As expected, the US bishops yesterday overwhelmingly approved a document on the death penalty, calling on Catholics to oppose it. While I’m also of the opinion that the death penalty as it stands in the US is generally unnecessary, I still have a problem with this document. For one thing, the Church has taught that this teaching is a matter of prudential judgment. A good Catholic can be for or against the death penalty, given a few conditions.
The problem with doing this is that it muddles people’s understanding of the hierarchy of Church teaching. This is how Catholic politicians like Ted Kennedy convince the little old ladies that they’re still good Catholics; they may be pro-abortion, but that’s balanced out by their opposition to the death penalty. I’m with the bishops on this, he says, and on increased government funding for social programs. It also allows Ted Kennedy to also issue statements claiming that Catholic politicians who are opposed to abortion aren’t really pro-life because they are pro-death penalty and then to say, “See, no politician is 100% with the Church on every issue.”