17 October 2007

Justice Scalia Speaking on Faith and Justice

Supreme Court Justice Scalia spoke at a recent symposium at Villanova U. giving his opinion on being Catholic and a Justice but not a Catholic Justice. His lecture was part of a daylong symposium titled "Avoiding Dogmatism on a Disputed Question." Of particular interest are his comments regarding the death penalty. Oftentimes when one discusses the Catholic teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of abortion there will be someone quick to suggest that we are hypocrites if we oppose abortion but support the death penalty. Justice Scalia in his usual clear manner defeats that position.

Other speakers took on such topics as how the medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas might have distinguished between the work of judges and lawmakers, and on the modern relevance of natural law - the notion that laws grounded in the examples of nature are universally valid.
Scalia's assertion that he was comfortable with capital punishment - despite the Catholic Church's strong discouragement of its use - did provoke a challenge.
"You defend a right of conscientious doubt [regarding Catholic teaching] on the death penalty," a woman in the audience asked during the question period. "That sounds liberal."
"I have a basis for dissent," Scalia replied: "Several millennia of Catholic practice." He said that - unlike on abortion - the Catholic Church had never issued an infallible judgment that capital punishment was universally wrong.
"The church has always set forth a philosophy of punishment that an evil act sets forth disorder, and must be punished," he said. Despite Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae decrying capital punishment and other forms of violence, Scalia said, "I don't think Catholic dogma has changed on this."
He concluded that Americans should disabuse themselves of the notion that "everything you care about personally is in the Constitution."
"Well, it's not," he said. "What it says, it says. What it does not say, it does not say.

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