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Saving ‘The Finest’

The public may know that more than 2,000 military men and women have committed suicide within the past decade. Fewer know of the suicides down the street—the 300 police officers a year who kill themselves, more than those who die on active duty. New Jersey, for example, lost 12 in 2010. That number was the second highest, after New York, and deaths would have been higher if not for COP2COP, its HelpLine suicide prevention program that dissuaded 15. In Connecticut, four took their lives between June and August 2011. These victims are men and women psychologically screened to represent “the finest.”

There is no one answer to the question why. These police officers are overwhelmingly white and male. They shoot themselves off-duty, at home, because of marital discord, alcohol and substance abuse, and psychological, legal or work-stress problems. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, with rising death rates, have initiated creative programs to break through the protective wall that inhibits strong men, who fear that talking about their problems will make them look weak. This includes stress-debriefing after violent episodes, straight talk about alcoholism and annual “mental health checks.”


The basic element in many suicides is the confluence of the three most-mentioned factors: (1) work stress, which flows into (2) the marital relationship and (3) threatens the officer’s self-image as the person in charge. The challenge for an anti-suicide program is to reshape what it means for a cop to be strong—including the way the officer relates to his or her weapon. This is a large order, but society owes attention to these officers.

Cradle Christians

The Arab Spring has lingered into autumn and now winter. The outcome of these uprisings for the region’s Christian population remains uncertain. In Egypt, the militant Salafists have made unexpected gains; but like the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, they have been campaigning on bread-and-butter issues like jobs and healthcare, not on imposing Shariah law. Some form of pluralist Islamic democracy with freedom for Christians remains possible. In Syria, the cradle of Christianity, however, the future of the country and of its Christians is less certain.

A mostly nonviolent resistance to the Assad regime continues to grow and suffer. The fate of Christians depends less on the overthrow of the Assad dictatorship than on the unknown future that will follow. Syria is home to two million native Christians in a variety of traditions, and it also hosts more than a million refugees, including hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Palestinian Christians with nowhere else to flee. A civil war between Sunni, Alawite and Shiite Muslims would inevitably embroil Christians.

With the aid of U. N. and nongovernmental agencies, like Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, the world community needs to take steps to see that conditions are established to avoid a civil war, in which the minority Christians would be victims. The committed nonviolence of the Syrian resistance is encouraging, but the many tools for post-conflict transformation that have been developed in recent decades need to be made available and adopted for the sake of the survival of Christianity in the East and a peaceful future for all.

A Matter of Life and Death

Last September, thousands gathered to protest the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and the death penalty in general. That same month, at a Republican presidential debate, audience members applauded with enthusiasm when the moderator, Brian Williams, mentioned the 234 executions that took place in Texas in recent years. Americans, it seemed, were divided as ever on the issue. But support for the death penalty is declining, and with it the number of executions in the United States.

A Gallup poll in 2011 found that 61 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, down from 80 percent in 1994. Illinois abolished the death penalty last year, and Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon declared a moratorium on it in his state. In addition, the number of individuals sentenced to death in the United States has fallen drastically. This year, according to a recent report from the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 individuals were sentenced to death, the first time the number has dropped below 100 in three decades.

This shift comes as Americans increasingly find the practice unfair, expensive and at risk of executing innocent people. Many also question the reliability of forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony in capital cases. The fact that criminals can be sentenced to life without parole has made the death penalty seem less necessary for the defense of public order.

Last November Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the church’s opposition to capital punishment and his support for groups working to eliminate it. The United States has other ways to protect the public from dangerous criminals. The death penalty is unnecessary and wrong.

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Emma Fitzpatrick
7 years ago
I just wrote a response to the editorial on abortion.  Now I would like to see as many Catholics working to abolish the death penalty.  Unfortunately, many Catholics for whom abortion is the sine qua non by which a person proves his or her Catholicity still manage to heartily support the death penalty with no qualms of conscience whatever.
Cody Serra
7 years ago
I agree with Emma Fitzpatrick. I share exactly the same concerns.
Michael Barberi
7 years ago
There is a much larger picture here. For example, doctrines or definitive teachings, declared in the past to be moral, are now immoral such as: capital punishment and slavery. Other doctrines or teachings, declared to be immoral, are now moral such as usury. Still other doctrines or teachings that were declared as definitive, were also changed such as: the ends of marriage.

In over 500 years, the Church has never provided an adequate answer to the fact that Usury was written in Scripture as Divine Law, but reformed. Today, everyone agrees that usury should have been reformed. However, the issue is that is was clearly written in Scripture as immoral and against God's will. The moral of this story is that the Church can rationalize one doctrine, but proclaim that others are the "absolute moral truth".

The problem is "absolutizing" certain human actions as intrinsically evil. John Paul's Vertitatis Spendor (VS) declared that "deportation" is intrinsically evil. To any reasonable person, there is nothing immoral if an illegal immigrant who commits a felony is deported.

VS also declared direct abortion intrinsically evil, but there is a profound disagreement about what constitutes a "direct abortion". This was clearly demonstrated by Therese Lysaught's excellent report to Catholic Healthcare West concerning the Phoenix case. In her report, she quotes two of the most orthodox of magisterium theologians who agreed with her conclusion (Germani Grisez and Martin Rhonheimer) that the facts in this case rendered the procedure an "indirect abortion". Hence, we have profound disagreement between the CDF and tradition-minded theologians....not to mention the many less-than-tradition minded theologians.

There are many teachings that are the "absolute moral truth", like "one cannot kill an innocent person". I don't have any issue with declaring that capital punishment is immoral, even though it was moral or not intrinsically evil for centuries. However, many teachings are not so self-evident or evident according to Thomist scholars.

How can we declare "contraception" intrinsically evil when under many circumstances it is the only reasonable choice of birth regulation. How can we declare such a teaching the "absolute moral truth" when we have a Church divided and historical evidence that demonstrates that many teachings proclaimed to be immoral, were later reformed? To reform something declared intrinsic evil or immoral is in contradiction to the definition of definitive, doctrine, immoral or intrinsic evil. How can a voluntary human action be once moral but immoral at a later time, or immoral and later moral? This is particularly problematic when a teaching is in tension with reason and human experience.
Leonard Villa
7 years ago
With respect to capital punishment it's not accurate to speak about the Church's teaching against it when the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for it!


2267Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. (emphasis added)If, however, non-lethal 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 to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."68

Whether non-lethal means are sufficient to protect society is a question of fact to be determined by those charged with the common good hence the continuing debate! Moreover whether the cases of the absolute necessity of executing an offender are very rare is an observation that has to be tested by the standard of sufficiency in protecting society from the aggressor. Clerics can opine and argue that they don't see its necessity but the task of determining this is the proper sphere of those in government in conjuction with the common good of the citizenry. Prudential judgments are often debated.
Michael Barberi
7 years ago

Mr. Tantilio:

Your reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a manifestation of modern times. For many centuries, capital punishment was completely moral. Even Aquinas spoke of it.

Michael Barberi
7 years ago

Mr. Tantilio:

Sorry, I did not complete my thought. The point is "now" in terms of the papay of John Paul II and Benedict VI, the Church is "rethinking" the morality of capital punishment. Only in rare and specfic circumstances is it moral. For centuries capital punishment had no specific circumstances that specified its morality. Therefore, my references to capital punishment is correct. The Church has changed its definitive teachings many times over the centuries.

Additionally, as in centuries past, a teaching not received has always been reformed.

Amy Ho-Ohn
7 years ago
I am opposed to the death penalty and, although it remains on the books in my state, nobody has been sentenced to death since the Supreme Court began permitting it again in the 1970's. I think we're well rid of it and would gladly vote to abolish it outright.

However, purely in the interests of clear thinking, I must reject the talking-point "Candidate X is for criminalizing abortion but not for abolishing the death penalty. Candidate Y is for abolishing the death penalty but not for criminalizing abortion. Therefore, both are cafeteria Catholics and there's no reason to prefer one to the other on pro-life grounds."

The talking point asserts a false equivalence because, whereas the Church has always forbidden abortion, She has not always condemned the death penalty. In fact, for many centuries the Church not only allowed, but actively encouraged, secular authorities to execute people convicted of crimes including heresy.

The traditional understanding of Holy Tradition is that it is the orally transmitted knowledge of doctrines Christ taught the apostles, but which did not get written down in the Scriptures. Subject to this definition, the prohibition of abortion is arguably Tradition, whereas the condemnation of the death penalty is not. (This understanding of Tradition probably strikes most of us as too simplistic, but that does not alter the main point.)

(Additionally, abortion kills almost a million Americans every year, whereas the death penalty dispatches fewer than a hundred.)

Again, I am not in favor of the death penalty, and I am pretty sure criminalizing abortion will end abortion about as thoroughly as criminalizing drugs has ended drug abuse. But sloppy arguments discredit the entire Church. We should all be against sloppy arguments.
Michael Barberi
7 years ago


I am no certain to whom you are addressing as candidate x and y. With respect to my comments, perhaps it would be helpful if I made my points clearer.

1. I am for abolishing the death penaly and "direct" abortion. In this regard, I support indirect abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus cannnt survive under any cirumstances. I have not made up my mind about abortion in the case of rape or incest, but this depends on the definition of life. For many centuries, the Church's teaching about when life begins has changed. This issue of rape and incest also has to do with justice, as in injustice. These are complex issues. 

2. Your use of tradition is too simplistic to stand as definitive truth. Both abortion and capital punishment are part of tradition. In using the concept of tradition, it is important to differential between the deposit of faith and moral teachings. The modern church has expanded the definition of the desposit of faith to include teachings that the Vatican Curia considers supportive of the Christ's Gospel. This has caused much controversy among Canonists and moral theologians casting a further shadow of the lack of credibility on magisterial authority. The Crisis of Truth facing the Church today is a complex issue that is multidimensional.

3. Lastly, the use of the words "caferteria Catholics" is disingenuous. If you study Church history you will realize the the Church itself picks and chooses the beliefs and teachings of its fathers to support its current theology. Many of the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas are excluded without remainder. You can disagree with certain teachings and remain a faithful Catholic. Keep in mind that a teaching that has not been received, has always been reformed. This does not mean there are no moral absolutes, but certain teachings that are in tension with reason, human experience, the hierarchy of values, and a thorough education and reflection are issues of an informed conscious.

Charles McNamee
7 years ago

      In the very first words put on the lips of Jesus in the first chapter of the earliest gospel, Mark,
we can perhaps see the unedited central message of what is called the "Good News".
               ""Metanoiesete ['change the way you think about reality'], for the 
                Kingdom  of  Heaven   is within you.  Believe this good news." (Mk.1:15)
Later, the Gospel of Matthew will consider that this "buried"  treasure is the "pearl of great price"
for which we should sell all we have, give the money away and follow Him.
       So exactly when do we begin to possess this treasure? From the beginning of our existence. If so, then the taking of one from the other, at any time other than that when God wills it, would violate a most sacred principle, be it by murder or abortion, or by execution. Consequently, a sincere practioner of Jesus' teachings can neither murder nor abort.


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