Letter from Msgr. Schaedel for bulletin of July 9, 2000
Now that the Fourth of July festivities are over, we’re into the second half of summer. Enjoy, especially you students who are away from classes for the summer months.
As many of you know, most of my professional and priestly life has been spent either as a Catholic School administrator or teacher. The first couple years that I was assigned to teach at Cardinal Ritter High School, I taught a course called “The Difficult Sayings of Jesus.” As the title suggests, it was a Scripture course based on some of the sayings of Jesus that were either hard to understand or actually hard to take.
This weekend, we have been asked by our Indiana bishops to focus on a hard saying—a teaching of the Church that is difficult for many Catholics to perhaps understand or accept. It is the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bottom line is that the Church opposes the death penalty.
Let me quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Assuming 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.
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 inconformity with 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 definitively 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 non-existent.’” (CCC # 2267)
We are a Pro-Life Church. Abortion is murder—plain and simple. It’s easy to defend the rights of the unborn and the absolute idiocy of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling knocking down Nebraska’s Partial Birth Abortion Ban. But when it comes to capital punishment aimed at perhaps vicious and unrepentant criminals, it’s not so clear-cut. It’s hard to take.
Pope John Paul II has designated Sunday, July 9, as a Jubilee Day for Prisoners. On Saturday, July 8, Archbishop Buechlein was scheduled to celebrate Mass for Catholic prisoners at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute. This prison contains the only Federal “death row” in the country.
As one of the ways to mark this day, the bishops of Indiana are asking Catholic parishes throughout the state to show a 10-minute videotape sometime this weekend. The video, “Talking About the Death Penalty,” was produced by the Indiana Catholic Conference and Golden Dome Productions at the University of Notre Dame. We will show this video after all Masses in the Parish Council Room. Enter through the door in the courtyard. After this weekend, if anyone would like to borrow this short video to show at home or to a small group, let me know.
There was also an insert or brochure on the Death Penalty as an insert in The Criterion last week. It was produced to aid in discussing regarding the Church’s teaching.
We all know that the Church’s teaching on capital punishment is very difficult for many people. It is a teaching that, in fact, has slowly evolved to its present form. Pope John Paul’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life, is a major influence on our current teaching on the death penalty. Please use this opportunity to reflect and pray about this teaching in the context of the Church’s consistent and strong pro-life ethic.
Once again, for vacationing Catholics, I repeat: A group called Mass in Transit has information about churches and Mass times all over the United States. It’s a great service, available twenty-four hours a day. Their phone number is 800-627-7846. You need to have the zip code of where you are going, which you can obtain from any post office or from travel brochures. You will receive the name of the church, phone number, address, and times of the Sunday and weekday Masses.
Faithfully yours in God’s Providence,