Out to Lunch

Justice Scalia and the Fickle Fondue of Fate

The term “Cafeteria Catholic” is one that has oft been applied to so-called “liberal” Catholics by more tradtional Catholics within the Church.  It’s a tag given to people who — for personal convenience or perceived political gain — will take a position that is contrary to what the Church teaches.

Abortion is the major issue that incites the hue and cry against Cafeteria Catholicism.  As well it should, for it is not a small issue; it’s the taking of an innocent human life.  Contraception? Well, let’s just say it’s the brussel sprout of the American Catholic diet which, according to some surveys, 85% of U.S. Catholics don’t adhere to the Church’s teachings in our beliefs or our behaviors.  They’re different in fervor mostly because abortion is a much more “public” issue; whereas contraception is a more “personal” matter.  Nonetheless, both are prohibited by the Church.

And then there’s capital punishment…..

Pro-death penalty conservatives will say that capital punishment is permissible under the teachings of the Catholic Church.  And they’re right…sort of.  Here’s what they’ll never tell you:  There’s no reason for capital punishment to take place in the United States of America based upon the parameters of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC 2267. 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 abolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 56)

So last Wednesday as we all made our way home from work, Troy Davis sat moments away from his fourth “re”-scheduled execution date while the Supreme Court of the United States weighed whether to grant a stay of execution.  Davis, accused of murdering an off-duty police officer, was 21 years of age at the time of the murder.  Now 42, the clock had run out on a man whose guilt had been the subject of much speculation.  7 0f 9 witnesses had recanted their testimony over the years and several jurors stated they would not have found Davis guilty knowing what they knew today.  It’s was what CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, described as having an air of “substantial doubt” not all that different from the infamous Rosenberg’s execution.  With our legal justice system requiring guilt be “proven beyond a resonable doubt,” one would think that Davis would at least have a shot at being granted a stay of execution.  He may not have had a chance to be exonerated of his charges, but to proceed with execution with so many questions would have seemed medieval.

Welcome to the Middle Ages.  After four hours of consideration, the Supreme Court refused to hear Davis’s request for a stay.  Shortly thereafter Troy Davis was wheeled into the death chamber of a Georgia prison and put to death by lethal injection.

In capital punishment, there are no “do-overs.”  Which is why so many states have put moratoriums on the practice or abolished it altogether.  Advances in DNA testing for evidence have exonerated many wrongly imprisoned individuals.  And let’s be honest:  Not everyone — especially the poor, uneducated, and people of color — has had access to appropriate legal representation over the years.  So again, I ask:  Why the rush to kill?

Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas have spoken and written at length against the corrosive effect of “judicial activism.”  Admittedly, activism was not of a concern to them in the case of Bush vs. Gore.  (Note:  Author DID vote for Bush in 2000).  And while not being asked to overturn Troy Davis’s conviction, could they not have put a stay on his execution? Or would that have been judicial activism?  I ask this because Justices Scalia and Thomas are Catholic.  Halting Troy Davis’s state-sponsored killing was well within their authority.  It also would have been the “Catholic” thing to do.

Today Catholics are represented at an all-time high in the nation’s top court with two-thirds of the justices identifying themselves as “Catholic:”  Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Chief Justice John Roberts.  All of the aforementioned justices are considered to be “pro-life” as it relates to the issue of abortion — with the exception of Sotomayor who is an unknown and is presumably “pro-choice.”  So why did they fail to defend “life” in the case of Troy Davis?

Perhaps it just wasn’t on their menu.

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