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Church was not misrepresented

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I would like to respond to Ellen Burns’ April 8 (“Partisan Hand”) letter criticizing ND Response spokeswoman Kathleen Donahue. Burns asserts that Donahue misrepresented the Church’s teaching on the death penalty in saying that there was more “room for leeway” on the question, and Burns implies that this “misrepresentation” was motivated by political bias. In response, I would like to quote a letter written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) to the archbishop of Washington, D.C. addressing the subject in his capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment … he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities … to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible … to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

Ratzinger frames the discussion in the appropriate light. The death penalty is not an intrinsic moral evil; while Pope John Paul II gave his opinion that its application in most circumstances in first-world nations is unnecessary, it is incorrect to elevate this opinion of his to the level of a doctrine or dogma. I would say, therefore, that Donahue was mostly accurate in her presentation of the Church’s views.

John Gerardi



April 8