“We see the teachings of the Church as truth – a source of authentic freedom, equality, and happiness for women,” the letter stated. “We stand in solidarity with our sisters in the developing world against what Pope Francis has described as ‘forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family’ and which exalt the pursuit of ‘success, riches, and power at all costs’.”
In a 2006 address to law school students, she exhorted them to make it their “life project to know, love, and serve the God who made you.”
In a 1998, Barrett, along with colleague John Garvey – who would later become dean of Boston College’s law school and president of The Catholic University of America – wrote about the moral conundrum Catholic judges face when presiding over capital cases.
These judges, they wrote, “are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty. They are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters.”
Both Barrett and Garvey cited Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” in the article, which explored the culpability of Catholic judges in capital cases, where they either chose a death sentence for a defendant or affirmed the jury’s decision in favor of a death sentence.
The article cited from “Evangelium Vitae,” from statements by the U.S. bishops’ conference, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, and from other Catholic thinkers and theologians.
First, the authors explored the morality of the death penalty itself. There is no “absolute” prohibition on the death penalty as there is against abortion and euthanasia in Church teaching, they said.
At the time, the new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had been released, citing the teaching on the death penalty from “Evangelium Vitae,” which said that the death penalty may only be used by society when no other means exists of enforcing justice and protecting the citizenry.
With regards to criminal justice, “the primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is ‘to redress the disorder caused by the offence’, Pope John Paul II wrote, adding that there must be “an adequate punishment for the crime.”
However, he continued, the punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
“The appeal to general deterrence is a claim that we should do evil for the good that may come of it, and that is an impermissible suggestion,” Barrett (then Amy Coney) and Garvey wrote in 1998 of appeals to the death penalty for “deterrence” of future crime.
Regarding the use of capital punishment to ensure security, prisons in the U.S. have the ability to securely detain criminals from harming society again, they wrote, and arguments in favor of the death penalty here “will work only in parts of the world far less developed than the United States.”
(Story continues below)
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Then the authors explored the question of the culpability of Catholic judges who preside over capital cases in the U.S., judges who might have to affirm or issue death sentences despite the statements of the pope and bishops against use of the death penalty except in rare cases which might not even apply in the U.S.
For instance, a judge who issues a death sentence based upon the recommendation of the jury “is a straightforward case of formal cooperation, one in which the judge sets the wheels of injustice in motion,” they wrote.
“Once the judge enters the order, the government is authorized – indeed unless there is a pardon, bound – to put the defendant to death,” they explained. “And the judge intends that this should happen.”
A judge would also engage in formal cooperation in cases without a jury, where he selects the sentence.
“The moral problem with suspending judgment in a capital sentencing hearing is like this. It would be wrong for a judge to place himself at the service of evil by getting in a position to go where events may take him,” they wrote.
For a judge to preside over a “guilty” hearing, however, before a sentence is considered, that would be “morally justified,” they said.