Raising Kaine: Why Are We Executing People in Virginia?

A rarity here: a Raising Kaine two-fer, this time regarding the death penalty and Tim Kaine’s Catholicism:

Tim Kaine, of course, is – by his own description – a deeply religious Roman Catholic, a former Catholic missionary no less. And perhaps his deep Roman Catholic religious faith is the reason behind his moral objection to state funding of embryonic stem cell research, I don’t know. As someone who strongly support embryonic stem cell research in order to cure diseases like Juvenile Diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, cancer and many others, I disagree vehemently with Gov. Kaine on this one, but at least I can (sort of) understand why he might have come to his (wildly incorrect) decision.

The problem is, Gov. Kaine’s being highly inconsistent in opposing embryonic stem cell funding while approving of executions. Both are opposed by the Catholic Church. On the death penalty, Pope John Paul II in 1999 said called it “both cruel and unnecessary.” And in a March 1995 encyclical, Pope John Paul II wrote, “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must 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.”

Well, it just so happens that there IS such a “bloodless means.” It’s called “life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” and it’s an option in just about every state in the country. Americans are deeply split on this issue, with a recent poll by Quinnipiac Univesrity indicating that 47% support the death penalty for convicted murderers, while 44% support life in prison with no chance of parole. But here in Virginia, apparently, it’s “all systems go” on capital punishment, even with all its flaws, and even with a “deeply religious Roman Catholic” governor (who can commute death penalty sentences for ANY REASON HE WANTS), whose church strongly opposes the death penalty. Can anyone explain this? I’m baffled.

I’m baffled as well. I mean, I don’t see Lowell raising these sorts of questions when Catholic teaching on say, abortion or gay marriage is at stake…

…but let’s not digress, because Lowell raises a valid point.

Catholic teaching on the death penalty for 1,950 years was consistent, though not as high on the social justice scale as items such as abortion. The death penalty was to be used in instances where the preservation of society required the act.

It was only the advent of the Second Vatican Council that asked the Church to look again at her relationship with the state. In doing so, the late Pope John Paul II placed the capstone of his thoughts on the matter in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must 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”.

Notice what you don’t read: a proscription against exercising the death penalty. Rather, Pope John Paul II emphasizes the relative lack of need for a death penalty in a modern incarceration system… a valid point.

Still, as with most encyclicals, they reflect and build upon Church Tradition. So while to outsiders such an act is simply a change (or worse, a flip-flop), within the Christian tradition it is given the much more apologetic term of development of doctrine.

So how has Catholic teaching on the death penalty developed up to this date? The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church outlines it this way:

112. [T]here is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that [the death penalty] be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of punishment which society inflicts is to redress the disorder caused by the offense (CCC, n. 2266). Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while … offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated (CCC, n. 2266). It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non existent. (Evangelium Vitae, n. 56)

In other words, the death penalty is accepted in cases of absolute necessity — not abolished.

Of course, the real catch in all of this is that though Lowell cites Evangelium Vitae as a source for opposition to the death penalty, the encyclical was very clear on three other topic that Catholics are required to oppose — murder, abortion, and euthanasia.

I doubt seriously Lowell (or most anti-death penalty proponents) would be as vociferous in their opposition to abortion… but again, I digress.

In the case of Governor Kaine, his personal opposition to all executions before his gubernatorial race is what is most upsetting IMO, because unlike Kennedy’s example where he stated he would resign if his faith conflicted with his presumed duties, Kaine let go of his principles for the sake of political palatabilty. If Kaine truly believes this as a matter of faith, he should have been willing to stand by his faith. That he made a promise to betray his principles was a mistake… one I sincerely hope he never repeats.

Kennedy’s position outlined in Profiles in Courage

is — I believe — a far more principled stand than what our governor has permitted himself to follow. I would be hugely impressed if, in the last months of his stewardship as our first Catholic governor, Kaine practiced more of his personal beliefs rather than what was politically expedient. Kaine would certainly find me first in line to support him in ending abortion, encouraging subsidiarity, protecting the rights of the working poor, and defending a culture of life. That would be a legacy worth all the trouble of public office.

As to his Catholicism, his support for abortion rights remains scandalous and greviously wrong. But for Kaine’s forebearance regarding the death penalty, his position (and the position of AG Bob McDonnell) to use it in the rare cases warranted is entirely Catholic.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.