The EditorsSeptember 19, 2011

Respect for Life?

Religion, in a variety of ways, has moved to the forefront of the Republican primary campaigns. The list of candidates includes several Protestant evangelicals, two Mormons and two Catholics. On “life” issues, all of these candidates proclaim themselves to be anti-abortion; but Catholic teaching emphasizes an extensive range of life issues beyond abortion—from stem cell research to hospital care to opposition to torture and to the death penalty.

Among the candidates, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is the one who in his speeches and writing has most publicly identified himself with Jesus Christ. At the same time, although most politicians support the death penalty, Mr. Perry’s record stands out for its severity.

Governor Perry has overseen the execution of 234 persons in 11 years, more than any other governor in modern history. And he is proud of this. “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas,” he once wrote. He vetoed a bill that would have spared the mentally retarded and criticized a Supreme Court decision that ruled out executing juveniles. His most controversial decision was to allow the execution in 2004 of Cameron Todd Willingham, who had been convicted of killing his three daughters in 1991 by burning down his own house. An independent investigator concluded that the initial examination of the fire was based on junk science and shoddy techniques and that Willingham could not be guilty. But when the investigator presented the report to Governor Perry, he ignored it and allowed the execution to proceed that very day.

That is not the moral or religious leadership expected of a president.

Family Matters

In advance of Hurricane Irene, government officials began using an unfamiliar phrase to describe preparations for the storm. Press releases distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency highlighted the “Federal Family’s Preparation and Response.” On Aug. 28 Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, announced that “the entire federal family is working as one to support the affected states.”

The administration’s critics were quick to respond. Ed Henry, the White House correspondent for Fox News, tweeted: “Branding alert: Interesting how WH dropped word ‘government’...calling it ‘federal family.’” “If my ‘family’ was $14 trillion in debt I’d put myself up for adoption,” Michelle Malkin sneered. The phrase may be part of a re-branding campaign, but it is not new. Both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush used the term at different times. Even the now infamous Michael D. Brown, the director of FEMA in 2004, referred to the “federal family” in remarks before Hurricane Katrina.

Catholics know, of course, that the government is not a family and cannot pretend to be one. Pope Benedict XVI recently reiterated the church’s teaching that family and marriage are the foundation of society. Yet sometimes, especially in times of emergency, the nuclear family needs support. That support can come from the church or other charitable institutions, but also from the government. For some people—elderly widows, abused children, the disabled—public institutions are the only entities that can provide the help they need. This simple but contentious fact was confirmed in the wake of Hurricane Irene, when government workers played an essential role in rescue and recovery. Call them family, neighbors or civil servants; the name does not matter. What matters is that they were there.

An iBishop?

On Aug. 24 Steve Jobs announced his resignation as the chief executive officer of Apple Inc., which he co-founded in the 1970s. Much laudatory commentary followed. Mr. Jobs changed the world of movies and music and books. He did not supply new plots and images but changed how the people watched what they wanted to see. He did not compose new tunes and lyrics but changed how the world received, stored and played music. He did not write new books but changed how the world read and kept and reread those books. The entrenched music and publishing industries felt threatened and resisted but eventually came around, seeing that Mr. Jobs was ultimately working with them.

“Mr. Jobs did not so much see around corners; he saw things in plain sight that others did not,” wrote David Carr in The New York Times. Steve Jobs saw what modern people wanted before they knew they wanted it. And he knew how to make it available and attractive. The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York is open 24 hours a day.

One hears that young people want what the church has to offer, but they cannot find it in that church. The delivery system fails. Imagine a Bishop Steve Jobs. What would his diocese—the Diocese of Appleton, perhaps—look like? How would entrenched interests react to his challenge? What is out there in plain sight that he would see and point out to fellow church leaders? How would he change not the message, not the content, not the words but the delivery system? The human side of the church could use the energy of new vision.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 10 months ago
There is a personal spiritual dimension applied to being a bishop or pastor or any religious teacher. This Pope uses and encurages use of all the media but converting those who are stuck in old patterns of thought and conduct need the direct personal witness  in the moment for the most part.
Dudley Sharp
9 years 10 months ago
Dear Editors:

You are dead wrong on the Willingham case.

No one can truthfully say Willingham was not guilty of the murder of his three daughters.

Likely, you have very much been misled on this case by anti death penalty folks.

Please review:

8) "Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles

If you have any questions, let me know.

The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some additional examples:  

4) "The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"

5) The 130 (now 138) death row "innocents" scam

6) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"

7) "At the Death House Door" Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?"
Fred Close
9 years 10 months ago
After America Magazine's timid, at best, response to the ongoing Sebellius fiasco, and the Administration's failure to affirm the half truth VP Biden spoke in China about the unsustainability of China's mandatory abortion policy, the lesser offense of Governor Perry scarcely deserves so much "ink." Remove the plank, please, before trying to remove the speck!
C Walter Mattingly
9 years 10 months ago
Are our editors, perhaps because they are so disenchanted with our bishops, becoming beholden to our current president and his administration in their place? While President Bush was in office, America's editors came out strongly supporting vouchers for our inner city children struggling with chronically failing schools, specifically citing public unions for their obstruction of vouchers. Since President Obama began his stretch run for office 3 years ago, however, these same editors have become quite timid on the subject. In today's editorial we have a lead space devoted to the fact that on Governor Perry's shift about 20 persons convicted of horrific crimes have been executed annually, while each year our stridently pro-abortion president oversees 50,000 times as many exterminations of totally innocent nascent children, quite possibly taking the issue to and past the point of infanticide, and where is the lead editorial outrage directed to the president for his approval of this slaughter of the innocents? And our editors here castigate Perry's support of justice for the horrifically guilty as lacking "the moral or religious leadership expected of a president"? On the issue of killing the innocent, President Obama has moved the limbo bar off the Coke bottles and onto the ground itself. No one, not Perry nor any other possible opponent, can get beneath where Obama has set the bar on protection of the innocent from willful and arbitrary extermination; no one's hands are bloodier. Yet where is America's outrage? Is this an example of the president's acceptable moral or religious leadership in the eyes of America?
Perry's record (at least corrected as it may have been here) is a valid subject for an editorial. Yet can't America be a bit more evenhanded than this, castigating the one who stole the burger but remaining silent on the one who robbed the bank?
Virginia Edman
9 years 10 months ago
Dear Walter,

Dear Walter,
Did you expect President Obama to legislate abortion as unlawful?  He was not elected on that, nor realistically could he ever have achieved that.  And who would you jail, the women or the doctors?  I think Obama cares about the jobs, he cares about the medical system, he cares about the poor.  The Republicans would have let the country go into default, causing a possible depression.  The Republicans would have the world suffer financial crisis rather than work with the president to bring back jobs. 

Gov. Perry truly does oversee the execution of more people than any other governor because he has the power to pardon them.   He is proud of his record, and people applauded him. If execution is JUSTICE, then why is the Catholic Church against capital punishment?

Let's be realistic.  President Obama is not strident in his pro-choice position, nor does he have any control over the number of abortions in the country.  He does not oversee them in any way.  President Obama has my vote, and Gov. Perry never will.
Lisa Weber
9 years 10 months ago
An iBishop might be able to see that the feminine side of the church is nearly dead.  There is apparently no leadership on the feminine side of the church capable of developing a dialogue of interest to women.  The lack of dialogue matters. 
C Walter Mattingly
9 years 10 months ago
Dear Virginia,
Thank you for your thoughtful response.
No, I did not expect President Obama to do anything but promote the elective abortion agenda. Not that many senators had 3 consecutive years of 100% ratings from the NARAL, which supported him against the staunchly prochoice, but comparataively more moderate, Hillary Clinton. You don't get much more strident on abortion than Barack Obama.  His record on not supporting a ban on partial birth abortions even if an exception was made for protecting the life of the mother, refusing to demand that an infant surviving a late term abortion attempt be offered medical care, etc, has been extensively vetted.
I agree with you that Perry has an abrasive, candid, in-your-face style, partly because that is likely his up-front, pugnacious nature, partly because he sees it as an effective contrast to Obama's slick and calculated self-presentation which he may perceive to be wearing thin due to the amount of equivocation and dissembling he has exhibited that has called into question his authenticity both from conservatives and liberals. Bush, though more moderate, resembled Perry in his Texas candor. Perhaps that is why Bush, who was vilified by many in the Middle East for Iraq and Afghanistan, but who widely conceded that Bush was an authentic champion of democracy, had a very low popularity rating that yet exceeded that which the Nobel Prize winning speechmaker, President Obama, presently enjoys there, who they likely perceive as lacking sincerity. For example, he ostentatiously disparaged Bush for scaring captive terrorist murderers with waterboarding to save innocent American lives, but had a captive and defenseless Bin Laden shot in the head and dumped in the sea rather than taken captive. 
I personally don't see the validity of a comparison between executing a murderer convicted of a heinous premeditated murrder and electively exterminating an innocent nascent child. I perceive a difference between guilt and innocence. It's comparing executing a captive murderer who by justice has forfeited his right to life by his willful action with the action of killing a sleeping baby in his crib. Personally I am neither pro nor anti death penalty, but the day the evidence convincingly shows that the rare usage of the death penalty is not a deterrent to future murders, that is, that showing mercy to one whose actions have forfeited his right to life according to justice does not effect the death of unknown future innocents, I will join the opposition.
If President Obama were truly in favor of the poor and undereducated, he would support rather than oppose vouchers. Just one of his many moral and political inconsistencies that trouble so many Americans.
But I never say never. If President Obama's opponent was Paul Krugman, Ralph Nader, or Bill Maher, I would certainly vote for Obama in a heartbeat. 
ed gleason
9 years 10 months ago
Watching the anti-Obama crowd going into contortions to support Perry must be giving the WH analysts confidence for 2012.  How many Pretzel Republicans are there anyway?.

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