Announcements

Irish filmmaker with ALS shows power of choosing life

Irish filmmaker with ALS shows power of choosing life

The next phase of killing is en route to the West Coast. Oregon, which was the first state to legalize euthanasia in the country via its “Death with Dignity Act” in 1997, now is looking to take a new step with S.B. 494, a bill that could be used to withhold food and water from patients suffering from dementia and mental illness. These are men and women who are not necessarily at the point of death, but rather who are considered “incompetent” and no longer have the ability to communicate their wishes (see story on Page 4) . It’s a dangerous next step down the slippery slope misleadingly promoted as “death with dignity.” Increasingly, it seems individuals in the world in which we live seem to be looking for more reasons to die than to remain alive. Perhaps that’s why I was so inspired by the story of Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irish filmmaker behind the new film “My Name is Emily.” Fitzmaurice’s personal story is told in the documentary, “It’s Not Yet Dark,” which debuted earlier this year, and which is based on a 2015 memoir by the same name. In 2008, Fitzmaurice, who was married with three children and a promising career, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Doctors gave the 33-year-old three or four years to live. Some advocated for him to consider not relying on artificial means to continue his life. Fitzmaurice, though, was having none of it. He didn’t want to placidly wait out life or to welcome an early death. He wanted to live. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . Eight years later, Fitzmaurice is no longer able to move his limbs. He cannot speak, swallow or breathe without assistance from a machine. But, boy, is he living. Not only did he pen the screenplay for “My Name is Emily,” but he directed it, too, sharing his thoughts via a computer that can track his eye movements to spell out words and phrases. Working with a supportive cast and crew, he developed a director’s shorthand — winking when he thought a take was satisfactory and it was time to move on. When all he had left of himself to communicate with were his eyes, that’s what he used. He told The New York Times: “I remember thinking, ‘I must do this to show my children to never give up.’” I would say he succeeded. In an interview with CBS, Fitzmaurice said he wanted to direct “My Name is Emily” in order “to spend this precious time I have doing something that fulfills me at the deepest level, that echoes in my soul. “A fire has been lit inside me — seriously, an energy I didn’t know I had. And it has not gone out,” he said. “It has been life-changing.” Life-changing for him, and dramatically inspirational for the rest of us. In a culture that promotes death as the palatable choice for people with illness or disabilities, Fitzmaurice’s story of perseverance and determination to live is a reminder of just how powerful it can be to instead choose life. feedback@osv.com . read on

Our Lenten journey

Our Lenten journey

St. Athanasius wrote of Lent in the fourth century as if it was already an ancient tradition. The patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, described “the whole world” engaged in a 40-day Lenten fast in preparation for Easter. That was only about 60 years after the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) was held in the aftermath of the Age of Martyrs. The Council fathers agreed to the tradition that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21. As it has ever after. And Ash Wednesday is always 46 days prior to Easter — 40 days of the traditional penitential period, plus six nonpenitential Sundays. We knelt in the evening 1,692 years after Nicea. The Hoosier church was crowded for Mass and the distribution of ashes. Ash Wednesday came late this year. Workers struggling in after a long day. Young fathers and mothers with the little guys. Even some of the oldsters — like me — who didn’t get up in the early morning. We’re all there after a day of fast and abstinence. As we will conclude in keeping Good Friday. The season has begun. Ash Wednesday was something to experience in downtown Pittsburgh when I lived there a few years back. A small congregation on the weekends, the downtown Catholic church — St. Mary of Mercy — had the whole working city for a parish that day. Ashes were distributed at the noon Mass and the diocesan pastoral center next door. Lines poured in and out of both. Pittsburgh is a Catholic town, and looking around on Ash Wednesday, ashes seemed to be on every forehead. We saw ashes outside of church this year, but in Indiana the weather seems to establish the mood of the Lenten season that will follow. The world looks penitential. Indiana is generally dark and overcast in the weeks before — and just after — the spring equinox. It might snow — a wet, messy slop that usually greets St. Patty’s Day — but it looks more gray than white. Everything novel about winter disappeared long ago, and there is rarely a hint in the landscape that greenery will ever come. We’ve been abstaining on Fridays, and just about everyone still has their own “give-ups” for the season. I’m reminded of the Lenten discipline that Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) presented to Augustine of Canterbury for his consideration: “We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, eggs and butter.” Today, it’s more likely beer and chocolate. Fasting. Abstinence. Almsgiving. They are the triumvirate of the Lenten season and have been so since Gregory the Great. The monks would keep that strict fast and abstinence. Fish was often subject to it, as in many places it was considered “flesh meat.” Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . In his classic “Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs” (1952, with a 1958 imprimatur from Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston), Father Francis X. Weiser explains how people would donate what little they saved from the Lenten abstinence to “the building of churches and other pious endeavors. One of the steeples of the Cathedral of Rouen in France is still known for this reason as the ‘butter tower.’” Father Weiser’s book is long out of print. I’ve cribbed much of this from my battered copy, old when I was young. You can get a used edition on Amazon, but it costs a king’s ransom. I don’t know if the good souls of Rouen still call it the “butter tower.” Breaks my heart when the old knowledge slips away. Lent holds us. Beginning with a reminder of our own mortality, it’s a pilgrimage every year from “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” to the promise of the Resurrection. Lent heals the soul. In Pittsburgh. In Indiana. The whole world. Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood . read on

U.S. in the Holy Land

U.S. in the Holy Land

Placing the United States embassy to Israel in Jerusalem seems natural ­— or at least unimportant — but it is unprecedented. Should it happen, it will please some but outrage others. It all goes back a long time, a really long time. Just 40 years after Christ, the Jews rebelled against the Roman empire, the very power that executed Jesus for alleged defiance of Rome. The Jews lost that fight, and Rome played for keeps when it came to suppressing opposition. Many Jews died. One legend has it that the land around Jerusalem looked like a forest, so many crosses were standing upon which hung Jewish rebels. Other Jews not sentenced to death were exiled, although some stayed in the Holy Land, but these survivors were few. Time passed. Arabs, some Christians, mostly Muslims, sponsored by the Ottoman Empire seated in what now is Turkey, eventually came in numbers. Their descendants constitute today’s Palestinians. More than a century ago, descendants of Jews exiled by the Romans almost 2,000 years earlier began to move to the Holy Land, and from them came most of today’s Jewish Israeli population. Harmony never reigned supreme. World leaders after World War II hoped that a solution would be to create two independent, adjoining nations — one for Jews, the other for Arabs. Acting on this plan, Jews formed the state of Israel. Arabs bitterly rejected the plan, however, insisting that the entire Holy Land belonged to them. Basically, this situation pertains today. Over the years, no reconciliation has been found. Bloodshed and hatred are the everlasting characteristics of this struggle between the Jews and the Arabs. Eventually, the Arabs formed something like a nation: Palestine. Israel has not made it easy for Palestine, to say the least, but many world powers, including the papacy, recognize Palestine as a sovereign entity. Regardless, feelings have not softened. Many Palestinians still argue that all the land is their land. Many Israelis argue the same. Peace between Israel and Palestine has been a priority for American presidents going back to Harry Truman. Governments have come and gone in Washington, and in other capitals, over the years, and all must have concluded that they could not win for losing. Our leaders, and governmental heads elsewhere, have tried never to aggravate one or the other side, but U.S. authorities always, rightly, have seen Israel as this country’s best friend, the only democracy, in the Middle East, believing that Israel’s diminishment would hurt America. Yet, as successive popes have pleaded, and as millions agree, including most major world powers, Palestinians also have their rights. Why the argument about Jerusalem? Both sides claim Jerusalem. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . To avoid taking sides, no world government presently keeps its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, so America’s embassy is in Tel Aviv, 40 miles west of Jerusalem. Every other sovereign nation also deliberately has its embassy outside Jerusalem. The Holy See maintains its nunciature, or embassy, to Israel in Jaffa, a Tel Aviv suburb. (The Vatican’s representative to Palestine resides in East Jerusalem, on recognized Palestinian territory.) What about the “settlements”? These are new communities built, maintained and protected by Israel specifically for Jews on land claimed by Palestine. Successive American governments, and the rest of the world, have opposed the settlements. It is enough to prompt despair. As Pope Francis prays, God give us peace — with justice. Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain. read on

Editorial: Dangerous territory

Editorial: Dangerous territory

President Donald Trump’s feud with the media reached new heights Feb. 17 when Trump tweeted that the media are “the enemy of the American people.” The tweet was liked 151,000 times, and retweeted 48,000 times. On one hand, the enthusiasm behind the president’s tweet is understandable. A conservative base is finally hearing a president challenge the bias that for too long has been dominant in the mainstream press. Many Catholics long have been frustrated with how members of the secular, mainstream media misconstrue Church teaching and often even fail to recognize that there is another side to an argument. It’s necessary, therefore, that the secular media, driven by a desire for stronger ratings and wider profit margins, and facing mounting competition, be challenged to represent all issues fairly and accurately. But, as many leaders on both sides of the aisle pointed out in the days following this tweet, it is one thing to take umbrage with a particular news story or the bias of a news organization, and quite another to state that the media, as an institution, is the enemy of the people. According to an annual report on media independence around the world produced by the nonpartisan group Freedom House in 2016, only 13 percent of the world’s population live in an environment that enjoys a free press — that is “where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.” In contrast, 46 percent live in media environments deemed “not free,” including North Korea, Cuba, China, Venezuela, Russia and the majority of the Middle East and Africa. There, members of the media who do not support the state may be suppressed or jailed on a good day, and beaten or killed on a bad one. The other 41 percent live in territory considered “partly free.” The lack of a free press leads to the creation of an environment that represses facts, restricts the free exchange of ideas and opinions, is subject to governmental or organizational overreach, and is vulnerable to corruption and totalitarian control. Two examples are relevant. First, because of our constitutional right to a free press, when anti-Catholic forces were attacking the Church, Father John F. Noll, founder of Our Sunday Visitor, was able to start his own newspaper to counter with the truth about the Faith in 1912. Through the press, OSV was able to defend the truth of the Church against aggressors. Second, it was intrepid reporting by journalists at the Boston Globe that exposed the extent of the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2002. Though this exposure has been difficult, few would deny that the Church is indebted to the media for shining a light on the sin and crime hiding within the institution. While the media is charged with spreading the truth, however, it is important to acknowledge that we live in a society that is allowing the principles of truth to change, with long-standing paradigms of human sexuality, identity, marriage and family life frequently shouted down — one symptom among many of the “dictatorship of relativism” warned of by Pope Benedict XVI. Too often, the media let their pursuit of facts be waylaid by this shifting sense of truth. These are serious problems that need to be addressed as a society. But attacking the press as an institution is not the answer. When such disparagement or, worse, vilification becomes commonplace, we find ourselves, and our democracy, in dangerous territory. Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor read on

Letters to the Editor for February 26-March 4, 2017

Letters to the Editor for February 26-March 4, 2017

Appreciation for Cardinal Wuerl’s essay on ‘Amoris Laetitia’  Re: “Seeing the many rich facets” (Essay, Feb. 19-25). I want to applaud Cardinal Donald Wuerl for seeking to help everyone — clergy and laity alike — to understand the beauty of Amoris Laetitia, how it is structured, what is does and does not state, and the truths and pastoral needs it proclaims. His gentle explanation of where and how “confusion” might occur is generous in its compassion. May we all continue to pray to the Holy Spirit for the truth to be revealed in each lay or ordained member’s conscience and understanding; for this is God’s Church, and he leads it through his chosen human beings. — Kathy Bitschenauer, via online comment Immigration Re: “Catholics respond to border wall, travel ban” (News Analysis, Feb. 12-18). As a cradle Catholic, I am disappointed in the quotes from the cardinals and the bishops on the immigration issue. They imply that Catholic Church teaching promotes open borders allowing immigrants in without restraint. This is not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2241, speaks to the responsibility of government to protect its citizens, even while welcoming the stranger. St. Thomas Aquinas in “Summa Theologiae” also explains how immigration should be handled. When Church leaders use words like “not rational acts” and encourage people to misuse the idea of “sanctuary,” this is a problem. Sanctuary is for innocent persons, not for harboring criminals. How did we get so far from right reasoning? — Sandra A. Fischer , Broadview Heights, Ohio There seems to be a lot of misinformation about what President Trump is trying to do in regard to refugees. We are talking about a three-month pause, not an outright ban as some are suggesting. He is the president of the United States. He is trying to keep us safe. He has more information available to him than we do. I fought terror in Iraq. I did so for three years and couldn’t come home to my family. I tend to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt here. — Cassie Smith , Marshall, Michigan Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin was quoted as having said or written that building walls is “irrational.” I submit that the cardinal made a poor choice of words. Our homes are enclosed in walls to keep out intruders, vermin and inclement weather. Our doorways and windows are enclosed with screen wire to keep flies out of our soup. Our churches have not only walls but safes, tabernacles, to protect what is most sacred to us. Each of these is eminently rational use of walls or barriers. National walls, necessary to keep out those without citizenship rights who enter without appropriate permission, are not less rational. If the morality of walls is questioned, that is another topic, but one that must be proved and not simply assumed. — Edward A. Rohde , St. Louis ‘The Young Pope’ Re: “HBO’s foul stench” (Catholic Journal, Feb. 19-25). Glad I don’t have cable. I think we’ll stick with basic local family-based programs. Thanks for the warning! — Carolann Martinez , via online comment Death penalty Re: “A life and death issue” (God Lives, Feb. 5-11). Msgr. Owen F. Campion’s article concerning the death penalty was well presented. He states that, “executions are moral only if all else fails to protect the people.” This is consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means” (No. 2267). Capital punishment should be used only in rare cases and not for deterrence and not for revenge. Capital punishment should be available in the rare case, such as when an aggressor is in isolation (even extreme isolation) but is still able to trigger or cause the deaths of others. — M.P. Smyth , Finksburg, Maryland Top-Viewed Articles The most popular stories on OSV.com this week included: 1. HBO’s foul stench (Catholic Journal, Feb. 19-25) 2. 3 things we can do to mirror … read on

HBO's foul stench

HBO’s foul stench

HBO’s “The Young Pope” stinks. I should add that I haven’t seen it. “But you can’t say something stinks that you haven’t seen!” Nonsense. I have never seen a whale slaughtered and did not watch this year’s Pro Bowl game, but I can safely say both stink. Specifically in regard to “The Young Pope,” people I know and trust tell me it stinks. That’s more than good enough for me. But descriptions of the show also help push that judgment along. According to a January review by Chris Byrd from Catholic News Service, behind the beginning credits of the opener, a naked baby “crawls over a sea of infant mannequins, and a man dressed as the Roman pontiff emerges from the other end.” How’s that for artsy, and more likely a solid indicator that we are on the anti-Catholic stink assembly line? The 10-part HBO series is scheduled to conclude about now, before it goes into the black hole of endless streaming. Jude Law stars as American Lenny Belardo, archbishop of New York, who is elected pope and takes the name Pius XIII. He brings Diane Keaton as Sister Mary to Rome as his faithful companion, who raised him as her own (along with another future cardinal) after he was orphaned. OK, so far just normally stupid. But it gets worse. Much worse. Pope Lenny is, as Byrd describes him, a “jerk.” Addicted to Diet Cherry Coke, cigarettes and coffee, Pope Lenny makes a point of insulting the faithful (“I don’t know if you deserve me!” he warns in his first address as the new pope), and dismisses confession, though he does force a priest to break the seal of the confessional so he can get the goods on his fellow cardinals. In another artsy moment, Lenny ends up in a staring contest with a kangaroo that he had received as a gift and released into the Vatican Gardens. In a drawn-out scene, he dons his papal vestments as the song “Sexy and I Know It” provides the background noise. Great. In the words of a New York Times review, “The Young Pope” is a “pulpy, disjointed” art-house flop that is “slap-dash and underdeveloped.” According to Byrd, “The Young Pope” contains “strong, often gratuitous sexual content, nudity and profanity.” Of course it does. The Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino, is the source and key writer of this stuff. The series makes clear that while Pope Lenny has his flaws, the real enemy is the Church as a whole. An atheist, Sorrentino creates a pope that probably doesn’t believe in God. He does believe, however, in power, manipulation and self-absorption, which makes him a perfect pope for Sorrentino’s church. Enough of that. The question is: Why? I don’t mean why some artiste-type would want to make such a series based on anti-Catholic rubbish. My “why” is to HBO. Why did HBO think there would be an audience for such slop? Who did they think would want to invest time from their lives to watch such pretentious drivel? “The Young Pope” wins this classic assessment from “The Simpsons” Comic Book Guy: “Worst show ever!” Again: Who does HBO think will watch this? Maybe the same people that picked up a book by Robert Harris released a few months back. Called “Conclave,” it’s about a fictional papal election. SPOILER ALERT. I’m giving away here and now the big secret revealed in the last few pages of “Conclave.” The newly elected pope is a female who has lived as a male — thus being both a woman ordained as a priest and a transgender pope. Habemus papam, indeed. Maybe not the worst book ever. But close. Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood . read on

Religion on the bench

Religion on the bench

If Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, he will be the first Protestant U.S. Supreme Court justice since 2010. An Episcopalian, he attended a Catholic secondary school. Of the current eight justices, five identify themselves as Catholics: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonya Sotomayor. Identifying themselves as Jewish are Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. For 50 years after the court’s foundation, only Protestants served as justices. President Andrew Jackson broke the ice when in 1835 he nominated a Maryland Catholic, Roger Brooke Taney, as associate justice. Anti-Catholicism was loud and strong at the time. Taney was not confirmed. Jackson never gave up on anything and did not forget Taney. Soon after the Taney nomination failed, the chief justice died. Jackson immediately resubmitted Taney’s name. Taney was confirmed, becoming the first Catholic justice — and chief justice. Taney himself died in 1864. Thirty years after Taney, President Grover Cleveland wished to solidify his political base in the South, so he chose a former Confederate soldier, Edward Douglass White, from Louisiana, to be a justice. Confirmed without much anti-Catholic criticism, White became the second Catholic on the high court in history. Highly regarded, Justice White was nominated and confirmed as chief justice in 1910. He died in office in 1921. Since that time, with a few interludes, Catholics always have been on the court, but for many years it was conventional political wisdom that only one Catholic should be a justice at a time. People spoke of “the Catholic seat” on the court, not the “Catholic seats.” President Ronald Reagan ended that tradition in 1986 by nominating Catholic Antonin Scalia to the bench to serve alongside Justice William Brennan, a Catholic named in 1957 by President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1988, Reagan named Anthony Kennedy, another Catholic. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas, a Catholic. President George W. Bush nominated Catholics John Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006. President Barack Obama chose Sonya Sotomayor, another Catholic, in 2009. It took more time for custom to accept a Jewish justice. No president risked appointing a Jew to the court until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis, a lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky. Brandeis had two strikes against him: his Judaism, and he was an immigrant. His confirmation was not the best moment for religious tolerance in America, but he was seated. Justice Brandeis became one of the legal giants in Supreme Court history. After him, it was hard to argue that a Jew could not be wise or loyal to the Constitution. When Brandeis died in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose another Jew, and another immigrant, Felix Frankfurter, to succeed him. People referred to “the Jewish seat,” but it was one Jew at a time. President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsberg, a Jew, to the court in 1993. She still serves. A year later, Clinton named Breyer, another Jew, to the court. The “one-Jew-at-a-time” unwritten law died. Breyer still is in office. The third Jewish justice presently serving is Kagan, appointed in 2010 by Obama. When Andrew Jackson nominated Catholic Roger Brooke Taney 181 years ago, nobody dreamed that one day the high court would be a Catholic-Jewish monopoly. It no longer will be if Gorsuch is seated. Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain. read on

Onward Christian stranger

Onward Christian stranger

In his latest book, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World” (Henry Holt and Company, $26), Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput assesses with his typical clarity the bewildering situation for committed American Catholics living in the world created by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, legalizing same-sex marriage. As a biting analysis of the current culture, what makes Archbishop Chaput’s book unique is his approach as a pastor and teacher of the Faith. Stranger things Archbishop Chaput traces the evolution of “a moral hole in our culture created by the collapse of a Protestant consensus.” While that consensus generally pushed Catholics to the margins, it also provided a moral environment in which Catholic values were able to flourish. The sad irony, according to Archbishop Chaput, is that because of their fixation on “fitting in,” Catholics have found themselves unable to fill the vacuum. This has been devastating both for the Church and the country. Also by Archbishop Chaput ◗ “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life” — 2009 (Image, $14) ◗ “Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics” — 2001 (Servant, $13.99) He writes, “The reason the Christian faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young people is that — too often — it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it. As Catholic Christians, we may have come to a point today where we feel like foreigners in our own country — ‘strangers in a strange land,’ in the beautiful English of the King James Bible (Ex 2:22). But the deeper problem in America isn’t that we believers are ‘foreigners.’ It’s that our children and grandchildren aren’t.” The chapters dealing with specific cultural concerns form the center of the book. They are brutally honest in describing the ruins of a culture. “Love among the Eloi,” “Nothing but the Truth,” “Darkness at Noon,” — these chapters are powerful analyses of the hypocrisy, idolatry and desperate need for sensual gratification which characterize the United States today. Cultural diagnosis While some may accuse Archbishop Chaput of being too pessimistic, they cannot claim that this book is without hope. St. Augustine stands out as a major example of hope in “Strangers.” As someone who lived in the waning days of antiquity, Augustine resonates powerfully today. The grandeur of Rome had been corroding for so long that by the time the barbarians arrived there was almost nothing left to destroy. And yet, Augustine can speak confidently about the victory of what he calls the City of God without demonizing the City of Man. In Book II of “The City of God,” Augustine reflects on the work of Cicero. Cicero quotes an old maxim: “Ancient morality and the men of old fixed firm the Roman state.” Cicero goes on to say that the morality of that society has passed away, such that “we retain the name of a commonwealth, but we have lost the reality long ago: and this was not through any misfortune, but through our own misdemeanors.” Cicero’s remark — and what Augustine says in response — may just as well have been written yesterday: “Those who praise the state of Rome in the time of ‘ancient morality and the men of old’ should ask themselves whether real justice flourished in that city, or whether, it may be, it was not even then a living reality in men’s behavior, but merely a fancy picture.” Augustine’s diagnosis of Rome is similar to Archbishop Chaput’s description of America. Like Rome, the United States has contributed much to humanity. At its best, America is a great country. But without the leaven of the Gospel, it cannot support the weight of its citizens’ collective appetites. The anonymous second-century Letter to Diognetus is a guide for living the Gospel in a society that scoffs at it. It describes what Pope Francis calls “missionary discipleship.” “They live in their own … read on

A life and death issue

A life and death issue

The decision by a South Carolina court to execute Dylann Roof, the man convicted of brutally murdering nine innocent people gathered for a Bible study in their Charleston church, quickly was followed by an appeal by Charleston Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone that the perpetrator’s life be spared. Given the awfulness of the murders, reactions to the bishop’s statement were not altogether positive. So, what is the Catholic Church’s view regarding capital punishment? Always the Church has maintained that legitimate governments, through honest and objective legal processes, hold the right to execute persons duly convicted of heinous crimes to protect people from future similar crimes. By any estimate, these requirements applied in the Charleston case. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267, says: “If, however, nonlethal 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.” No civil authority has the unqualified right to impose the death penalty. Even legally established functioning governments must put their rights beneath the umbrella of responsibilities to overall principles. In this case, the dignity of human life stands above all. So the first phrase of the Catechism’s teaching is critical: “If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means… .” With this in mind, executing a convicted prisoner is the last resort, and executions are moral only if all else fails to protect the people. Pope St. John Paul II said outright that in developed, democratic societies, he could see virtually no occasion when the death penalty is the only option left to civil authority in meeting its obligations to safeguard the population. Recognizing the supremacy of the dignity of human life, he always said, meant that executing convicts had to be measured against all other possibilities. Usually, arguments for the death sentence are that the death penalty removes from society an aggressor, and that capital punishment deters crime. Church teaching presumes that modern governments have workable ways to keep convicted criminals from moving through society and committing crime again. Many studies say that crimes too often are driven by intense purpose, along with the intention of avoiding capture, that the deterrence argument does not always apply. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . Even if the deterrence argument is accepted, it must be secondary to the teaching regarding the majesty of human life. This very same principle appears in the Catholic Church’s insistence that “unwanted” pregnancies cannot be ended by abortion. Always, assuring the continuance of human life must have the priority. Inevitably, discussions about capital punishment in this country become feverish. Opinions are strong. People have good intentions. America has a problem in violent crime. We all are nervous, and we are nervous with cause. No one feels truly secure. The Church’s teaching simply calls us to ask if killing convicts is the only answer. First, put above everything the Catholic position on the sanctity of human life. Then ask if alternatives to the death penalty exist in our current system of managing crime? If not, can they be improved? Finally, executing a convict never returns to the victim or to the victim’s grieving survivors anything lost. Revenge always is unchristian, a sin in itself. Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain. read on

Don't climb alone

Don’t climb alone

Forgive me. I have to go back to a road already travelled. But I swear I have a point. A few months ago I wrote about a September pilgrimage to Cape Cod. The Cape is my backstory. I was a kid there, a teenager, a college guy. My honeymoon was at the Cape, and we introduced it young to our own kids. My parents retired to the Cape, and we visited them with the grandkids. A big part of my Cape memories are rooted in my older brother, John. We were kids there together in 1960s summers, grown-ups visiting together later on. Though he lived and worked in Tucson, Arizona — he was a university accountant — he bought a little condo on the Cape and planned to retire there. But he was hit with the cancer at 60 and died five years later. His wife, Sue, kept the place, however, and often stays there summers to escape the Arizona heat. I first met Sue when she first met John. I was in college, though I was getting ripped and roaring for heading out on my own. Sue and I got along fine. Just a few years older, the connection was my brother. She was kind and friendly. I was young with a goofy smile on my face. Never a bad word between us over the next 40 years. But you know how it is. Everybody knows how it is. Our family has scattered hither and yon across these United States. After John died, we didn’t lose touch with Sue, but we lost touch in any kind of a meaningful way. Christmas cards and floral arrangements arrived back and forth at the proper seasonal times. But our lives went separate ways. Anyway, the good news is that during our September visit, she was still at the Cape when we arrived, though heading back to Tucson shortly. We reconnected personally and immediately, that always surprising miracle when it all instantly picks up as if someone left the room for little more than a minute rather than half a decade ago. We got her out of the condo — she had developed serious mobility problems over the years — and took her to lunch. Better than that, we wore out the afternoon riding the old roads and telling the old stories. We talked about us, we talked about the ghosts of the past and the dreams for the future. We remembered my brother and her husband. We laughed at his idea to open a sandwich shack on the highest point over Cape Cod Bay and advertise it with a 75-foot neon sign that could be seen anywhere on the Cape. He’d call it “The Jolly Lobster!” The nuttiness of it all defined his subversive humor. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . The visit ended, we continued our vacation, and Sue headed home to Tucson. A few weeks after, my oldest brother, who lives out there, sent an email saying that Sue was heading to resident therapy for stubborn pain and her mobility limits. A little later that they had to take her to the hospital. A little later that she had died. But I don’t want to do this wrong. This is not a sad story ending on a sad note. The joy and fun of that afternoon at the Cape I’ll never lose. Instead of having only faded memories, we had the gift of love and friendship alive, whole and experienced just weeks before her unexpected death. One of God’s tender mercies in our lives is the people he shares with us. Don’t let the chance to be with them slip by. Because you don’t want to miss that joy. It was Thomas à Kempis who wrote that Christ made love the stairway that enables us to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it. And don’t climb alone. Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood . read on