Sunday, June 05, 2005


Amy Welborn has an interesting post about a column Cherie Blair, British PM Tony Blair's wife, has in the Telegraph about her Catholicism.

What struck me was one of the comments, an excerpt of which is this: "It's also interesting because Catholic conservatives often get knocked for supporting the death penalty, lower taxes, less government spending, the War in Iraq.......but the point is, that on all these issues, Catholics are free to disagree with Church policy."

Now, before we get started let me make clear that the issue I am NOT raising here is whether the death penalty and the Iraq war are morally equivalent to abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem research. All three of the latter are inherently evil, whereas the two former are not.

That said, the Church is pretty clear in her teaching that certain conditions must be met for the death penalty and war to be justified. Obviously, Catholics are free to disagree about taxes, government spending, etc. But I'm wondering to what extent exactly we can disagree on the death penalty and war. These two issues are different from taxes and spending as they deal directly with human life. There's simply no denying that.

Now, Catholics can disagree as to whether the conditions for the just application of the death penalty and war have been met. But it seems sometimes that some Catholics feel free to change the conditions or dismiss some of them. What I'm wondering is whether that is legitimate disagreement.

For example, if tomorrow the United States invaded Canada and intentionally killed civilians in the process, that would definitely and very clearly not meet the conditions of a just war and would in fact be severely unjust. I find it difficult to accept, therefore, that Catholics can in cases like that be in legitimate disagreement with Church teaching.

Or, in the case of the death penalty, how much room is there for disagreement that the old law in Florida (previous to last year's Supreme Court ruling overturning the death penalty for minors) allowing the death penalty for people who committed their crimes as young as 15 and who would otherwise be in maximum security prisons for years with an almost non-existent possibility of being a threat to society was unjust?

The Holy Father made clear in Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism also makes clear that it is today rare for conditions to exist in which the death penalty is applied justly. Obviously, we can legitimately argue that there are conditions which allow for its just application, but can we legitimately argue that it can be applied without those just applications being met?

Can Catholics in good conscience, for example, accept that the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki - which intentionally targeted millions of civilians - was just? (Here I'm not meaning to suggest that WWII was unjust - it was very just, in fact, but I'm talking about this specific act of war.)

It is my understanding that for a war to be justified, all just conditions must be met, not just some of them. Am I correct in that assessment? And if they obviously aren't all met, can Catholics legitimately support the war?