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The U.S. Catholic bishops will meet in Baltimore, Md., Nov. 12-15, to approve a voting guide for members of the Catholic church. The document does not tell Catholic for whom to vote but it does say, “A consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life.”

A New York Times article notes that two U.S. Supreme Court justices voted against a stay of execution for a man challenging not his guilt, but rather the method of execution. As with many others facing execution in the United States, this man contends that the current mix of chemicals used to kill the condemned prisoner can lead to a painful and slow death, in violation to the U.S. Constitution prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The two justices were Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

Here’s the interesting part. Both Scalia and Alito are Catholics. (Scalia’s son, Paul, is a Catholic priest in the Arlington, Va., diocese and heads that diocese’s gay ministry.) Of the nine members of court, five are Catholics (Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito). It is nonetheless unnerving to find the two who voted to allow the execution to go ahead are both Catholics.

The official Catholic catechism basically says that, although in times of lawlessness capital punishment may be permitted, if prisons are available then capital punishment is not permitted (no. 2267). The recent pope, John Paul II, said that he could think of no place in today’s world where capital punishment would be permitted (Evangelium Vitae, 56).

Four years ago, during the 2004 election cycle, much was made by the press about whether John Kerry — who personally opposed abortion but felt that, as an elected leader, he could not oppose it by making laws — should be able to received communion.

Now, here are a couple of Catholics, who could do far more at ending capital punishment that a president can do to end either the death penalty or abortion, who vote to allow a man to experience what could well be a slow, painful and terrifying death. Scalia is even on record saying that he does not think that the death penalty is immoral, something more reaching than anything John Kerry ever said. And no one is challenging the right of these two men to receive communion.

The inconsistency in all this is beyond me. Kerry, one of 100 senators, who individually can do little to save a single life, gets raked over the coals. These two men vote just 17 minutes before the scheduled execution to allow that execution to proceed, and the silence is deafening.

What a world we live in!

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