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The Church’s teachings vs American public policy

Director’s Reflection

Dear Companions on the Journey,

Last week, I wrote about the Church’s teaching – which has grown only stricter during the last twenty years – against the use of the death penalty

In 2015, Pope Francis called for “the global abolition of the death penalty…[A] just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” More recently Pope Francis asserted that the death penalty was inconsistent with Catholic teaching, calling it “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church now includes this proscription.) As a result of these clear statements, it was no surprise that some Catholics were quite critical when the Attorney General, who is a Catholic, advocated for resuming federal executions.  As Krisanne Murphy, Executive Director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, said, “Resuming federal executions – especially by an administration that identifies itself as ‘pro-life’ – is wrong-headed and unconscionable.”

Is it?  Indeed, as of at least a year ago, fifty-three percent of American Catholics support the death penalty.

My thought-question with you this week is not so much about the death penalty itself (that was last week), but about the relationship between Church teaching, the individual Catholic Christian conscience, and American public policy (illustrated by, but not confined to, the death penalty). 

Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “I wish the Church would speak out about ‘fill-in-the-blank’”? Or, “I wish the Catholic Church was as strong in condemning X as it is talking about Y”? 

Why doesn’t the Church speak more about racism?  Sexism? the plight of the Palestinians? Miscarriages? Opioid addiction? Mental illness? Addiction to alcohol?  Video games?  Pornography?  Gun control?

What would you wish “the Church” (do you mean the bishops?  your Catholic neighbor?  Pope Francis?  your pastor?) to say? 

Would you like any of those mentioned to proclaim positions you disagree with?  Positions you agree with and you would like to have some clout in your next argument? Often I hear Christians (not just Catholics) speak about “prophetic preaching,” but I have never heard anyone request sermons advocating positions they oppose…and that is what classically constitutes “prophetic preaching.” 

What do we wish of our Church leaders?  Do we wish them to be merely cheerleaders for our own political agenda?  And, frankly, after the clergy sexual abuse scandal, who wishes to hear from priests at all, especially older white guys?  “Church teaching is all well and fine, but it’s not going to sway my opinion!”  Well, what’s it good for, then?

I am asking a lot of questions here, and you can bet I have some opinions (teachings?) about the answer.  Or the directions of the answers. 

But I would like to leave you with only one:  given your strongly held opinions, what do you look for from official Church teachers?

What do you think? 

And let us pray for/with one another.
The Paulist Center