Panetta: My faith informs my work

NPR profiles Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a Washington veteran who has served in Congress and who was most recently head of theLeon Panetta CIA. Panetta cites his Catholic faith as something that helps to inform his life-and-death decisions:

For the past two years, Leon Panetta was at the center of the U.S. fight against the terrorist network that carried out those attacks. As the director of the CIA, he oversaw the secret operations targeting al-Qaida operatives.


"I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was getting calls in the middle of the night dealing with operations that involved life and death. That was significant for me, and you know as someone who was raised as a Catholic and is faithful to my religion, I take those decisions not very lightly. And so ... not only do you have to make a decision — go, no go — but then those decisions stay with you for a while," he says.

Panetta helped lead the operation last spring that killed Osama bin Laden. He had come into the CIA as an outsider, charged with leading an organization still licking its wounds after the intelligence failures of Sept. 11.

I once had the privilege of hearing Panetta speak to a room of Catholic lay leaders shortly after assuming responsibility at the CIA about the role his faith plays in his professional life, and he articulated that no decision that could end somone else's life is ever taken lightly. I remember being especially impressed with his thoughtfulness on the subject, and awed that someone who held such a powerful national security position was able to speak so candidly about the gravity of such decisions.

When I shared this story with a friend earlier this week, he observed how Panetta's word stood in stark contrast to Gov. Rick Perry's claim that he never felt a shred of anxiety over the hundreds of executions he signed off as governor of Texas.

Read and listen to the NPR interview here.

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7 years 2 months ago
When I was in college, a Jesuit college, I wrote a paper that argued against the death penalty.  I thought it was pretty well reasoned.  My logic was shredded by my Jesuit instructor who said my arguments were unsound and not supported by Catholic Theology. He did give me a C for which I was grateful, because I feared worse.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 2 months ago
It's not just Rick Perry who seems to have no qualms about the taking of life, it's the majority of Americans.

I have yet to understand how those who identify themselves as Pro-Life appear to not even wince when human beings are executed.  They cheer.

I think that Leon Panetta is rare, even among Catholics, these days.  We hold a vigil before our local Cathedral during every execution in Florida.  The bishop often joins us.  But there are never more than 10 or 15 of us, and those who are leaving the 5:30 pm Mass have no idea what we are doing.  Sadly, we will be standing there again next week (Sept 28) to witness our protest of the state sponsored killing of Manuel Valle.
7 years 2 months ago
2 observations:

1. Why is this paragraph necessary?

"When I shared this story with a friend earlier this week, he observed how Panetta's word stood in stark contrast to Gov. Rick Perry's claim that he never felt a shred of anxiety over the hundreds of executions he signed off as governor of Texas."

I don't see how it amplifies the purpose of the piece (or is it the purpose of the piece?).

2. When Paul Ryan wrote publicly about the role his faith plays in making decisions (to Archbishop Dolan), he was ridiculed and castigated by progressive Catholics as it is evident to them that Mr. Ryan is lying through his teeth when he says his faith informs his political decisions based on his support for certain policies.  Does anyone think the CIA director makes less morally objectionable decisions than a Congressman?  Yet it is enough for him to say life and decisions are not taken "lightly" by him to be held up as a paragon of faith in action.  Curious.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
Somehow I think I agree with Jeff Landry, I think.  Faith in the same person who authorizes remote control assassinations by explosives with "collateral damage" has to be at least a source of cognitive dissonance.  And now he's in charge of two imperialistic wars.  Just further evidence that both parties are fully bought into the concept of America as empire.  
7 years 2 months ago
"Your comments here, and on Fr. Schroth's post Monday, are too broad in their allegations and insinuations. We are trying to have a cordial conversation here, and I know my fellow bloggers would appreciate it if you gave them the benefit of the doubt—even if you don't agree with them."

Then perhaps one of your bloggers could have written a post lauding Mr. Ryan's comments about the role of his faith in his decision-making, even if they chose to push him.  But I certainly don't recall any such type post. 

Also, I've given the bloggers the benefit of the doubt, but it's hard to hold your tongue when you read post after post "criticizing" (to be charitable) ONLY one side.  By my count, in the space of the past 9 days, there have been 4 politically-related posts, each of the 4 posts lambasting the Republican Party for some thing or another.  So I may be forgiven for discerning, if not an agenda certainly, a definite bias among the regular bloggers.  All I'm saying is it'd be nice every once in a while to read something that doesn't paint one side as the source of all evil (and yes, I realize that America isn't National Review, but even National Review dares criticize its own every once in a while).  America is exceptional at doing this with theological disputes, but when such efforts are nonexistent with respect to politics.

May I suggest one angle?  John Boehner's consistent support for educational choice and stand for the poor children in DC and the Church's role in that.
Michael Maiale
7 years 2 months ago
While I wish Perry had given a more nuanced answer to the death penalty question, I don't think it's fair to put his statement and Panetta's side by side.  Panetta was giving his comments in an NPR profile where the journalist responsible undoubtedly treated him in a courteous manner, where he had ample time to answer, and where there was little, if anything, at stake for him, politically.  Perry's comments, on the other hand, were in response to a maliciously-intentioned condescending question based on misleading information, while he was under a tight time constraint, in a presidential debate.

It's not exactly an apples to apples comparison. 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
It's hard to get politicians to tell what they really think.  They say what they say to appease blocks of voters.  Perhaps, instead of debates and interviews, candidates should be waterboarded.  Under duress, Perry might admit that he does accept the scientific truth of the human caused greenhouse effect and the billionaires do, also, except that they will be able to afford the air conditioners and the housing reinforced against violent weather.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
It would seem then, that a country that kills millions has no moral high ground giving it the right to tell other countries how to run their affairs, and enforcing it through a military of unprecedented size and power.  In this perspective, why do we spend so much time grieving the nearly three thousand killed in the WTC when they are only a drop in the bucket compared to the 50,000,000 killed since Roe v. Wade? Less than 1/10,000.   Less than 0.01%.  Should we then be waging war on ourselves? Maybe we are.
Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago

"Somehow I think I agree with Jeff Landry, I think." Wow-this is a breakthrough!

I agree that the Panetta story was a "fluff piece" for the most part.  Of course, unlike Perry he is not running for office and so doesn't come in for full scrutiny as perhaps he should.  Tim R. summarized the situation nicely in the second paragraph of #5.

I'd never been a fan of current event postings on IAT unless they have a specific religious angle (I know, I know: alot of them do, but many don't).
Edward Mechmann
7 years 2 months ago
Too bad his faith didn't influence his work when he was in Congress, where he had 67 opportunities to vote on abortion-related issues, yet cast only one pro-life vote.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 2 months ago
@ Beth,
"It's not just that Rick Perry has no qualms about taking of life, it's the majority of Americans."
Amen, Beth. And it's not only the two hundred or so adjudicated murderers annually who receive justice in place of mercy, it's also the million or so totally innocent nascent children who are exterminated, with little or no qualms, by so many of those million.


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