Do the right thing for the right reason - Catholic Courier

Do the right thing for the right reason

Two encouraging developments in January offer hope that Catholic teaching on respect for human life is having an effect in the public square.

One was the Illinois legislature’s passage of a bill Jan. 11 abolishing the death penalty in that state. It requires only the signature of the governor — not a certainty — to make Illinois the 16th state to abandon capital punishment.

Including Illinois, the death penalty exists in 35 states.

Another piece of good news came in an article reporting that Catholics played a major role in the Senate ratification of the nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia.

"The church’s teaching on this is very clear and it’s very clear on the issue of protecting human life and human dignity," said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

If Catholics provided moral perspective on the strategic arms limitation treaty, why not continue that into other areas of protection of human life — such as the abolition of the death penalty?

The Illinois repeal comes 10 years after then-Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty following revelations that several people sent to death row were later exonerated.

Illinois has freed 20 people from death row who were found wrongly convicted. There are 138 in the United States in similar circumstances, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Illinois Catholic Conference, in its press release urging the governor to sign the bill, focused on "the irredeemable flaws inherent in the system."

Flaws in the system may be an effective argument to achieve the goal of abolition in the country, but inherent mistakes are not the highest and best argument to make. It implies that, if things could be fixed so the process was foolproof, it would be permissible for the state to continue to kill.

The pragmatic argument can be taken to a higher ground. The church is now seen as offering moral perspective on one issue of human life and dignity: nuclear weapons. The same moral level should surround the capital punishment case.

The case to be made against capital punishment is that it is wrong not because it is flawed in its implementation; it is wrong for taking human life. All life is sacred, even that of a reprehensible criminal.

The wrong imposition argument does not rise to the level of good moral reasoning.

Let’s not just do the right thing but do it for the right reason.

Then it could be said of the church’s leadership in death abolition effort the same that Colecchi said of the nuclear disarmament:

"This is an example of where the church’s teaching formed and motivated people. I think we can be very proud of our church and very proud of our bishops."

Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.

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