A divided Senate, in a 52-48 vote, confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as a justice for…
Duty to the truth
When Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a practicing Catholic, was nominated to the Supreme Court late last summer, it took no Albert Einstein to predict that she would be grilled by U.S. senators, the media and the public regarding her views about legalized abortion. Grilled she was.
Surprisingly, however, little attention was paid to her views, precisely as a Catholic, concerning capital punishment. This oversight was interesting since several years ago she co-authored a well-publicized article for a law school journal raising this question: Can any judge, in any court, participate in any proceeding that has capital punishment as an option or requirement, assuming the judge is a Catholic?
The article stated clearly, and in detail, the Church’s teachings about the death penalty. In a nutshell, capital punishment cannot be accepted, morally speaking. It is wrong. By involving himself or herself in an action leading to an execution, can a judge who is a Catholic ever lose personal moral liability?
Soon, many new faces will appear in the picture of government. Some familiar faces will reappear. Many will be the faces of persons identifying themselves as Catholics. For instance, about a quarter of the members of the new Congress will be self-professing Catholics, as will be Joe Biden and several of his key associates.
An important presumption ran beneath every line in the Barrett article. First and foremost, Church teaching expresses fact, revealed by God, the source of all wisdom, transmitted to humankind in divine love, responding to human inadequacy, through and by the Church, in a process designed by God to give us peace and justice on earth and reward in eternity. It is not one opinion among many. It is reality. It is a fact.
Too often, Catholic belief is seen as a mandate for Catholics. It is much more. It is embraced, or should be embraced, not upon coercion but with the basic accompanying belief that it contains fundamental truth, often escaping mere mortals, unburdened by human limitations.
The article saw capital punishment as morally wrong because the Church has said so, and therefore, it insisted that Catholic judges should react accordingly, accepting this point of view, but in the end, seeing their Catholicism as an advantage.
It would be wonderful if Catholics in government not only admitted to themselves their responsibility, authority and respect for all in this democracy but also viewing their Catholicism as access to a gift, indeed from God — namely, the teaching of the Church. Official responsibility gives an opportunity. Knowing Church teaching, Catholic officials can bring what truly is beneficial in all respects, to society, even if others, albeit in good conscience, disagree.
Others cannot be forced into agreement, but this excuses no Catholic official from seeking what is best, blessedly guided by revelation.
Therefore, especially as new terms commence, it would be grand if government officials who present themselves as Catholics confronted their hearts, long and hard, about how best to use their insights coming from their Catholic beliefs in forming their decisions, as the Barrett article asked of Catholic judges.
Remember these examples. St. Thomas More was King Henry VIII’s brilliant chancellor when the monarch denied the divine origin of the papacy. The bottom line for More was that the king’s assertion was an error. Church teaching spoke the truth.
In modern times, Belgium’s parliament passed a bill legalizing abortion. (The great majority of members of parliament coincidentally claimed to be Catholics.) The Belgian constitution, at that time, required the monarch’s consent for such actions. The reigning monarch was King Baudouin, now deceased. A fervent Catholic, he saw Church teaching as truth. He absolutely refused his consent. Furious about his “intolerance,” politicians changed the constitution.
St. Thomas, King Baudouin, Judge Barrett and her colleague, saw personal duty as compelling but strengthened by Church teaching, a glimpse into reality, a view all Catholics should cultivate.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.