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Kerry, Catholics and Capital Punishment By: Michael P. Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, July 23, 2004


Last April, Democratic Party presidential candidate Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts bristled about the prospect of being denied the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion because of his pro-abortion beliefs. This became an issue when the Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke said that he would refuse communion to Kerry and instead give him a blessing if Kerry were to come to him for communion during the Missouri primary. Other bishops concurred, including Kerry’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley.

When told that conservatives criticized him for being a Catholic advocating abortion, Kerry replied, "Are they the same legislators who vote for the death penalty, which is in contravention of Catholic teaching?" This statement revealed what the Democrats and Kerry response was to the criticism that he was not an observant Catholic. He was going to claim the Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic legislators were hypocrites.

This propaganda was echoed in a letter dated May 10, signed by 48 House Democrats to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which was designed to influence McCarrick not to deny Communion to Kerry. Signers included, Nancy Pelosi, Rosa L. DeLauro, Carolyn McCarthy, Nydia Velazquez, and Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo of Guam.

The letter stated, "Attempts by church leaders today to influence votes by the threat of withholding a sacrament will revive latent anti-Catholic prejudice….Both the Holy Father and members of the U.S. hierarchy have condemned the death penalty as well as the war in Iraq. Will an individual bishop decide to deny Communion to a legislator — Republican or Democrat — who has voted in favor of the death penalty [or] ... who authorized the war in Iraq?" (italics mine)

Kerry and the Democratic Party’s misinformation campaign conflates abortion with capital punishment. However - as is the case with many claims by Kerry and his Democratic Party colleagues – this is untrue. Catholic doctrine does not prohibit capital punishment, yet it does abortion.

As Jesuit priest and professor of theology at Xavier University, Kenneth Overberg, wrote in the American Catholic, "Augustine recognized the death penalty as a means of deterring the wicked and protecting the innocent. …Thomas Aquinas reaffirmed this position….The new Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects this tradition, stating that the death penalty is possible in cases of extreme gravity."

The April 2001 edition of First Things, "A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life," published an article about this, which was adapted from a lecture by Avery Cardinal Dulles of Fordham University. Dulles said, "The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that ‘Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.’ Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the "Consistent Ethic of Life" at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the "classical position" that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment….Although Cardinal Bernardin advocated what he called a ‘consistent ethic of life,’ he made it clear that capital punishment should not be equated with the crimes of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide." (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, paragraph 56 of Pope John Paul II 1995 Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" states, "punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." (Emphasis added.) Unquestionably, the Catholic Church does not prohibit capital punishment. Ergo, those who advocate capital punishment are not eligible to be denied communion as would be the case of someone who publicly proclaims his opposition to Catholic teaching, such as those who advocate abortion.

Last November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a task force to study how the church should treat Catholic politicians like Mr. Kerry, who advocate abortion. Many Catholic Democrats, including former NY governor Mario M. Cuomo, and Geraldine A. Ferraro, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1984, advocate abortion. While the task force has not issued specific recommendations however, everything from withholding communion to excommunication is being considered.

Is the American public to believe that the Kerry campaign and the House Democrats do not know that Catholic dogma does not prohibit capital punishment yet prohibits abortion? Was John Kerry and the House Democrats lying when they claimed that the Catholic Church equates abortion with capital punishment? America needs to know if Kerry is trying to deceive the American public.

If they are not lying then they must be ignorant of Catholic doctrine. Yet how could they be competent legislators while being so ignorant of the teachings of their own religion.

Are they lying or are they ignorant? Neither possibility bodes well for the American public generally, nor their constituents specifically.


A former police officer, Michael P. Tremoglie recently published his first novel, A Sense of Duty. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Human Events, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has a Master of Science degree from Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia.


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