By Bishop Robert Vasa
A murder trial took place in Kansas. It was the kind of murder trial over which editors of newspapers salivate. It is the case of a man accused of shooting and killing a well-known late term abortionist. It is most important, at the outset, for me to strongly condemn the action of the man accused of taking the abortionist’s life. Such an action, despite the heinousness of late-term abortions, can never be approved or in any way condoned as a means to end the even more horrific crime against humanity — abortion. The action this lone gunman took, even if driven by the conviction that in killing this one man he might be saving the lives of innumerable innocent children, cannot be viewed in any way as justifiable homicide.
Now there’s a juxtaposition of words that confounds the imagination — justifiable homicide. There is, however, a precedent in our land for just such a juxtaposition. The use of the death penalty by the state is, in reality, the result of a determination that, in some rare instances, it is permissible to directly and intentionally kill another human being. There are certainly other essential considerations and these cannot be dismissed. First, the state has the right and duty to protect its citizens from harm. Second, the victim of the state’s terminal action has been determined in a court of law, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be not innocent but rather guilty of a serious, state-recognized crime. Third, the state must have arrived at the conclusion that there is no other sufficient means to keep its citizens safe. According to the Catechism, if “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.” (CCC, 2267) Finally, again according to the Catechism, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (CCC, 2267)
The first premise is clear, the state has the duty to protect its residents from harm. This duty extends, not only to officials of the state, but to every citizen, especially every Christian. It is a most serious obligation. The state especially has the duty to protect its residents from the ultimate harm of being killed. Note, I did not say that the state has the duty only to protect its innocent residents but rather all of its residents, whether perceived to be innocent by someone’s individual judgment or not. Thus the state had the duty to protect the life of the abortionist and has the duty to prosecute the man who took his life. But what does one do when he becomes convinced that the state is grievously failing in its primary duty, that of protecting its innocent residents from death? Further, what does one do when he becomes convinced that the very men and women elected to government positions are grievously failing in their primary duty, that of protecting its innocent residents from death? Further yet, what do we do when we become convinced that we have failed to do all we can or should do to help assure that innocent residents are protected from death? There may be some who would seek to justify the Kansas man’s action with the eye for an eye argument — death for death, murder for murder. This is not, however, the law of our land and all of us must be grateful that it is not.
There is no doubt that the Kansas man is singularly responsible for his actions and a jury determined, as prudently as possible, the extent of his guilt and culpability. But where does responsibility or true moral culpability rest? The Kansas man acted within the context of a specific American set of conditions and circumstances. He acted in the context of a culture that fails and even adamantly refuses to recognize something I read recently in a clinically oriented embryology textbook published in 2008. There I read; “Zygote: This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote or embryo is the beginning of a new human being.” In truth, this is something we all know. This is something legislators and judges know. This is something doctors know. This is something the abortionists know extremely well. It is thus perfectly legitimate to avow that abortion destroys an innocent human being. What it may not be legally correct to assert, in our culture, is that abortion is murder. It is correct to assert this as a moral conviction and that is a conviction I definitively hold — abortion is murder.
The cultural landscape, however, is such that this act of destroying the scientifically recognized human being is not legally murder, in fact, it is no crime at all solely because legislators and judges are failing to do their God-given duty of protecting human beings under their jurisdiction. Their failure is “justified” by the claim that this particular class of human beings is not “legally” recognized as sufficiently human to merit state protections.
I have no doubt that any killing of black men and women in the early history of America was murder even though such an action would not technically have been murder since the man or woman killed was not, at that time, a legally recognized human being.
Nevertheless, I believe that those men and women were real and actual human beings even before they were afforded state recognition of their personhood. The failure of the legislators and judges of that period to recognize them as full human beings pales in comparison to the failure of legislators and judges in our day to recognize real and actual pre-born human beings. Given the ease of communication today, the ready availability of scientific knowledge and the absolute clarity of Church teaching, an entire nation must now be declared complicit with or, perhaps even worse, increasingly complacent to the enormous numbers of “justifiable homicides” being committed each day under the guise of health care.
A Kansas man will undoubtedly be held accountable for what he has done. Every man and woman in America will be held accountable for what we have failed to do — for the little ones whom we have failed to recognize and protect.