The Death Penalty & Pro-Life Credibility
Just over a year ago an organization calling itself “The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty” was announced. Karen Clifton, its executive director, said at the time that CMN was created with the encouragement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
After hearing about the organization’s efforts to host programs through the nation’s dioceses, I asked aloud whether CMN’s message, and particularly Clifton herself, was going to confuse Catholics on the difference between support for the death penalty and support for abortion.
Prior to being named as executive director of CMN, Clifton had signed a petition of Catholics endorsing Barack Obama for president, declaring then candidate Obama as “pro-life.”
Clifton responded in the comments section of my earlier article saying it had “mischaracterized” her “support for the Obama candidacy.” Clifton explained at the time:
“You claim that the petition I signed ‘endorsed Obama as ‘pro-life’. It did not. Nor did I ever consider him “pro-life”. Indeed, nowhere on the petition was the term “pro-life” used, nor was any other reference made to the abortion debate. This fact, which you would have learned had you taken the trouble to contact the organization, is that the staff of Catholics for Obama unveiled the “pro-life” characterization when it posted the list of signatories on its web site, where you found it.”
Clifton’s intervention made her leadership of CMN even more problematic, though I made no further comment on the matter at the time. The fact remains that Clifton has admitted she signed a petition endorsing Obama in spite of the fact that she did not “consider him ‘pro-life’.”
Why problematic? Clifton’s message, as the head of CMN, is all about the credibility of the pro-life message. Consider this quote from a recent article on Clifton and the CMN at Catholic News Agency:
“Clifton spoke against the continued use of the death penalty, saying that Catholics need to be consistent in promoting the Church’s stance on the issue. Failure to do so, she added, puts the faith community at risk of not being taken seriously on other pro-life initiatives.”
Clifton infers that a Catholic who does not support abolishing the death penalty risks being credible as a pro-lifer. Really? What about a Catholic leader who publicly endorses a presidential candidate she does not not consider pro-life, a candidate she knows supports abortion?
Clifton herself not only lacks credibility on pro-life issues but also she is misusing the old “consistent ethic of life” argument to equate the death penalty with other pro-life issues such as abortion. According to this logic we have to be consistent on matters that are not intrinsically evil in order to be taken seriously on matters that actually are intrinsically evil.
Then again, given Clifton’s public support for President Obama, why would we expect such clarity on pro-life issues from her or from CMN itself.
Catholic Advocate recently published a guide to voting Catholic on the issue of the death penalty. That guide clearly distinguished between the Church’s position a Catholic’s obligation to seek “bloodless means” and abolishing the death penalty altogether.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate