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No moral ‘inconsistency’

Andrew Lynch | Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In light of some flaws in Mr. Durkin’s article “Moral consistency on the issue of life” (March 16), I would like to offer some accurate ideas from a Catholic perspective. I would like to state that I am both a member of Notre Dame Right to Life and personally against the use of the death penalty in the United States.

The Church teaches that capital punishment can be exercised by society as a legitimate act of self-defense for the common good, not as an act of vengeance, but one of prevention and deterrence. As the Catechism states, “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possibly way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” (CCC 2267). However, as Pope John Paul II makes clear in his encyclical, Evangeliium Vitae, society “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity — however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

The death penalty, in and of itself, is neither a morally unacceptable practice, nor a violation of the sanctity of human life. Abortion, on the other hand, in and of itself, “is gravely contrary to the moral law” (2271). In a 2004 letter, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, made clear the difference between capital punishment and abortion: “While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or 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.”

Therefore, both the University Task Force and Notre Dame RTL are both “morally consistent” with Catholic teaching. This is not a question of “conservative” versus “liberal,” but a question of objective morality. Abortion is objectively a morally grave act, whereas capital punishment is not.


Andrew Lynch
Morrissey Hall
March 16