BXVI and the Legitimacy of War & Capital Punishment

The Nov. 25, 2005 edition of The Pilot, weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, quotes then-Cardinal Ratzinger about the controversy surrounding the public positions of Catholic politicians and their sharing in the Eucharist: “…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.” The line has been repeated hundreds of times, often in pro-life websites and blogs, including official statements from US Catholic officials.

I consider myself well-informed about things Catholic, but somehow this one slipped by me; and I find it startling. At many Catholic liturgies, it is not uncommon to hear a prayer during the general intercessions when we pray for increased respect for the dignity of all human life, “from conception until natural death.” This phrase emphasizing the natural beginning and natural ending of each of our lives, drives home the point that God — not us — is the Author of human life. Authority over human life belongs not to us, but to God. It’s a phrase that continues the “seamless garment” approach to respect-for-life issues used by by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago in his 1984 address on A Consistent Ethic of Life.

BXVI, however, seems to have a different perpsective. Apparently he belongs to the all-life-is-sacred-but-some-life-is-more-sacred-than-others school of moral theology. Whereas Bernardin had argued for reasonableness and consistency in forming public policy about the myriad of pro-life issues (including abortion, war, poverty, healthcare and capital punishment), Benedict is willing to cede consistency and allow for greater “diversity” of thought on certain issues.

On its face, such diversity is a good thing. Human actions DO differ from each other, and different contexts present different moral waters to navigate, often leading to different destinations. The problem, however, is two-fold: first, Benedict is inconsistent when applying principles to moral issues, and second, in Benedict’s world, he’s the one who gets to decide what those issues are.

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