Q. In a parish bulletin column, our pastor said that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church roundly condemns capital punishment, which makes this issue one more thing that we need to pray about as we strive to build a civilization and culture of life.” Is that true? — T.L.H., Massachusetts.
A. No, it is not true that the Catechism “roundly condemns” capital punishment. What the Catechism (n. 2267) does say is that “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 in conformity with the dignity of the human person.”
The Catechism goes on to say that “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 nonexistent’ [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae n. 56].”
Q. If we have all descended from Adam and Eve, how do we account for the different races, with different colorings and facial differences? Did Adam look like a cave man or the Neanderthal Man? I doubt that they looked like the beautiful paintings we see depicting the couple in the Garden of Eden. — W.B., Kentucky.
A. We don’t know what Adam and Eve looked like, but we doubt if they looked like cave people. We know that they were created by God in an original state of holiness and justice, which they forfeited when they disobeyed God at the urging of Satan. They were highly intelligent beings fully aware of what they were doing, which is why their sin brought about such drastic consequences for them and for all who came after them. So there is no reason to assume that they were some kind of a mixture of man and beast.
As for where racial differences and colors came from, Fr. Albert J. Nevins said that while no one knows for sure what color Adam and Eve were, “the best scientific theory believes that our earliest ancestors were brown people — between white and black.” He explained further in his book The World Book of Peoples:
“As men multiplied, they began to spread out, seeking new areas for food. Gradually over the long centuries, those groups took on special characteristics, due in part to intermarriage within each group. Climate, environment, and diet were also factors.
“The people who were in northern Europe became lighter in color because of the loss of pigmentation. The people who were in the tropical zones became darker. Among some groups, inbreeding produced a majority of people with curly hair; among others, the majority had straight hair. Inbreeding made some groups grow tall, and others grow smaller. Because children inherited the characteristics of parents, certain qualities, passed on through generations, tended to become very strong.
“In this manner were the various races of the world developed. Actually all mankind was (and is) still one, springing from the one common pair of ancestors. The differences that have come among men were accidental differences. In all basic essentials, they were (and are) still the same” (p. 17).
Q. I read in our last diocesan newsletter that our diocese is seeking a part-time temporary social concerns intern. It goes on to say that the internship position will promote awareness of and participation in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
I know you have cautioned us about contributing to this because some of its grants have gone to groups assisting in the culture of death, but has there been a change in CCHD becoming all pro-life? While reading the American Life League newsletter (ALL), I became more concerned about the CCHD. — E.C., via e-mail.
A. While CCHD grants to some objectionable groups may have been halted, due to criticism from knowledgeable Catholics, we don’t think the overall problem has been solved. If Judie Brown at the American Life League is still concerned about some of the recipients of CCHD funds, then we should be worried too. Contact her at www.all.org for more information. Perhaps you could also ask whoever gets the job of social concerns intern in your diocese to make sure that the money donated by generous Catholics be directed only to groups that are in harmony with Church teaching.
Q. I have been meaning to ask you what your thoughts were concerning the Pope’s exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) issued late last year. The Washington Post published my letter with my thoughts (the letter is copied below). I was responding to a Eugene Robinson (a very liberal columnist) piece in which, in my opinion, he was congratulating Pope Francis in the belief that he was endorsing liberalism and condemning Christian conservatism. — D.M., Virginia.
A. In his letter to the Post, D.M. asked: “Did Mr. Robinson read Pope Francis’ exhortation? I saw a call to Christian evangelization. The Pope quotes Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples.’ He calls for all in his church to be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’ He says that ‘the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to,’ referring to those who have faith and live by it. He was not exhorting people to be liberal.
“Rather, he was warning us that materialism and the accumulation of wealth can blind us to our true mission of spreading the Gospel of Christ. He observed that those who have heard and practice the Gospel experience a profound liberation and become more sensitive to the needs of others.”
D.M. did well in a few words to show that Pope Francis had not joined the camp inhabited by Eugene Robinson and like-minded leftists, but one has to read the entire 224-page encyclical to understand what the Holy Father really said and not what those on the left would like the world to think he said.
Even the few excerpts that follow can only scratch the surface, and one ought to read the entire apostolic exhortation. Among other things, the Pontiff said that we have an obligation to “preach the Gospel” to all people (n. 23); that we must say no to “an economy of exclusion and inequality” where food is thrown away while people starve, where “the powerful feed upon the powerless” (n. 53), and where man is “reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption” (n. 55).
He said that religion cannot be “relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life” (n. 183); that the two great issues of our day are “first, the inclusion of the poor in society, and second, peace and social dialogue” (n. 185); that “the private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good” (n. 189); that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others” (n. 190); and that our special “option for the poor” is, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “‘implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with His poverty’” (n. 198).
Pope Francis said that business is “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market” (nn. 203-204).
He said that “it is the responsibility of the state to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus-building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility” (n. 240).