Bishop Withdraws From March for Life Over AG’s Death Penalty Support

Bishop Withdraws From March for Life Over AG’s Death Penalty Support January 19, 2018

Bishop Tony Taylor Photo Source: Diocese of Little Rock file photo
Bishop Tony Taylor Photo Source: Diocese of Little Rock file photo

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock Arkanas recently announced that he would not attend the annual March for Life in his Diocese.

In his own words, “The reason is that Arkansas Right to Life has chosen as the keynote speaker for the rally a person who has good anti-abortion credentials but otherwise is decidedly not an appropriate pro-life speaker, namely Attorney General Leslie Rutledge who this last year worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to our society.”

I’ve seen comments calling Bishop Taylor a disgrace for doing this, and, of course, claiming that the Catholic Church supports the death penalty.

My answer to these people is simply that I know Bishop Taylor, and he is absolutely pro life. He is also a man of great compassion for the least of these. His concern for social justice is real and is based on a lifetime of lived experience. He truly is a Sermon on the Mount kind of bishop.

In addition, he is accessible, easy to talk to, and, he will change his mind if you give him intelligent reasons to do so. It’s entirely possible to disagree with Bishop Taylor and still stay friends with him.

I don’t know his logic in this specific matter beyond what he wrote. But I don’t have any problems saying that what he seems to be describing is a person who, while they are willing to oppose legal abortion, are also willing to kill people they don’t have to kill. In short, this attorney general has unrepented blood on her hands. And that unfits her to be the official spokesperson at a pro life rally.

Bishop Taylor decided, for the reasons he has stated, to dissociate the Diocese of Little Rock from would have been a public acceptance of Attorney General Rutledge’s death-dealing actions. This is not a question of “forgiving” her. I know, from personal experience, that Bishop Taylor can and does wipe the slate clean in his dealings with repentant people.

This is not about forgiving. It is a question of dealing with a public official who has killed people and who has given every indication of her intent to kill again. I agree that such a person is a poor choice for the keynote speaker of a pro life march.

Right to Life of Arkansas, who is evidently the sponsor of the march, referenced the fact that National Right to Life does not address issues outside legal abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. That is true, and so far as their political action goes, valid.

But Bishop Taylor is the religious leader for Arkansas Catholics, and, in many ways, for a lot of other Christians who are not Catholic. His job has nothing to do with power politics and everything to do with consistent fealty to the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The simple fact is that killing another person in self-defense is a terrible thing. But I believe that it is also a justified reason to take human life. So is killing another person in the defense of someone else’s life.

That is the basic reasoning behind the death penalty. Some people are so dangerous that it is necessary to remove them permanently from society in order to provide for the public safety. However, the question follows; is it necessary to kill them?

If we can lock people up for life, and by doing that, provide for the public safety, what is the point of killing them? I am absolutely aware of the fact that some people do things to other people that are so heinous that even knowing about their actions makes the blood boil and the desire to obliterate them rise within us.

But the question remains: Do we have to kill them to provide for the public safety? Is it necessary to put them down in order to stop them from repeating their heinous acts?

This revolves around the question of whether or not we are killers. They are killers. That’s a fact. But are we?

Killing another person in self defense, or in defense of another is something that can be forced on us. But killing another person when they are locked up and put away in prison is not necessary to defend ourselves or the public. It is killing for killing’s sake.

I’ve lived with this question for many years in highly personal ways. I’ve voted on the death penalty, and I consistently voted against it. It was an easy vote that I did not agonize over at all.

For 12 years of the 18 years I spent in public office, I was the only 100% pro-life member of the Oklahoma legislature. I was alone in opposing both abortion and the death penalty, as well as embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia.

You can add to that a fact that has become pertinent in today’s political climate. I was vehemently opposed to rape, sexual assault, child-molesting and domestic violence, and I have a life-long record of putting my actions where my beliefs are as regards these matters.

That made me an outlier and it got me into a bit of trouble.

The reason is that most people have someone who they’ve decided they can kill, or at least deprive of their basic human rights. It may be black people, white people, gay people, Hispanic people, Christians, Muslims, poor people, or even Democrats or Republicans. Whichever one of these is the hate object, women, who are the universal back-of-the-bus people, are usually in there with them.

People have people that they’ve decided it’s ok to hate. And they follow this by labeling these people’s lives as valueless and not worthy of life.

The death penalty, if it’s necessary to preserve the public safety, is something that might be forced on a society. But in what circumstances would this occur? I don’t see anything in modern America that in any way descends to the level of social breakdown that would  make the death penalty necessary.

We can shut these people away. We can remove them from society. It is not necessary to kill them.

Killing for any reason other than self defense or defense of others is never justified. It is killing because you want to kill.

The death penalty in today’s America falls into that column. It is not necessary to provide for the public safety. It is just killing people because we want to kill them.

Bishop Taylor responded to this clear violation of the basic right to life that belongs to all human beings by refusing to conflate the moral voice of the Diocese of Little Rock with a known killer of other human beings. The fact that this killer is the state’s attorney general who prosecuted a properly promulgated statute does not change the reality that people who did not have to die to save other lives are dead by her hand.

It’s a big step to hold public officials morally derelict for performing their statutory public duties. But it can be a valid step to take. History is rife with situations where the legal prosecution of unjust laws has resulted in horrible violations of human rights and destruction of human dignity.

Bishop Taylor has not cast his action in quite that light. What he has done instead is simply exercise his clear right to determine whether he, as Bishop of Little Rock, will cooperate with the evil of the death penalty by making a public appearance in a pro life gathering with someone who has worked to execute four prisoners.

That is him, exercising the authority of his office. It is also a form of teaching that goes beyond sermonizing platitudes. It is a way of doing more than talking pro life. It is living pro life, even when it gets him tarred by those who want to limit human dignity to simplistic, politically-useful parameters.

Here is the link to Bishop Taylor’s letter to the Diocese of Little Rock in which he discusses his decision not to participate in the March for Life.

He wrote another letter about the death penalty that I found particularly touching since he referenced the Oklahoma City bombing. This terrible crime tested my own feelings about the death penalty. I think it’s well worth the read.


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13 responses to “Bishop Withdraws From March for Life Over AG’s Death Penalty Support”

  1. “are also willing to kill people they don’t have to kill”.

    Is Alabama far behind in welding class? Or are they just not allowed to be imaginative?

    To me, human dignity is preserved best by protecting society from those who would, for whatever sick reason, murder another human being. It is right and just that those who end the freedom for others, should have their freedom taken away to some extent.

    That extent is not how horrendous their crime is. That extent is what is required to prevent the crime from happening again. Ever.

    To me, the only person who should ever see the face of a condemned prisoner, is a priest. The only person who should ever have contact with such a person, is a priest specifically trained in conversion from sin and repentance.

    We have the technical capability to attend all physical needs of such a prisoner remotely, without contact.

    If the prisoner converts or repents, well and good. Change the sentence from life in solitary to life at hard labor, with the proceeds going to the families of the victims.

    If not, well, one day the prisoner will die. NO amount of health care can save them, or us, from that fate. And when they do, fill the cell with lime, sand, and concrete, and label the concrete with the crime; a monument for all to see what happens when evil exists.

  2. Even if I agreed with the good Bishop, he is making the perfect the enemy of the better.

    I have somewhat evolved on the death penalty, but if a case comes up that violates my sense of justice, I still can sympathize with it. I disaagree when you say this, Rebecca:
    “Killing for any reason other than self defense or defense of others is never justified. It is killing because you want to kill.” No it’s not because you want to kill, it’s because justice cries out for such a penalty. There is a reason why almost every civilization employed the death penalty going back to the roots of time. In many cases of aborant murder, it is justice.

    The reason I have somewhat evolved on it is not because society wants to kill, or that the criminal doesn’t deserve it. Despite it being justice, executing the death penalty requires someone to actually perform an act of killing. The executioner is degrading his own dignity by the act of killing, even though the criminal deserves it. And finally though Christ or any of the Apostles show any opposition to the death penalty in the New Testament (you might argue St. Paul tacitly supports it, and it is supported in the Old Testament, and many Popes as head of the Papal State actually had people executed), I do think it goes against the Passion experience of our Lord. So reluctantly I no longer support it.

  3. As a practicing Catholic I am pro life. I am against abortion and the death penalty. I have been dismissed from a jury because I knew I couldn’t give some one the death penalty. I have a difficult time with the Bishop calling this attorney general a killer with blood on her hands. The decision to put a convicted killer to death is not the same as destroying an unborn baby. There are cases where convicted killers have killed in prison, killing guards or other prisoners. I don’t think I could do it but it but sometimes it seems to be a judgement call. Just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean they can’t be a threat. It may be our Lord who is directing this Bishop. I pray so.

  4. I understand what you’re saying. I just don’t look at it as a question of justice. I consider it a question of whether or not the law is necessary to provide for the public safety and domestic tranquility. I honestly don’t thinkt justice applies to the heinous things these people do, at least not so far as we human beings are concerned. We cannot achieve justice in the fact of such wrongs. All we can do is try to govern in such a way that people can live their lives feeling safe, that they can walk down a street without fear. I also feel that the death penalty, by focusing on these people makes them to interesting. I would like to never see a reference or hear another mention of those responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. One of them is in jail, never to be heard from again. Good.

  5. Note2: If you disagree with Bishop Taylor, that’s fine. But talk about the issues, not Bishop Taylor. If you want to declaim about the Bishop, there are plenty of other blogs and Facebook pages where you can knock yourself out. But not this one.

  6. From a letter by Bishop Taylor:
    “I know you often hear Catholics talk about the sanctity of life in the context of abortion, so today I need to emphasize two obvious things: 1.) life does not cease to be sacred once the baby is born, and 2.) no one will be fully secure until we reject everything that threatens human life or degrades human dignity.”
    I think about the second statement and wonder how you “square the circle”….
    Do prisoners that kill again in prison degrade the human dignity of their fellow inmates?
    Do such lethal prisoners degrade the human dignity of the prison system?
    How do we make those inmates and guards secure?
    Perhaps Bishop Taylor is correct in the instances where he attempted to defend particular individuals from the death penalty. Without becoming intimately familiar with the details, it would be unfair to judge the merits of the arguments on each side.

    No one will every be “fully secure” in this world because it is not possible to stop many who would murder. I think I pity those who are in prison who must live in fear of serial murders and also those guards who are charged to control their actions. When someone exhibits murderous actions (especially certain sociopaths), I can’t see how the death penalty can be taken off the table. I’m not sure how one can defend keeping serial murderers alive at the expense of other’s lives. Someone (or society itself) is responsible for allowing serial offenders the opportunity to threaten, harm and murder others who have a right to their own human dignity. To fully reject everything that threatens human life or degrades human dignity may indeed require the death penalty on occasion.

  7. I’m not suggesting that we keep them alive, hoping that God will touch them. That is not a basis for public policy. What I am saying is this:

    1. The only justified reason for killing a human being is either defense of one’s own life, or the lives of others.
    2. Maintaining public safety is a critical function of government. It is impossible to govern without public safety and what is referred to as “domestic tranquility.” This is an essential component of a just and stable government, which I believe is always the greater good, so far as lawmaking and governance are concerned.
    3. It is not necessary to kill people who are already in prison in order to maintain the public safety, or to protect human lives. (I realize that some people raise the question of killings in prison, but this is almost always a failure of prison security, which can, itself, be prevented.)
    4. Killing someone when you don’t have to kill them, simply because you believe they “deserve” to be killed is not necessary to maintain the public safety. It is simply killing for its own sake.

    The law is not, or should not, be about vengeance. The law should be about how to best provide the kind of good governance that allows the people to live free and productive lives of their own choosing with the least amount of government interference. As I said, maintaining the public safety is a necessary component in this. If, so for some reason, it was necessary to execute prisoners in order to maintain the public safety, that would be a good argument. But it is not.

    The young men who engage in school shootings are far beyond the kind of rational thought that would allow them to look beyond their actions to the consequences. If that weren’t true, they would never do such a thing. Think about it. These young men either end up dead at the scene, executed or in a super max for life. Their lives end when they pull the trigger the first time. But they don’t see this.

    The problems which lead to these shootings are far more complex and endemic in our society as a whole that we are willing to admit for the simple reason that admitting the truth would require us to change. It’s easier to demagogue and point to an easy fix in the hopes of a one-off solution that does not step on our personal toes, and, for politicians, allows them to build a base.

    As for the cost, the simplest way to address these issues which you have raised would be to repeal the invidious tax cuts just enacted, as well as most of the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration. Both these sets of tax cuts skyrocketed the deficit dangerously, a fact that was and is ignored by Republican leadership. Evidently, deficits only matter to them as a campaign issue when they are out of power. If we applied those monies to building this nation and its people, we might alleviate a lot of problems facing us as a nation. The recent tax cut gutted the United States government, something that will become clear to those who are willing to connect the dots as all the other economic shoes start to drop in the future.

  8. I really think you’re accidentally raising a red herring. I don’t believe you mean to ascribe to the notion that some people should be judged unworthy of life so that others may have their food and drink. I get completely that this is not your intent. But it is the basic logic of your argument. In truth, the “limited funds” you ascribe is a created situation. It could be remedied by a just government rather than one that is owned lock, stock and barrel, by special interests.

    As for people starving with no water and no health care, no health care is true of many people in the United States, at least beyond basic emergency care, (and if certain members of Congress have their way of all ALL medical care) but water? starvation? Again, there have been attempts to introduce legislation in various states that would put our utilities on the same basis as they were in Argentina, laws that let to riots. But as of now, and until those laws succeed in passing, not that I know of. Starvation was certainly a problem in the past. I had family members who nearly starved during the Great Depression and one cousin who died of pellagra.

    But in recent times, I haven’t encountered this, and I have worked with local food banks, rescue missions and dealt for many years with homeless people and people of great poverty in my work as a member of the house of representatives. I’ve also handed out food and clothes, arranged medical care and other things as a volunteer for non-profit agencies I support.

    Maybe there are isolated situations, but I think those are often due to a total personal breakdown. I have dealt with mentally ill people that I would get propped up, get their utilities paid, make sure they had food, etc, but they would slide back down if they were left on their own for even a short time. Also, they tended to resent help and refuse it. Other people would turn down aid because they didn’t like the food they were given, or some such.

    None of this applies in any way that I can see to the question of whether or not we should kill people we don’t have to kill to preserve the public safety.

  9. I don’t see how executing someone in the United Staes is going to remedy or even address those situations.

  10. okay you win. I’ve deleted my comments. don’t know why I bother to make comments. don’t like to argue about things. and please – do not respond to this comment!

  11. Why would you delete your comments? You expressed your viewpoint and I expressed mine. It wasn’t a contest, and there are no winners or losers.