Saturday, February 04, 2006

Brownback on the death penalty

Sen. Brownback (R-Kansas) is the shining example of non-ideological, trans-partisan Catholic conscience at work in Congress today. I might disagree with him on particular policy positions, but unlike the overwhelming majority of Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle, he clearly and earnestly thinks with the mind of a Catholic, beholden to "the King" but to God first. See here how on the death penalty issue, he is apeing neither the arbitrary preferences of his constituency nor those of the puppetmasters of his party, but grappling with the reality of the issue itself.

Against "liberal" Catholics, a distinctive and authentic Catholic position will not extrapolate from abortion to death penalty without distinguishing privately-authorized killing of innocents from state-authorized killing of persons guilty of committing heinous, dastardly crimes against the innocent. In other words, it will not rule out capital punishment categorically under some loosely-knit banner of "Pro-Life." It will not ignore the demands of retributive justice, which, though out of fashion, remains a standard element in the Catholic definition of justice.

At the same time, it will uphold the dignity of all persons, including criminals, and seek their redemption (which does not exclude capital punishment either). It will also regard the state's ability to inerrantly discern guilt beyond reasonable doubt in capital cases with some skepticism. Finally, JPII's advocacy against exercise of the death penalty must also be taken seriously and cannot be dismissed with that favorite overused tool of ideologically conservative Catholics - "prudential judgment." Catholics can test how ideologically-driven they are to the extent they brush off or ignore any of these Catholic concerns.