CNN’s Carol Costello: Can You Be Pro-Life and Pro-Death Penalty?

costelloI missed this great op-ed piece by CNN’s Carol Costello that ran in May on the consistent ethic of life.

I find myself perpetually, uncomfortably, and instinctively part of the 8% of Americans who believe that both abortion and the death penalty are affronts to the God of Life and the call to reconciliation.

But there’s a vast ethical and moral difference between the “principalities and powers” of State-imposed execution and the pastoral universe of multivalent forces that may press down on a woman and her family. The ethic is engaged consistently: prophetically against the State, and pastorally with a human being.

Here’s Carol Costello:

Can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty?

It’s a question more than one person I know is asking after Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Not necessarily because of the way Oklahoma tortuously executed the convicted killer, but because of the hard-core way some reacted to Lockett’s execution.

Like Mike Christian. The pro-life Oklahoma state representative told The Associated Press, “I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don’t care if it’s by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions.”

He also threatened to impeach judges who dared delay executions for any reason.

This is from a man who is so strongly pro-life he voted for eight bills in four years to prevent women in Oklahoma from terminating their pregnancies, or, as many who oppose abortion say, “killing babies.”

Color me confused. So, Rep. Christian says it’s OK to kill, unless you’re a woman who wants to end her pregnancy?
As I told my friends during a heated debate last weekend, that smacks of hypocrisy.

The only nonhypocritical viewpoint, I argued, exists in the Catholic Church.

Catholics believe in the “Consistent Ethic of Life.” As Georgetown’s Father Thomas Reese puts it, “we are concerned about a person from womb to tomb.”

“Life is something that comes from God and shouldn’t be taken away by man,” Reese told me.

Put simply, the Catholic Church opposes abortion and the death penalty. Period. Except nothing in life is that simple. Especially our collective views on the death penalty and abortion.
If you ask a Southern Baptist, he or she will likely tell you the Catholic Church is wrong.

“There is no contradiction here,” R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told me, referring to Rep. Christian’s underlying position. …..

Read the rest here.

Franciscans on Moral Discernment in an Election Season

In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.

The Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt from their first installment. I urge you to read the whole article:

In the election sphere today, there is often an attempt to link our Catholic faith squarely with one political party. Although most religious leaders assert that our faith is not adequately represented or served by the platform of any particular political group, some, overtly or tacitly, strain to demonstrate how one party is the only morally acceptable choice. Such effort is wasted. The world is a morally complex and ambiguous place, especially when it comes to political decisions.

Taking a wider view as Catholics inspired by the Franciscan path of following Jesus, how can we approach the elections? Is there a political party or candidate for whom it would be morally unacceptable to vote? Does our faith compel us to pull a particular lever in the ballot box? If not, is it all just relativism?

The problem is not the clarity of our moral foundations; these are clear. The challenge comes from the complexity of our globalized world, the pluralistic society that is our nation, and the limitations of our fallen, yet still blessed, human condition. While our faith tradition offers us principles by which to live in a complex world, they don’t translate into a litmus test for choosing between candidates. Rather, our faith invites us to engage in moral reasoning—weighing the pressing issues of our day in the light of our tradition. While this is a process that often yields no categorical answers, it does provide us a method of discernment to guide us through troubling ambiguity as we make our decisions.

Our Franciscan tradition offers us a framework of five interconnected parameters that can guide our discernment: care for creation, consistent ethic of life, preferential option for the poor, peacemaking and the common good. …

Read the rest of “Franciscans are not ‘party animals'” (Part 1).

Remembering Cardinal Bernardin

Twelve years ago today, the Catholic Church lost one of her great and humble leaders, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Bernardin grew up in the South. Born in South Carolina, he served for many years in Atlanta until he was asked to lead the U.S. Catholic bishops as their General Secretary. He held that position in the critical and turbulent years between 1968-1972, when Catholicism world-wide was trying to get it’s footing in the Post-Vatican II era.

Bernardin captured the vision of the second Vatican council: Carry forward tradition, not traditionalism; cling to the faithful first, and the dogma of faith second. He was a rigorous intellectual and philosopher, but, above all else, he was a pastor.

Cardinal Bernardin is probably best remembered for introducing the concept of “the seamless garment of life.” In his 1983 speech at Fordham University, Bernardin put forth an inquiry to the audience: How can Catholics address the need for a consistent ethic of life and probe the problems within the church and the wider society for developing such and ethic? He made this address in the context of the bishops’ letter on war and peace issues (The Challenge of Peace), which had been recently released. He said:

Right to life and quality of life complement each other in domestic social policy. They are also complementary in foreign policy. The Challenge of Peace joined the question of how we prevent nuclear war to the question of how we build peace in an interdependent world. Today those who are admirably concerned with reversing the nuclear arms race must also be those who stand for a positive U.S. policy of building the peace. It is this linkage which has led the U.S. bishops not only to oppose the drive of the nuclear arms race, but to stand against the dynamic of a Central American policy which relies predominantly on the threat and the use of force, which is increasingly distancing itself from a concern for human rights in El Salvador and which fails to grasp the opportunity of a diplomatic solution to the Central American conflict.

The relationship of the spectrum of life issues is far more intricate than I can even sketch here. I have made the case in the broad strokes of a lecturer; the detailed balancing, distinguishing and connecting of different aspects of a consistent ethic of life is precisely what this address calls the university community to investigate. Even as I leave this challenge before you, let me add to it some reflections on the task of communicating a consistent ethic of life in a pluralistic society.

I encourage you to read Cardinal Bernardin’s full address, especially in these days when the current cohort of American Catholic bishops seems to have lost sight of the “seamless garment” and of the delicacy of pluralism..