Amy Barrett, Catholic nominee for Federal Court Judge
and Al Franken, Democrat Senator
Amy Coney Barrett, a widely published professor of law at the University of Notre Dame has been nominated by President Donald Trump for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was featured in an article published by the National Catholic Register on September 22. A Senate hearing was held and several liberal Senators including Al Franken and Diane Feinstein gave her a brutal grilling. The You Tube video of the Franken exchange is particularly disgusting.
The Catholic Register article referred to an article Barrett wrote years ago as the subject of Feinstein’s questions, stating,
“…it was Feinstein who mischaracterized the article’s conclusion, thus raising questions about Barrett’s fitness for the appellate bench. Truth be told, the 1998 law review article in question, co-authored by Catholic constitutional scholar John Garvey, now the president of The Catholic University of America, reached a very different conclusion about the religious and professional responsibilities of Catholic jurists on the federal bench. In their paper, Barrett and Garvey posed this question: Must judges who accept Church teaching on capital punishment recuse themselves in federal death-penalty cases? After exploring this question, the authors concluded that such cases were far from common, and when they did arise, Catholic judges should recuse themselves if necessary.” (My emphasis added.)
When I read this, I was more than a little troubled and I think we all should be. How many of us actually KNOW what the Church teaches on the subject of capital punishment? Mary Ann Krietzer is the only person I know who has stated it accurately and without hesitation. Most Catholics assume we should advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty, but let’s take a look at why they think that.
When most of us want to know what the Church teaches on any subject we go to the shelf and take down the Catechism of the Catholic Church we all bought in 1994. It is that big fat book we think is used in case we ever needed to “look something up.” This past January I decided it was time I started at page one and read it through, beginning to end. I fully intended to do that; however, it wasn’t long before I found myself “at odds” with the wording of the text and feeling badly for not being able to swallow it whole without doubt. I truly WANT to believe all the Church teaches.
I did not grow up in the Catholic Church and so I was not a beneficiary of the Baltimore Catechism, which is, sadly, derided by so many today, but I felt I needed to know how it compared to the CCC on the same issue. Eventually I collected and read not only the Baltimore Catechism, but also the Catechism of St. Pius X, the Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, and most recently the Catechism of the Council of Trent. What I discovered is that ALL these older catechisms are in full agreement with each other and their teaching is clear and concise, briefly expressed in the most unambiguous terms and referenced by Holy Scripture. The new post Vatican II CCC on the other hand, in many areas is a mixture of truth, or confession of what has always been taught, plus added commentary and what I might call “an adventure in modernist wishful thinking.”
Using the paragraphs on capital punishment for an example, I discovered that the CCC spells out very clearly what the Church has ALWAYS taught---no denials, but then spends the next 150 words or so telling you why this is no longer a good idea.
It is the addition of this text beyond doctrine that should have us worried, and remind us of the danger of believing we can subtract from or add to the truth without harming the faith. As it is, this going beyond truth is what many have come to accept as the truth itself, when it is not.
Below is the text of various catechisms on this subject, which I will let you read for yourself, ending with the very drawn out text of the CCC that ends with the suggestion we should see “today’s world” in a different light. It wants you to believe, I suppose, that we have “progressed” from this barbaric notion that people should suffer death for their crimes. The danger in this is that we will come to think punishment is wrong and that no one should be punished for anything, only “rehabilitated” or dealt with in a more merciful manner perhaps. That is very tempting. All the worst temptations as a matter of fact must be attractive. Why would we ever fall for them if they were not? Nevertheless, justice in this world has its place as has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church. Those who cannot accept that here and promote only a "more merciful approach" are not likely to understand the reality of the four last things---death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
We should never set aside the fact that truth is unchangeable and we should be wary of anyone who tells us otherwise.
Quotes from the teaching of the Fifth Commandment---thou shalt not kill, in each of the catechisms follows.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, pub. 1566“
…this prohibition does not apply to the civil magistrate to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which he punishes the guilty and protects the innocent. The use of the civil sword, when wielded by the hand of justice, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the commandment is the preservation and security of human life, and to the attainment of this end the punishments inflicted by the civil magistrate, who is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend, giving security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: ‘In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land; that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.’ In like manner, the soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war. There are on record instances of carnage executed by the special command of God himself: the sons of Levi, who had put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin: when the slaughter had ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: ‘you have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord.’ “(141 words)
Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, pub. 1747
“Princes and Magistrates are provided with public authority and so kill evildoers, but not as the masters of their lives, but as ministers of God, as St. Paul witnesses. (Romans 13:4) God willed and commanded for evildoers to be punished, and –if they were to merit the penalty---be killed so that the good could abide securely and peacefully. For that reason God gave Princes and Magistrates a sword in their hand to exercise justice, defend the good but punish the wicked. Thus when a criminal is killed at the command of a public authority of this sort, it is not said to be murder, but an act of justice. Therefore, one ought to avoid understanding the proper authority [of the commonwealth] in the Commandment ‘thou shalt not kill.’ “(127 words)
Catechism of Pope Pius X, pub. 1880
“It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime; and, finally, in cases of necessary and lawful defense of one’s own life against an unjust aggressor.” (46 words)
Baltimore Catechism, pub. 1885
“Human life may be lawfully taken 1) in self-defense….. 2) In a just war, ….. 3) by the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death, when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution.” (71 words)
Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II, pub. 1994
“2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
(this is where the “wishful thinking begins…….)
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor; authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself---the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are rare, if not practically non-existent. (258 words)