In a column about Judge Roberts’ personal views on controversial social issues, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, declared that Roberts could face difficult questions on the Supreme Court if he had to take up a death penalty case. According to Turley, who claims he was raised in the Catholic Church, the church believes the use of the death penalty is an “immoral act.” But that’s just false. Article 2267 of the Catholic catechism, an authoritative compendium of church teaching, says the church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives” against criminals.
It’s not clear where Turley got his misinformation. Turley brought this up in the context of saying that Roberts could end up being chastised by “his possible colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative members of the court (and a devout Catholic).” Turley said that “Last year, Scalia chastised Catholic judges who balk at imposing the death penalty?another immoral act according to the church?” Scalia had said that “The choice for a judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty.”
Not only was Turley saying that Roberts would have a problem endorsing the death penalty, he was saying that Scalia may be violating church teaching by endorsing it. But the charge is clearly false. Even on the anti-death penalty website of Americancatholic.org, you read that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty “in nearly all cases?” The phrase “nearly all” means that the church supports the death penalty in some cases. As such, the church can hardly hold a position of believing the death penalty is immoral.
It’s true that Scalia, a Catholic, has said that judges who oppose capital punishment should resign. But that’s not a contradiction of church teaching. Scalia says the death penalty is not immoral and that support for it has been part of Christian and Catholic tradition in the old and new testaments.
Because of the actual church position, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, where Turley resides, has never argued that capital punishment is inherently immoral. He cannot make that argument because that is not the position of the church. Turley should either go back to church or go back to school.