There was a recent outburst of respect for religion on two consecutive front pages of The New York Times, after Pope Francis changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Times desperately desires to get religion out of politics when it comes to companies that refuse on religious grounds to pay for birth control. Yet it eagerly embraces Christianity when it comes to leftist issues like global warming, immigration, and now the death penalty. Friday’s front page declared “Pope Declares Death Penalty Always Wrong – Doctrine Change Could Hit U.S. Hardest.” Elisabeth Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein excitedly reported:
Pope Francis has declared the death penalty wrong in all cases, a definitive change in church teaching that is likely to challenge Catholic politicians, judges and officials who have argued that their church was not entirely opposed to capital punishment.
Before, church doctrine accepted the death penalty if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives, an opening that some Catholics took as license to support capital punishment in many cases.
The pope’s decree is likely to hit hardest in the United States, where a majority of Catholics support the death penalty and the powerful “pro-life movement” has focused almost exclusively on ending abortion -- not the death penalty. The pope’s move could put Catholic politicians in a new and difficult position, especially Catholic governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, who have presided over executions.
“If you’re a Catholic governor who thinks the state has the right to end human life, you need to be comfortable saying you’re disregarding orthodox church teaching,” said John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal-leaning advocacy group in Washington. “There isn’t any loophole for you to wiggle through now.”
In a switch, The Times apparently now expects judges, even those on the Supreme Court, to let their personal religious beliefs affect their rulings:
The new ruling could also complicate the lives of American judges who are practicing Catholics.
President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, is Catholic, as are Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor. One of the other finalists for the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is also Catholic.
The Times, which regularly lauds Catholic dissenters from pro-life teachings, is suddenly stringent about Catholic law, quoting Mario Marazziti of the anti-death penalty campaign of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome:
“If you don’t accept this, you are disobedient, as you would be if you didn’t accept other teachings,” he said. “There is no margin for disagreement.”
The paper followed up on Saturday’s front page with a story by Timothy Williams, “Pope’s Opposition Won’t Stop An Execution Set in Nebraska.” Oddly enough, the Pope has no legal jurisdiction in Nebraska, or any other state.
Again, The Times is very concerned about Catholics following church doctrine on some issues (death penalty) if not others (abortion):
When Nebraska lawmakers defied Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2015 by repealing the death penalty over his strong objections, the governor wouldn’t let the matter go. Mr. Ricketts, a Republican who is Roman Catholic, tapped his family fortune to help bankroll a referendum to reinstate capital punishment, a measure the state’s Catholic leadership vehemently opposed.
After a contentious and emotional battle across this deep-red state, voters restored the death penalty the following year. Later this month, Nebraska is scheduled to execute Carey Dean Moore, who was convicted of murder, in what would be the state’s first execution in 21 years.
Complicating matters, Pope Francis this week declared that executions are unacceptable in all cases, a shift from earlier church doctrine that had accepted the death penalty if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives. Coming only days before the scheduled Aug. 14 execution here, the pope’s stance seemed to create an awkward position for Mr. Ricketts, who is favored to win a bid for re-election this fall.
If The Times was consistent about taking Catholic doctrine seriously, it wouldn’t run headlines like this about the pro-choice House Minority Leader: “In Pelosi, Strong Catholic Faith and Abortion Rights Coexist.”