, are always “on deadline.” I will be responding to your response in a future post at

  • Sarah

    President Obama isn’t even against the death penalty. During the election he said that he regretted the supreme court decision that ruled DP unconstitutional for people convicted of child molestation. He doesn’t even meet the criteria for being pro-life of the group who called him pro-life! So, if he thinks its o.k. to kill unborn children, and o.k. to kill people who haven’t even been *convicted of murder* I’m not sure on what level we can call him “pro-life”, unless this is some sort of Orwellian word game.

  • Bob Curry