Sunday, June 06, 2004

Regarding Bishop Sheridan's May 1 Pastoral Letter

I just sent the following letter to Roman Catholic Bishop Michael J. Sheridan regarding his call to deny communion to politicians who support issues that violate specific Roman Catholic teachings.

Bishop Michael J. Sheridan
The Diocese of Colorado Springs
228 North Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO  80903

Dear Bishop Sheridan,

I am trying to understand why, in your call to deny communion to Catholic politicians and voters who support abortion, stem cell research, or same-sex marriages, you do not call for the same measures to be taken against those who support the death penalty. As you yourself state, "As Catholics we have the further obligation to give assent to the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church because 'to the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.' [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2032 and Code of Canon Law 747.2]."

One of these moral teachings reads thus:

"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

"If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm--without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself--the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are rare, if not practically non-existent.' (NT: John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56) [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267].

What this teaching tells us is that the death penalty, especially as practiced today in the United States, is morally wrong. Why, then, do you not call to account the many politicians who so strongly support the death penalty, especially in the face of a growing mountain of evidence that many innocents have been put to death by the state in this country?

If you think this question smacks of partisanship or particularism (i.e., why single out the death penalty to be against), then mightn't the same be true of your own pastoral letter? Why not simply, in your letter, call for a denial of communion to those who support violations of any of the Church's teachings? This would at least give some sense of consistency and fairness to what you propose.

I look forward to your reply.

Bascom Guffin


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