As we prepared to execute the DC Sniper (which is a misnomer, since only one of the murders actually happened within the District), a debate about capital punishment and the Culture of Life. I addressed the issue of the sniper in my essay published Monday in the Examiner, so I will now address the larger question.
The question is this, must one always avoid taking the life of another if that other poses a mortal threat. This question touches on many moral questions, from whether an ectopic pregnancy may be actively aborted, to whether preventative sterilization may be used (either by surgery or chemical birth control) when the pregnancy will lead to either danger to the woman or economic danger for the family, to whether one may execute a criminal who presents a mortal danger to other inmates or to himself, to whether war is ever just, to whether one may shoot an armed assailant who is posing an immediate danger to a schoolyard full of children. Add to this the question of whether one may use deadly force to repel an assassination or attempted coup (especially if doing so could lead to a murderous tyranny) and the similar question of whether people can arm themselves to defend their own lives (or their property) or have armed agents to do so. Even the arming of the Swiss Guard which protects the Pope raises the identical question.
It seems that in most, if not all of these cases, the Pro-Life office in the United States and in the Vatican is consistently coming up with no as an answer, although it has not yet taken the step of disarming the Swiss Guard, which is telling.
How this question is answered depends upon both the ground rules one sets. If you use the witness of scripture and the early Church, clearly it is better not to resist. This does not end the argument, however. Under pure (meaning non-theistic) natural law reasoning, one need not insist on resistance, indeed, in some occasions one must use deadly force to protect innocent life.
One may martyr one’s self as a free and faith filled choice. One does not have the right to make this choice for others, whether one is in a pluralistic society or even an entirely Catholic one. Martyrdom is an individual decision. It cannot morally be imposed upon another. Catholic hospitals treat non-Catholics. The logic of my argument is that, if an abortion or sterilization is necessary to prevent physical harm to the mother, this cannot be imposed. While we can encourage the mother to witness to life, we cannot demand that she do so or rig the game so such witness is her only choice (regardless of whether she is Catholic or not).
We certainly cannot require such witness to be mandated by law. This is the worst type of coercion, yet tragically it seems that some in the Church are seeking just that. Those voices do not speak for me or the vast majority of Catholics. While they may validly encourage individual witness and seek a society where such witness is no longer necessary, they cannot make the enactment of what would be a moral tyranny part of the Church’s political agenda. This is not because of relativism or to become popular in society, but because mandating the witness of another is an inherently evil act. This is why many are comparing some in the Church (and the Evangelical right), quite justly, to the Taliban.