The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols. 

Please go like us on Facebook here Join the discussion on Catholic social teaching here. Contact the editor at: 
Christian Democracy is on a temporary hiatus. It will return soon at a new location, and a notice will be placed here. Thank you for reading Christian Democracy.

The Kentucky Medicaid Plan: Opportunity or Bludgeon?

January 16, 2018

The Trump administration has approved a Kentucky plan that will make that state the first “to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work or face losing their benefits….” [1] Beginning in July, most “most Medicaid recipients who are not disabled and aged 19 to 64” will be required to work at least 20 hours a week….” The recipients will not have to work paid jobs, but will be able to “meet the requirement through volunteer work, job training, searching for a job, taking classes or caring for someone elderly or disabled.” Moreover, pregnant “women, full-time students, primary caretakers of dependents and the chronically homeless will be exempt from the work requirement, as will people deemed medically frail.”

Now it is being promised that all of Kentucky’s Medicaid beneficiaries will be able to utilize a “program to access job opportunities, job training, volunteer opportunities, and much more – all free of charge.” [2] One hopes that this will be a serious and sincere effort on the part of the State of Kentucky, because Catholic social teaching insists that “society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 2433) [3] As Pope Francis has pointed out in Evangelii Gaudium,

“Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.” (Sec. 202) [4] 

And as Saint Pope John Paul II cautioned us in Centesimus Annus,

“Another task of the State is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the State but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society. The State could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals. This does not mean, however, that the State has no competence in this domain, as was claimed by those who argued against any rules in the economic sphere. Rather, the State has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis.

“The State has the further right to intervene when particular monopolies create delays or obstacles to development. In addition to the tasks of harmonizing and guiding development, in exceptional circumstances the State can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand. Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom.

“In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called ‘Welfare State’. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the ‘Social Assistance State’. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.” (Sec. 48) [5]

None of this justifies the cynical (perhaps sardonic) suggestion that society’s obligation to help citizens find employment is never the role of the State. On the contrary, as John Paul II pointed out, the State may “exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand.” And while this should only last as long as the lower orders of society prove incapable, that incapability does not relieve society of the obligation, meaning the obligation falls upon the government when necessary.

Moreover, the fact that welfare should be temporary does not mean that it should be non-existent. Nor does this mean that artificial time limits should be placed on it. Welfare should be temporary, not for punitive reasons, but because work enhances the dignity and self-respect of human beings. Therefore, the proper goal is not to time people out of the social assistance they need to survive, but to render all necessary assistance in helping them to find gainful employment so that they will need the social assistance less, or, preferably, not at all. And as Pope Francis points out, it may in some circumstances be necessary to reform the economic order in order to alleviate the necessity of welfare programs.

Kentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin, says his state’s new program is “an opportunity for Kentucky’s poor ‘not to be put into a dead-end entitlement trap but rather to be given a path forward and upward so they can do for themselves.’” That is a laudable goal, if true. But the sincerity of that goal will be reasonably doubted if the result turns out to be people in Kentucky without income and without access to medical care.   

Jack Quirk

Is It Bad to Have Bad Things?

November 29, 2017

Earlier this month Catholic World News editor Phil Lawler opined in a Catholic Culture article regarding the Holy Father’s recent remarks about nuclear weapons. [1] Mr. Lawler wrote an article in March entitled “This Disastrous Papacy” [2], so you know what’s coming.

Let us begin our analysis with the remarks of the pope under consideration, which were contained in an address to participants in the international symposium, “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament” [3], wherein he said,

“In this Symposium, you have met to discuss issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict.  A certain pessimism might make us think that ‘prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament’, the theme of your meeting, appear increasingly remote.  Indeed, the escalation of the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.  As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects, and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place (cf. Message to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, 7 December 2014).

“Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.  If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.  For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.  International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms.  Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security.  They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity (cf. Message to the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, 27 March 2017).  Essential in this regard is the witness given by the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear arms testing.  May their prophetic voice serve as a warning, above all for coming generations!”

Mr. Lawler is concerned that Pope Francis, in saying these things, “has ventured into new territory in Church teaching….” Of course, he acknowledges that the Church “has frequently lamented the existence of nuclear armaments, and Vatican II clearly condemned the use of any weapons that would destroy civilian population centers.” And he recognizes that each “successive Pontiff of the nuclear age has wholeheartedly endorsed the quest for disarmament.” But he is concerned that our current Holy Father has taken things a bit far. Until the pope’s remarks, he says, “Church leaders had stopped short of condemning the possession of nuclear weapons.” It follows, Mr. Lawler reasons, that it should be okay to possess them. His argument is this:

“Nuclear weapons—like many other weapons, including a police official’s gun—are intended primarily for their deterrent effect. World leaders do not intend to launch their nuclear-tipped missiles. Indeed it is a salient fact that although thousands of nuclear devices have been developed in my lifetime, not one has been used in combat. Many strategists agree that nuclear deterrence, problematical though it may be, prevented the outbreak of a massive global conflict during the Cold War, and if that is true, it is no small achievement.”

Of course, as Pope Francis pointed out, nuclear weapons have indeed been used in combat, but we can take some comfort in the fact that they haven’t been so used in Mr. Lawler’s lifetime. But Mr. Lawler believes that a nuclear arsenal has the laudable purpose of deterrence, and this even though world leaders don’t really intend to launch their nuclear weapons. His concern is that a nation that gets rid of its nuclear weapons will no longer be able to deter countries that have no intention of using their nuclear bombs from using them. Moreover, we will lose the manifold benefits associated with the decades-long standoff of the Cold War.

But the main concern that he has is that the current occupant of the Peter’s Chair not only just doesn’t get it, but that he’s adding things to Magisterial teaching, and making up a new religion where countries don’t get to possess such weapons of mass destruction. This pope gets that a lot. He’s constantly being accused of trying to change Catholic doctrine. And, once again, it isn’t true.

In April of 1963, Pope John XXIII published the encyclical Pacem in Terris [4], wherein he said that the proper goal regarding nuclear weapons is “ultimately to abolish them entirely.” (Sec. 113) And that’s a good idea, because nuclear weapons are bad. That is why Pope John XXIII said that “justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned.” (Sec. 112) Apparently he didn’t care how much deterrent they provide.

But Mr. Lawler is saying that Pope Francis is calling, not for a simultaneous banning, but for unilateral disarmament. The pope didn’t actually say that, of course, but let’s take a look at Mr. Lawler’s concern from the standpoint of Catholic teaching generally.

First of all, the “Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. ‘The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Sec. 2312) [5] For example, “’Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.’” (CCC, Sec. 2314) [6] This implicates not only the use, but the very possession of weapons of mass destruction, since a “danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons— especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons—to commit such crimes.” (Ibid.) The mere possession of such weapons is not harmless, because it provides an impetus for their use, not to mention Pope Francis’s concern about their unintentional implementation.

Regarding Mr. Lawler’s concern that they be possessed for their deterrent effect, the Catechism says this:

“The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.” (CCC, Sec. 2315)

There being moral concerns about the deterrence argument for possessing nuclear weapons, and since their possession aggravates rather than lessens the risk of war, and since, moreover, it “impedes efforts to aid needy populations,” what Catholic argument can be made for their possession?

Now Pope Francis didn’t write the Catechism himself; it was finished before he became the pope. So, once again, although his enemies and opponents insist he is trying to change Catholic doctrine, it turns out that what he says is firmly grounded in historic Catholic teaching. Now it’s wrong to say things about people that aren’t true, so they really should stop that.

Jack Quirk

Simply Unconscionable: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017


In his encyclical, Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII said that in “a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” (Sec. 132) [1] It follows that in devising a plan of taxation that there will be an injustice if taxes are raised on the working poor, while giving the rich a tax reduction. And it just so happens that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced in the House of Representatives does exactly that, as has been so ably pointed out by three Catholic bishops writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). [2]

The three bishops are the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; the Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces, and Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; and the Most Reverend George V. Murry, S.J., Bishop of Youngstown, and Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education. In their letter dated November 9, 2017 the bishops note that the tax “proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.” (Boldface in original.)

That certainly doesn’t comply with the requirement that tax “burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” Indeed it is, as the bishops point out, “simply unconscionable,” and they provide these details to illustrate just how unconscionable it all is:

“The nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) indicates that by 2023 this tax plan will raise taxes on average tax payers making between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. Taxes for this group will be raised again in 2025, and again in 2027. Taxes will also increase on average taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025. The federal poverty line is $12,228 for one person, and $24,339 for a two-parent family with two children. Nearly one in three Americans live in a family with income below 200% of the poverty line. Meanwhile, average taxpayers who make over $1 million experience dramatic tax cuts for the same periods.”

This, of course, is indefensible. As the bishops put it, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.” (Boldface in original) This is a truth so axiomatic that it is shocking that the point had to be made, but it appears that it will have to become a maxim for us to memorize.

And there is something else for us to remember.

The bishops point to many other features of the proposed act that are objectionable, and readers are encouraged to take a look at the bishops’ letter for themselves. But there is one in particular that bears mentioning here, and the bishops describe it this way:

“It removes the adoption tax credit which provides important and life-affirming assistance for families to adopt children desperately in need of love and support.

“The plan also repeals the exclusion for adoption assistance programs, which allows a family to exclude money paid by an employer for adoption costs up to the amount of the adoption tax credit as an alternative. This exclusion also allows those who adopt a child with special needs to receive the full value of the exclusion regardless of actual adoption costs.” (Boldface in original)

The political party currently in power has tried to sell itself to Catholics on the ground that it is pro-life, at least as far as abortion is concerned. And that is a worthy consideration. A Catholic citizen who votes with that in mind won’t be blamed in these pages.

But it must be made clear, also in these pages, that a party that proposes to remove the adoption tax credit is not a pro-life party. At all.

When women are faced with unwanted pregnancies we want to encourage them to go the adoption route if they are certain about not keeping their babies. That means we want to encourage people to adopt children. We especially want to encourage people to adopt children with special needs, because children like that are particular targets of abortion.

Whatever our political party affiliations one thing is abundantly clear. Preserving the adoption tax credit is the Catholic position to take.

Jack Quirk   


Five-Hundred Years Later in America

October 31, 2017

It’s Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. It’s also the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses,” which led to the Protestant “Reformation.” For American Catholics, it is a time for reflection on the somewhat uneasy relationship that has existed between themselves and the surrounding culture. The English colonists brought their anti-Catholicism with them to the shores of what would be called the United States, and subsequent history brought such anti-Catholic efforts as Knownothingism and the Ku Klux Clan. Even in recent years we witnessed the shot across our bow that was the contraception mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the effort of the American Civil Liberties Union to compel Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. And there has been a grand total of one Catholic president since the founding of the Republic, and he was not elected until 1960.

Now none of this is quite the same as being fed to lions in the Colosseum, of course, so too much lamentation over our state of affairs in the United States would be unseemly, presented as we are with examples of martyrs down through the centuries. Still, it would be unwise to ignore the anti-Catholic gene present in our national DNA, which makes its presence known from time to time. It comes from more than the puerile protests against Church opposition to sexual license that we often see. Rather, it derives from the same concern over a foreign governance that motivated Henry VIII. Thus both presidential candidates Al Smith and John Kennedy faced concerns that they would take their marching orders from the Vatican once elected.  

Confronted with such concerns even today, we should not be bashful about the fact that we do indeed consider the spiritual power superior to the temporal power. It is simply a way of saying that we consider God to be of a higher authority than governments. Of course, anyone who holds to theism in any form has to agree with that. Otherwise he would be saying that humans have more authority than the Creator, which would be absurd.

None of this means, however, that Catholics should be in favor of forcibly imposing their religion on the unwilling. On the contrary,

“’Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits.’ This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it ‘continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Sec. 2106) [1]

There are still integralists in the world who will insist that error has no rights. That is a true statement. But it misses the point.

“The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.” (CCC, Sec. 2108) [2] [3]   

There are those who will make the ahistorical claim that religious liberty derives from Protestantism. But the history those claimants ignore is rich with examples showing why religion should never be subjected to the state, and, further, that forcibly imposing religion on people is productive mainly of hypocrisy.

It is not only safe, but preferable, to return the sword to the sheath.

Jack Quirk

Pope Francis, the Death Penalty, and the Development of Doctrine

October 16, 2017

In 2012, one Rick Lowery, Ph.D., writer, Bible Scholar, and Disciples of Christ minister, published an article in HuffPost entitled “Abortion: What the Bible Says (and Doesn’t Say).” [1] He made therein three points:

(1) the Bible doesn’t talk about abortion;

(2) the Bible says that the “first human became a “living being” (nefesh hayah, “a living breath”) when God blew into its nostrils and it started to breathe. Human life begins when you start breathing, biblical writers thought,” and

(3) “Exodus 21:22-25 describes a case where a pregnant woman jumps into a fight between her husband and another man and suffers injuries that cause her to miscarry. Injuries to the woman prompt the normal penalties for harming another human being: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Killing the woman is murder, a capital crime,” but that the “miscarriage is treated differently, however — as property loss, not murder. The assailant must pay a fine to the husband. The law of a life for a life does not apply. The fetus is important, but it’s not human life in the same way the pregnant woman is.”

His conclusion is that one cannot find a biblical justification for prohibiting abortion.

But the Bible does not say that life begins when one starts breathing. It says that “the life of all flesh is in the blood….” (Leviticus 17:14) [1] And, in humans, blood cells develop in the embryo during the 5th week of pregnancy. [2] So we’re going to have to prohibit abortion after the 4th week of pregnancy using Dr. Lowery’s reasoning.

The Scripture passage that Dr. Lowery cites from Exodus reads this way:

“If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award. But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25) [3]

He concludes that since only a fine was levied for the death of a fetus, a fetus is not considered a human life according to the Bible, and that, therefore, the Bible cannot be used as a justification for prohibiting abortion. But there is another interesting passage from the same chapter of Exodus, immediately preceding the one cited by Dr. Lowery, which should be considered in this connection:

“He that striketh his bondman or bondwoman with a rod, and they die under his hands, shall be guilty of the crime. But if the party remain alive a day or two, he shall not be subject to the punishment, because it is his money.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

So if we are to follow Dr. Lowery’s reasoning, there should be no penalty imposed on a slave owner who kills his slave if the slave survives the injury for a day or two. After all, the slave is the master’s property.

Now we shouldn’t suppose that Dr. Lowery would actually argue that there should be no penalty for a master killing his slave just because the slave survives the injury inflicted on him for a day or two. But he quotes from the same chapter of Exodus to justify abortion without a blush.

Nowadays, we have a scientific understanding of the development of a child in the womb that informs us that life begins at fertilization, when a new organism is formed. [4] An organism with human parents can be nothing but a human. Thus, taking the life of that organism is taking the life of a human. It is interesting, however, to observe the political “left” attempting to take refuge in the Bible in order to engage in this particular form of science denial.

Therefore, Dr. Lowery is wrong when he says that abortion is not specifically prohibited in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Fifth Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13) [5] Dr. Lowery might argue that the commandment doesn’t specifically forbid the killing of the unborn. But we’ve seen that sort of logic before. It was infamously used by Judge Roy Bean, who freed “a man accused of killing a Chinese rail worker on the grounds that Bean knew of no law making it a crime ‘to kill a Chinaman.’” [6]

So much for the sola scriptura approach to abortion. But sola scriptura is a doctrine that is really only an extreme version of an approach that holds that Christian doctrine is somehow frozen in time. For example, we see it manifested in those who deny the validity of the Second Vatican Council. It is the teaching of the Church, on the other hand, that Christian doctrine can develop with the times to meet new situations, while always maintaining fidelity to the Deposit of Faith. [7] Thus we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership. The development of the doctrine of the Church on economic and social matters attests the permanent value of the Church’s teaching at the same time as it attests the true meaning of her Tradition, always living and active.” (CCC, Sec. 2241) [8]  

There was a time when the Church did not take a position against the capital punishment. Indeed, there was a time when “the death penalty was a possible punishment in the Papal States. It was only in 1969 that Pope Paul VI formally banned the death penalty, even though it had not been imposed since 1870.” [9]

But we have seen a development in the approach of the Church to this ultimate penal sanction. In point of fact, we have seen a development since the first edition of the Catechism itself. As the Catholic News Service points out,

“The first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by St. John Paul II in 1992, recognized ‘as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.’ At the same time, it said, ‘bloodless means’ that could protect human life should be used when possible.

“But the language was formally changed in 1997 after St. John Paul II issued his pro-life encyclical, ‘Evangelium Vitae.’ Since then, the catechism has specified that the use of the death penalty is permissible only when the identity and responsibility of the condemned is certain and when capital punishment ‘is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.’”

Now Pope Francis is calling for “a more adequate and coherent treatment” of capital punishment in the Catechism. [10] “This issue,” he said, “cannot be reduced to a mere résumé of traditional teaching without taking into account not only the doctrine as it has developed in the teaching of recent Popes, but also the change in the awareness of the Christian people which rejects an attitude of complacency before a punishment deeply injurious of human dignity. It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which – ultimately – only God is the true judge and guarantor.”

“Here,” he said, “we are not in any way contradicting past teaching, for the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death has been taught by the Church consistently and authoritatively. Yet the harmonious development of doctrine demands that we cease to defend arguments that now appear clearly contrary to the new understanding of Christian truth.  Indeed, as Saint Vincent of Lérins pointed out, “Some may say: Shall there be no progress of religion in Christ’s Church?  Certainly; all possible progress.  For who is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?” (Commonitorium, 23.1; PL 50). It is necessary, therefore, to reaffirm that no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

What will another amendment to the Catechism to accord with the Holy Father’s remarks look like? The Catechism currently says this on the subject:

“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 very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” (CCC, Sec. 2267) [11]

Considering this language as written, it is easy to understand the pontiff’s concern. There are two kinds of deterrence involved in criminal punishment: specific deterrence and general deterrence. Specific deterrence has to do with keeping the offender from committing crimes in the future. General deterrence is directed toward the general public. The idea is that people will observe how the criminal offender is dealt with, and will thereby be discouraged from committing the same crime themselves.

The language of the Catechism is directed toward specific deterrence. And there are few, if any, reasons in the modern world for executing someone in order to achieve that purpose. In places where, due to a lack of infrastructural development, executions remain necessary to achieve specific deterrence, changes can be made, and should be. It is possible for dangerous people to be suitably confined so as to make the death penalty unnecessary, and that is the course that societies everywhere should take.

But the language of the Catechism might be misinterpreted, whether innocently or cynically, to refer to general deterrence. Some might try to argue that “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” is to make an example of him by killing him so that others will be afraid to do the same thing. Of course, the fact that the language of the Catechism is that human lives are to be defended against “the unjust aggressor” should be sufficient to notify everyone that is the criminal defender that is to be defended against, not hypothetical members of the public. But the wisest course is always to prepare against human ingenuity in making dishonest arguments.

We can expect members of a certain political faction to once again try to paint Pope Francis as abandoning Catholic doctrine. They will say that he is introducing “confusion” into Catholic teaching. On the contrary, he is making it clearer. In the modern context, there really is no reason for the death penalty. Pope Francis has just made that unambiguous, if it wasn’t so before. He isn’t tampering with Catholic doctrine; he is teaching the Gospel. That’s his job, even if there are people who wish he would stop.

Jack Quirk

Hopefully Not Until Later: Religious Freedom and the HHS Contraception Mandate

October 9, 2017

At the end of last week, as reported by The New York Times and others, “the Department of Health and Human Services issued two rules rolling back a federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. The rules offer an exemption to any employer that objects to covering contraception services on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” [1] Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, hailed the Trump Administration’s announcement and issued the following joint statement:

“’The Administration’s decision to provide a broad religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect. Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state. It corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.

“’These regulations are good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who are challenging the HHS mandate in court. We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.

“’The regulations are also good news for all Americans. A government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all, so when it is threatened for some, it is threatened for all. We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted, and with the encouragement of Pope Francis, we will remain “vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”’” [2]  

The Catholic position on this is well-known, and has been set forth clearly by those authorized to articulate it. The United States bishops have been in opposition to the HHS contraception mandate from the onset, and although the bishops, “whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.” [3]

But the issue could easily arise again. Not only have we seen the HHS contraception mandate supported by an entire political party and a substantial portion of the population, but the American Civil Liberties Union has tried to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. [4] It would be undue politeness to suggest that there are not powerful political forces aiming to undermine Catholic institutions in the United States. It behooves us, therefore, to consider the reasoning behind the Catholic objection to the HHS contraception mandate. We may need to use it again.

The Second Vatican Council declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (Dignitatis Humanae, Sec. 2) [5] The Catholic objection to the HHS contraception mandate was that it compelled Catholics to act in a manner contrary to their religion.

Clever opponents will point to the “due limits” language in the Council’s decree. But it isn’t likely that a Catholic ecumenical council would sanction legal restrictions on the practice of Catholicism, and we are considering the Catholic position here, not what might be a permissible government action under the U.S. Constitution. If the Constitution were amended tomorrow to outlaw Catholicism entirely, the Church, and, presumably, most Catholics, would object.

So it is clear that the Church requires freedom of religion for all people, to include Catholics. This is hardly a foreign concept to Americans, since we have even allowed for conscientious objector status when it comes to service in the military.

But we ought to be able to answer the question as to why it violates our religion to pay for health insurance that covers birth control. After all, we are not being forced to use the birth control ourselves. How can we be responsible for the acts of other people?

The Catechism tells us that sin “is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
“- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
“- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
“- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
“- by protecting evil-doers.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 1868) [6]

When a Catholic employer provides insurance coverage for birth control, he is providing a means for its use. That is direct participation. And since he is, even with an HHS contraception mandate in place, free to either provide such coverage or go out of business, his participation is voluntary. The situation would be different if, say, there was government provided insurance that covered birth control, because the taxes paid by the employer that, in part, financed the insurance would be indirect. There would be no face-to-face contractual relationship between the employer and the government insurer.

But it looks like the conundrum presented by the HHS contraception mandate is no longer a concern. For now. Whatever the government requires, it should make no difference as to whether Catholics will violate the teachings of their religion, and that is the point that we need to press home for future considerations.

Jack Quirk