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Response from Notre Dame Right to Life

John Gerardi | Friday, March 19, 2010

As president of Notre Dame Right to Life, I would like to respond to Anthony Michael Durkin’s column (March 16) regarding NDRTL’s involvement, or alleged lack thereof, with the death penalty issue.

First of all, I want to clarify the Church’s teaching on the death penalty, which I think Mr. Durkin misrepresents. I applaud Andrew Lynch’s clarification of Catholic teaching in his response to Durkin’s article on March 17, in which he quoted Cardinal Ratzinger as saying that the death penalty is not an intrinsic evil, that its moral status depends on the circumstances of its use, and that Catholics can legitimately disagree on when it should be applied.

Not only because of its intrinsically evil nature, but also because of its much larger scope, abortion has been a greater focus of our club than the death penalty. There have been 40,000,000 abortions in America since 1973, approximately 4,000 per day; meanwhile, there have been around 1,100 executions total since 1973. I am not thereby saying that capital punishment is an acceptable practice; any unjust taking of life is wrong. However, when faced with the numbers, it’s hard to deny that abortion is a much more serious societal ill.

This moral distinction notwithstanding, we at NDRTL have frequently co-sponsored and advertised for events of such groups as Notre Dame Against State Killings (ND-ASK), events that were specifically aimed against the modern application of the death penalty in the United States. It seems that Mr. Durkin has not followed our club’s activity very closely over the past four years, over which time we have frequently engaged in co-sponsorship of anti-death penalty events; we do so whenever we are asked. We agree with Ven. John Paul II’s assessment that in modern, First World countries, the application of the death penalty is largely unnecessary. In at least one of the two cases where the death penalty was used in Michigan City, we encouraged our members to pray that the sentence be commuted.

There are other reasons why NDRTL is not as involved in the death penalty as Mr. Durkin would like. Durkin was correct to highlight the importance of defending life at all stages and the relevance of anti-death penalty work to NDRTL’s mission. Though these points are valid, NDRTL does not include anti-death penalty work as a part of our regular club activities for reasons of limited time and resources.  We have a large number of pre-existing initiatives and events that keep our leadership extremely busy, and we would prefer to focus on those events rather than spread ourselves too thin with new commitments. Secondly, other existing organizations were already doing work regarding the death penalty issue, such as ND-ASK and the Center for Social Concerns. In light of this, NDRTL sees it as important to remain centrally committed to the specific life issue of abortion, and to dedicate our efforts to doing this work well.

There are other accusations in Durkin’s piece that are false. First, NDRTL does not believe that “once you are conceived, you are a human being and, thus, cannot be killed under any circumstances,” as Durkin suggests we do. Catholic teaching only forbids the direct killing of innocent human beings (such as the unborn) in any circumstance; someone who is trying to murder you, for example, can legitimately be killed. Right to Life believes what the Church does; Mr. Durkin should get his facts right before accusing us of being “inconsistent.”

Durkin also accuses us of engaging in a mainly political enterprise during the March for Life. Any of the 400 students, faculty and administrators who went on the March can tell you the event was not political. Certainly we want to overturn Roe v. Wade; it is an unjust decision that deprives legal protection to a whole class of human beings. However, NDRTL has never campaigned, as Durkin alleges, for any Members of Congress. The March was much more about prayer than politics.

Ultimately, it seems that Durkin does not understand the role of our club within the Notre Dame community. Especially since University President Fr. John Jenkins’ formation of the President’s Task Force to Support the Choice for Life, NDRTL sees its role on campus to be not only one of promoting respect for life at its most vulnerable stages, but also that of supporting and encouraging the University in its own commitment to the defense of innocent unborn life, a position that has sometimes been overshadowed by other issues the University has promoted (health care reform, environmental issues, Third World development, etc.). I hope you readers of The Observer appreciate the mission of our organization, and I hope you would join with us in our mission.

John Gerardi is a senior and is president of Notre Dame Right to Life.  He can be contacted at jgerardi@nd.edu
The views expressed in this   column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.