People are mysteriously baffled…

People are mysteriously baffled… September 28, 2015

…about my point concerning the falsehood of so-called conservatives calling “prudential judgements” what are, in fact, their actual policy core commitments.

Let me make this as simple as possible:

You only have so much money, time and energy. You have presented to you two goals:

1. Fight for the right to life for unborn children.

2. Fight against the Church to preserve the death penalty.

If you choose 1, you demonstrate that the dignity of human life really is your top priority.

If you choose 2, you make clear that you are full of crap when you say 1 is your top priority.

You further make clear that you are, in fact, so committed to this supposed “negotiable prudential judgement” that you will not only ditch the unborn, but defy the Church in order to cling to the death penalty.

So, for instance, if you are the “prolife” Catholic governor of Nebraska and you have $300,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you can use it to fund a lot of women in crisis pregnancies or you can use it to spit on the Church’s teaching and try with might and main to restore the death penalty when your state rejects it.

In short, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Movement Conservative apportionment of time and energy–again and again and again–makes extremely clear that abortion is not the *real* non-negotiable. On the contraary, the unborn are, for a huge number of Movement Conservatives, merely human shields for the real non-negotiables, such as zeal for the death penalty.  Given the choice, the money, time, and energy will go toward doggedly defending the death penalty, or other so-called “prudential judgments” and not toward the defense of the unborn.  The unborn only get trotted out to say “Vote for us or the baby gets it.”

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  • Kathleen S.

    I was very disheartened while watching the EWTN coverage of the Pope Francis’s visit to the USA to hear Fr. Gerald Murray and Raymond Arroyo extolling the death penalty right after Pope Francis called for the abolition of the death penalty. Fr. Murray stated that according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the death penalty is moral. They both went on extolling the death penalty stating it gave the condemned time to repent! In the face of St. John Paul ll, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVl, and now Pope Francis calling on the end of the death penalty I couldn’t believe my ears!

    No wonder there is such wide spread confusion on Church teaching. It seems to me that most conservative Catholics in the United States worship the Republican Party and follow the party line instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long Catholics have sought to change the country through politics instead of personal conversion, reading the Catechism & Scripture and adhering to the Bishops and Pope. It sickens me to hear anti abortion Catholics who are for torture, war, killing unborn & living children with drones or other weapons in other countries, and killing criminals by the death penalty. You will never see a rich person given the death penalty, it’s always the poor. The justice system in this country needs reform, and innocent people or mentally handicapped are killed in the meantime. If you can afford the best lawyers, you get a free pass.

    • Andy

      I actually turned from EWTN because of the conversations surrounding what Pope Francis said – the dismissal of his comments about consumeristic society, the comments about dignity for all – I missed the comments about the death penalty. It was at best disheartening for me and for my wife and youngest daughter.

    • jaybird1951

      I suspect that many of those who are executed are not from poor circumstances although they are not wealthy either. Was Ted Bundy impoverished (monetarily I mean)? Or the Green River serial killer?

  • Joseph

    On the flipside, I heard a hilarious interview on Newstalk this morning (of course I was the only one laughing). Some woman that heads up some lay organisation for the Church in Ireland was complaining because she believes that the Church leaves women on the margins and that Pope Francis didn’t appear to take the women ordination ceremonies happening in the same city (Philly, I think) while he was there seriously. She was upset because he didn’t bother to attend or bless their ordinations. She went on and on about it.
    .
    The host, who agreed with her, of course, because this is Ireland and all that, had to interrupt her tirade to ask her about the rumours that Pope Francis will come to Dublin in 2017 for the Meeting of Families. She basically said *it all depends* on what comes out of the Synod, because if gay marriages aren’t included in the Church’s definition of normal family configurations… well, basically he won’t come… she didn’t mention if it was by his choice or by hers… but, I think you get the picture.
    .
    So, like Charles Ryder says below, that sword *definitely* cuts both ways. I suppose the US is more saturated with the Right Wing mentality whereas Ireland is more saturated with the Left Wing mentality. So, over here, it’s the opposite experience.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “She basically said *it all depends* on what comes out of the Synod, because if gay marriages aren’t included in the Church’s definition of normal family configurations… well, basically he won’t come”

      Huh… the synod will uphold catholic teaching.
      And Pope Francis will still come to the Meeting of Families (if it was his plans to do so all along).

      So I guess she’ll have to deal with it. Tough.

      • Joseph

        Exactly… but it’s amazing how deluded *both* sides are. This woman was so filled with pride and self-importance that she thinks that somehow the Pope will not be welcome by the country when Catholic teaching is upheld (to her disappointment) simply because *she* won’t welcome him. It’s amazing that the American diseased doctrine of self-esteem has spread to Europe, creating deluded self-important people everywhere.

        • Alma Peregrina

          At least she’s being consistent. She believes that human will can bend the laws of reality.

          If you’re a man and believe you’re a woman, then heck, you’re a woman. If you’re pregnant and believe your unborn child is really a child, then he/she is a child, until you no longer want him/her, then it’s a clump of cells.

          No wonder she’ll believe that, as long as she wills the Pope to not be there, the Pope will not be there, even if the Pope is staring at her face.

          Modern people just can’t face reality. When confronted with something that frustrates them, they’ll just retreat into some king of self-deluded solipsism. Woe to the “judgmental” person that tries to burst their bubble.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The death penalty is not per se a matter of prudence, but the just application thereof is. Starting the conversation at prudence assumes the application is just, and this is a dangerous assumption because the unjust application of the death penalty constitutes a moral evil.

    That traditional church teaching does not exclude recourse to the death penalty is not a counter-argument to heeding the shepherds’ exhortation. Traditional church teaching proscribes usury which was defined to include all interest on money, but as the nature of money changed, so too did the teaching, i.e. not all monetary interest is usurious. This is precisely why we have a teaching authority, to better understand and develop teaching over time.

    The real matter of imprudence is proposing to gainsay or ignore the teaching authority of the church. That a teaching may be prudential makes it no less a teaching. Choosing not to abide by a prudential teaching as opposed to a “non-negotiable” teaching is a difference of degree rather than kind.

    • Alma Peregrina

      But I really wish that the Church still proscribed usury as it once did…

  • MarylandBill

    Unfortunately, I think we all find it easier to make God and Christianity fit our wants than to remake ourselves into the people that God wants us to be. So we look for wiggle room to justify our dissent from the teaching of the church. God just give me the grace to keep this at a minimum in my own life.

  • Stu

    You only have so much money, time and energy. You have presented to you two goals:

    1. Fight for the right to life for unborn children.

    2. Fight WITH the Church to end the death penalty.

    Which do you choose?

    I’ll go with 1.

    • MarylandBill

      Thats a fair position, but being silent on the Death Penalty is not the same as advocating the death penalty.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Let us call this position “division of labor” …

      • Stu

        No, it’s not. But in the real world of now, abortion and the death penalty are legal. And if you can justify abortion, you can justify almost anything. So where do we put our resources?

        • MarylandBill

          I am not trying to justify abortion, I was just pointing out that Mark was not talking about pro-life people who take no active part in the effort to abolish the Death Penalty. He was talking about people who claim to be pro-life, but do nothing about it and also work to keep the Death Penalty alive.

          • Stu

            Of course. But I think he provides a false choice (as I have also done for effect.).

            The Church is not against the Death Penalty though certainly in this time and place against its application. And the Church has affirmed that one may disagree on this. One may feel that the use of Capital Punishment in their society is still needed for the safety of society. Doesn’t make them “full of crap” in fighting against abortion.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I thought I might add that, being conservative, I am especially skeptical of a government that wants to kill one of its own citizens. But I am a proponent of limited government in general, while the right is a proponent only in particulars.

    And just for grins, Ron Paul at times does a fine impression of a Catholic:

    “Opposition to allowing the government to take life is also part of a consistent pro-life position. Thus, those of any ideology who oppose abortion or preemptive war should also oppose the death penalty. Until the death penalty is abolished, we will have neither a free nor a moral society.”

  • ManyMoreSpices

    I think this exposes the frustration that some Catholics have with Francis, which Mark and similarly ardent defenders of the Holy Father’s tactics and strategy have trouble understanding.

    You only have so much money, time and energy. You have presented to you two goals:

    1. Fight for the right to life for unborn children.
    2. Fight against the Church to preserve the death penalty.

    If you choose 2, you make clear that you are full of crap when you say 1 is your top priority.”

    Well… it’s fair to say that fighting for the right to life for unborn children isn’t Francis’s top priority, either. He’s not working against the Church, but we’ve seen enough to figure out what gets him out of bed in the morning. It’s not per se incorrect for the laity to look at the Holy Father’s priorities and conclude that he has taken his eye off the ball.

    Now, I anticipate three responses:

    (i) Francis is not fighting the Church. He always upholds all of the Church’s teachings. So it’s not fair to equate the Pope with the governor of Oklahoma or anyone else who prioritizes fighting the Church over protecting the unborn.
    (ii) Seamless garment. Advocating for environmental stewardship and abolition of the death penalty is being pro-life.
    (iii) What are you talking about? Francis talks about abortion all the time! He mentioned it before Congress; he mentioned it in Laudato Si; he mentioned it on this or that other occasion.

    For (i), yes, that’s true. But n.b. what Mark wrote:

    You further make clear that you are, in fact, so committed to this supposed “negotiable prudential judgement” that you will not only ditch the unborn, but defy the Church in order to cling to the death penalty.

    Read that carefully: “ditch[ing] the unborn” and “defy[ing] the Church” are separable acts. As Mark has expressed it, by prioritizing anything over working against abortion, you “ditch the unborn.” I have a feeling that this is not what Mark meant, but that’s what he wrote. And that brings us to…

    …objection (ii). I agree that all of the Church’s teachings are ordered around respect for human dignity. I further agree that, ceteris paribus, a society that recognizes that even brutal mass murderers have a right to life is one that will better be able to recognize that the unborn have that right. I have an appreciation for the idea of playing a Long Game, where you bring people into the Church by focusing on the stuff they care about (climate change, death penalty), and then they can be convinced that abortion is wrong. But it’s fair to argue that trying to stop abortion by focusing on the death penalty and climate change is like trying to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco by connecting through Atlanta and Boston: you’ll get there, but don’t be surprised if someone thinks there’s a more efficient way to do it.

    As for the final objection, I’ve seen a lot of pushback from Mark (etc.) about how Jesus didn’t mention abortion, Paul didn’t condemn slavery, James didn’t mention crucifixion, etc. I’ve also heard it explained that Francis has spoken about abortion. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Either Francis does talk about abortion boldly and frequently… or he doesn’t, but that’s totally cool. To borrow the formulation of Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility, “You’re a crazy reactionary Greatest Catholic of All Time(TM) to say that Francis doesn’t talk much about abortion, and it’s totally cool that he doesn’t.” We’re still getting both barrels of this argument. I’d like for those who defend Francis’s handling of the Church’s teaching on abortion to at least recognize that he doesn’t address it with the frequency or force that some of his predecessors did and many of his brother bishops do, and certainly not with the passion that he addresses the environment.

    * * *

    Some of the criticisms of Francis by Catholics are over-the-top. But there are some faithful Catholics who recognize that he’s faithfully presenting teachings of the Church, but also think that he’s got his priorities out of order. Those people don’t deserve to be mocked or denigrated.

    • Andy

      I appreciate your analysis – I disagree though that Pope Francis is taking the long way – I think that he sees the culture of consumerism, the culture that reduces people to objects to be used and discarded is at the root of abortion. Addressing these issues for Pope Francis is taking a different path as we have had precious little success in dealing with abortion through a “frontal assault” In fact this type of assault seems to harden the hearts of those who do not value the human life in the womb.

      I was struck with his comments Sunday morning when he spoke to the culture that encourages young people not to be married, not to have children. I see that culture, that societal impact as the root of abortion. Although he did mention specifically the death penalty – a shock for me I admit, I didn’t take it as his primary message. He spoke to that need to be responsible stewards, again important but I did not take it as his primary message. He was most forceful about valuing the family and the forces that negatively impact the family. I see that as his way of fighting for the life of unborn children.

      • Tom G

        I think this is some spot-on analysis, Andy. I see Pope Francis as attacking the roots of abortion, and of those upset at his words, perhaps some are upset because they think he should still be cutting away the growing branches of this wicked tree. But some are upset because the baby-shield is being taken away from them. And Mr. Shea is right to point this out.

        • Andy

          Your analogy about a tree is most apt – I recall this spring I pruned a pear tree with hopes of restricting its growth – I was careful in how and what I pruned and damn it came back stronger. even though I sealed the pruned branches. To remove the tree, not my intent as of yet, Iwill have to cut out its roots, just as Francis is attacking the roots of abortion as he sees the causes.

          • Stu

            But perhaps, he could connect the dots a bit more bluntly. There is nothing wrong with his speech. But some simpler and more direct language would have perhaps given it more legs with the American people. Sure he was giving his address to Congress, but it was the American people that are his real audience.

            • Andy

              I think we underestimate the abilities of the public. As a rule I think they understand more than politicians and many others think.

              • Stu

                Do you? Do you really think that many people are going to read the transcript of his remarks outside of this group here?

                It’s a great speech but by adding a few takeaway sound bites that are simple and clear and you will reach more ears. That is what we want. Yes?

                • Andy

                  I don’t know if people will read the transcript – the persistence of the sound bite mentality in the US is a problem. I have read both conservative and liberal sites which state authoritatively that this what type said, yet looking at conversations I gave glad with folks they recognize and understand what the pope was saying. I think it is the pundit/”wise person” groups that are confused. I think many folks believe that it is the useless pundit class that drives what people believe and I think this is a false narrative.

                  • sez

                    Will the media report what he said? I doubt most ppl will bother to look for transcripts. Most will absorb what the media feeds them. Mores the pity.

                    • Andy

                      I am starting to believe, that in the US the concept of actually seeking out what was said or done from source documents is gone. As I stated above i have visited both conservative and liberal websites that are authoritatively stating that Pope Francis said this or that. Yet looking at what he said I can find no place where he said anything remotely reflecting the accusation. I
                      I usually do not look at the comboxes at several sites but last night I took the time to do so – I was beyond appalled – especially by those that consider themselves conservative Catholic sites – comments saying that I am so done with this marxist pope; that Jorge supports abortion just look at what he said and so on. People bitch about Mark’ s comments about conservatives, maybe those who are angry should examine what is being said in their name. the liberal sites continued with the idea that he doesn’t understand what it takes to be in the world, but he seems like a nice man. Equally as appalling, but probably what to expect at these sites.
                      So I guess I must retract my support of the American ability to read and think and follow through and recognize that we have become a society devoid of thought and nuance.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Very good analysis. And very good points. Thank you.

      If I may, my take on your 3 objections to the 3 objections:

      *********************************
      i) By priorityzing other points, the Pope is not ditching the unborn, he’s doing what he’s supernaturally commanded to do: uphold catholic teaching. That means all catholic teaching.

      It is the job of the Pope to expound the doctrine, and all of it. It is we that have to make that doctrine come true on the secular world. Mark’s comments were directed at us, not the pope.

      It’s very easy to teach. The Pope could not say a word on abortion and the antiabortion teaching would still stand… all we would have to do would be to search for past teaching and there it would be. As long as the Pope doesn’t change it, the last teaching stands.

      But putting those teachings in practice is more dificult. It’s dificult to fight politically to prohibit abortion and it’s dificult to fight politically to maintain the death penalty. We should choose our political battles with more prudence, lest we spend valuable time and resources in badly allocated actions.

      But I agree with you, this is the best objection you have presented. And I tend to agree with you, that the Pope should or could be more forceful on these matters.
      *********************************
      ii) I really don’t understand how struggling actively to promote the death penalty (which is what Mark’s talking about here) could be more efficient on achieving a pro-life society (meaning the unborn exclusively) than the other way around. Please elaborate.
      *********************************
      iii) The Law of Merited Impossibility doesn’t apply here.
      When Mark talks about Jesus or St. Paul or St. James not saying a word about abortion or crucifixion, he’s talking about particular papal speeches (namely to Congress or the UN)

      But when Mark says the Pope has condemned abortion, he’s talking about his more general position regarding this issue.

      And I don’t agree that the Pope didn’t mention abortion forcefully on his speeches. Granted, he could’ve been more forceful. But I watched his speech on Philadelphia. When His Holiness said: “Protect all life from the beggining” he said it very emphatically and severely. He paused at every word to highlight it. Anyone would know what he was talking about.

  • Tom G

    Even under this argument, it still seems wise to oppose certain movements to abolish the death penalty because their reasons for doing so are not the correct reasons. For example, the movement to have the death penalty abolished by way of a US Supreme Court seems to be a movement worth opposing. But if one opposes such a movement (because such a movement promotes the undermining of our particular constitutional system of governance), it could be argued that one is “fighting against the Church to preserve the death penalty”, even when one is not actually opposed to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

    Have I sufficiently explained how some might, in good faith, be conflicted even under “two goals” your argument? I mean no offense…

    • ivan_the_mad

      Wouldn’t that be prudential opposition to the death penalty, rather than “‘fighting against the Church to preserve the death penalty'”?

      • Tom G

        I’m not entirely sure I understand your question, but I’ll give it a shot.

        But it’s a type of prudential opposition to the death penalty that, under America’s particular form of constitutional governance, whose reasoning can be used to attack or undermine other values (for lack of a better term), such as one-man-one-woman marriage, abolition of abortion, etc. For example, it is thought by many that Obergefell (sp?) was an abuse of judicial power because it read certain things into the US constitution that are, simply, not there. When some argue that the US Supreme Court should find the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual”, the proponents of that argument are pushing for 9 unelected judges (in a democratic republic) to determine a question that, under our government’s design anyway, is supposed to be determined by election by the citizenry, etc. So, while I support the abolition of the death penalty, I’m only willing to support its abolition on a state-by-state election basis or by way of a constitutional amendment.

        But again, if I were to oppose movements to have the US Supreme Court rule the death penalty unconstitutional, I would in theory be expending some of my valuable and limited resources on, at least in some sense, “opposing” the Church. But I don’t want to oppose the Church. Mr. Shea’s argument simply seems…difficult to operate under. And maybe it should be difficult to operate under. Maybe Mr. Shea would agree with me on this; I don’t know. I haven’t been following him long enough to make a reliable representation of his position on this question. So please don’t take my thoughts as in any way indicative of his position. Thoughts are appreciated. The overall fact of the matter is, I oppose the death penalty, but have problems with the day-to-day accomplishing of that goal.

        The more important principle to keep in mind, of course, is that we are saved by Jesus, not by ideologies. So perhaps the movement to have the US Supreme Court abolish the death penalty is God’s sense of humor in turning the very method used to legalize abortion against death in abolishing the death penalty.

        Mind. Blown.

        • ivan_the_mad

          This is where intent matters, I think. You are exercising prudence in the manner in which you oppose the death penalty, not laboring with the end of ensuring its continued practice.

          • Tom G

            True. I still feel…conflicted, though, if I openly oppose an argument for the US Supreme Court to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. Doesn’t that seem to violate Mr. Shea’s two options?

            • Stu

              And therein the challenge. Mark routinely makes everything binary. No building consensus. Either you agree with his take or you are the biggest poopy head in the World.

            • ivan_the_mad

              I think I understand what you are getting at. I look at it this way: We have certain moral imperatives, e.g. to proscribe abortion and to feed the hungry. Resources being finite and gifts being unequally distributed, division of labor necessarily follows. Some will concentrate on proscribing abortion, others on feeding the hungry. The former do not deny or ignore that the hungry must be fed. The efforts complement each other in realizing the kingdom.

              But ensuring the death penalty remains legal per se is very different, because of the bishops’ and pope’s strong exhortation for its proscription and because we have no moral imperative to ensure its prescription.

              So I should think if you actively oppose a SCOTUS ruling to proscribe capital punishment because you judge it an imprudent path towards your ultimate goal of proscribing capital punishment, you are not fighting against the Church. You are working with it, within a specific legal framework, to achieve the most favorable outcome in the long view. Indeed, I know for certain that many pro-life activists oppose a SCOTUS ruling on abortion for the same reason.

              I hope this helps!