The Cooch and the Pope

popeBy Peter Galuszka

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” says Pope Francis, leader of the globe’s Roman Catholics, regarding abortion, gays and contraception.

One wonders if Ken Cuccinelli gets the message. Or maybe even Bob McDonnell. The attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate and the sitting governor have worn their stridently conservative Catholic views on their sleeves for years.

Abusing his office, Cuccinelli has taken strong positions to punish homosexuals and make legal abortion much less available. McDonnell likewise has been shutting down women’s health clinics and became a national laughingstock in 2012 for the trans-vaginal fiasco.

Now you have the Church’s new pope signalling a major shift away from these wedge issues that have alienated millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Conservative Catholics have long embraced sexually related issues as a way to hold what they consider an eroding ethical line. But in doing so, they are ignoring equally important issues such as social justice and keeping the church’s thinking medieval.

Francis is a breath of fresh air after his reactionary predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, a strict doctrinaire who forced a policy of exclusivity in the Church that was very harmful. Ditto the rock star Polish Pope.

It is ironic that Francis has ascended not long after Bishop Walter Sullivan, the former head of the Diocese of Richmond, died. From the 1970s until 2002, Sullivan, a Washington native, pushed his liberal views regardless of who was offended in this highly right wing state. He was as against abortion as any Catholic clergyman but he extended the thinking on the sanctity of life to include prisoners on death row, according to recent biography, “The Good Bishop” by veteran author and essayist Phyliss Theroux who lives in Ashland.

I recently reviewed her book for Style Weekly.

Sullivan, who died Dec. 11 at age 84, was incensed that former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. took to executions with relish after the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Since then, Virginia has put to death 110 convicts, giving it a rank of No. 2 in the country after Texas. Sullivan drew attention to the issue by attending every execution he could.

In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was running up the defense budget to best “The Evil Empire,” Sullivan actually told a well-to-do parish heavy with military contractors in Virginia Beach that it was wrong to be associated with the making of nuclear weapons. It sparked outrage and also landed Sullivan on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The current Bishop of Richmond who replaced Sullivan is a traditionalist who has rolled back many of Sullivan’s outreach initiatives to gays, women, convicts and the poor. One wonders how he will respond to the Pope’s vision. The New York Times says the Old Guard will likely pretend Pope Francis did not say what he did.

There may also be an impact on Virginia politics since the key top players tend to be Catholic. Besides Cuccinelli and McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine are, although they espouse a much more inclusive version of the faith.

The most strident is Cuccinelli who attended Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit school in D.C. (Full disclosure, I graduated from another Jesuit high school in the D.C. area and hardly share Cuccinelli’s views.)

To some extent, Cuccinelli has toned down the anti-gay rhetoric, but one only has to review his record as attorney general and in the state Senate to see where he stands.

Who knows, maybe he could form a new Catholic church just as some arch-conservative Episcopalians did. In any event, it looks like the Church is at the start of some badly needed changes.

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18 responses to “The Cooch and the Pope

  1. You either haven’t really paid any attention to Cuccinelli or else you just choose to ignore the obvious — he is very much in the tradition of Walter Sullivan and perhaps Francis, although Francis is still in the process of defining himself. The media and his enemies have decided what parts of Cuccinelli’s record they will focus on, but there is far more there than the pro-life ideology (which I agree is very much there.) There is a social gospel streak and a populist streak in his rhetoric and his record which I also trace to his Jesuit education. The debate between liberals (Sullivan) and conservatives within the Christian faith is a very legitimate argument over the role of government vs. the responsibility of the individual.

    I’ve long noted that many in the so-called Christian Right were more Right than Christian, but every now and then somebody comes along who combines them. I might put Cuccinelli in that category to some extent.

  2. Not sure how much of an impact the Pope has on American evangelicals and conservatives – who seem bound and determined to not only deny abortions but to also deny morning-after contraception – which I am totally not understanding the latter rationale as it almost seems to be some kind of “you have sinned and now you must pay” kind of mentality – worse than the Catholic Church orthodoxy.

    Of course white evangelicals seem to be “forgiven” for all their sins when they self-report to God after being “saved” – an option apparently not available to young girls engaging in sex.

    forgive me… I know I am uttering the vilest of blasphemy here…

  3. Breckinridge

    Total baloney.

  4. I had a Catholic education from kindergarten through my B.A. Never once did any instructor say that the death penalty was immoral per se. The latest “official” opposition is simply made up. Of course, individuals can reasonably hold positions supporting or opposing the death penalty, but not on official doctrine.

    But I did hear about subsidiarity on a regular basis. Big government Catholics ignore a fundamental teaching of the Church.

    I’m not arguing these principles should govern everyone, but Catholics should at least think about them.

  5. I wasn’t raised a Catholic. I wasn’t once a Catholic. I am a Catholic. I go to Mass almost every Sunday. I play golf with one of my priests.

    Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground about being a Catholic.

    The death penalty is wrong. Period. Every priest I have ever met opposes the death penalty. Pope John Paul II opposed the death penalty. “May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world.” (Prayer at the Papal Mass at Regina Coeli Prison in Rome, July 9, 2000).

    “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” (Homily at the Papal Mass in the Trans World Dome, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999).

    Ken Cuccinelli can never be a real Catholic so long as he supports the death penalty.

    • How do you explain the fact that, in 17 years of Catholic education with numerous discussions of the death penalty, I never once here was told the death penalty was per se against Church teaching? Were my instructors teaching error? If the death penalty violates Church doctrine, they were necessarily teaching error.

      I’ve asked this same question of Catholics who take the position the death penalty is against Church teaching and have never received any reasonable answer whatsoever. Why? Because there is no reasonable answer. Opposition to the death penalty is not Catholic doctrine even though many good Catholics oppose the death penalty.

      I see a big difference between someone opposing the death penalty based on his/her moral convictions and someone claiming the death penalty violates a church’s doctrine.

      This is quite similar to one’s views on war. I know a number of good Catholics who believe war is simply wrong. But that’s not Catholic teaching. The Church teaches the doctrine of just war. A war that meets the standards is just. One that does not, is not.

      • It is absolutely Catholic doctrine. It became doctrine in a 1995 papal encyclical. “Evangelium Vitae.” It specifies that the use of the death penalty is allowed only when the identity and responsibility of the condemned is certain and if capital punishment “is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

        The United States has many ways to defend human lives against the unjust aggressor. Life in prison without the possibility of parole, for example.

        I assume that you were in school before the 1995 encyclical.

        • An encyclical does NOT create doctrine. Catholic Doctrine comes from Scripture or Tradition, and for a teaching, such as the unacceptability of the death penalty to bind Catholics, it must be announced by the Pope speaking ex cathedra or by a council of bishops (Sacred Magisterium). There has been no such pronouncement by either the Pope or a Council.

          In sum, the 1995 statement on the death penalty carries no more weight than the 1960s statement on birth control.

          • What do you think ex cathedra means? It means “from the chair”. In addition, what is the Catholic definition of papal infallibility? Let’s go to the first Vatican Council ….

            “Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church”.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the death penalty is permissible in cases of extreme gravity. The Church teaches that capital punishment is allowed if the “guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined” and if the death penalty is the only way to defend others against the guilty party.

            PART THREE
            LIFE IN CHRIST
            SECTION TWO

            CHAPTER TWO

            ARTICLE 5

            This is the same catechism as the Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, etc.

            I am unsure how it could possibly be more clearly doctrine.

            Read it for yourself at the Vatican’s web site:



            “2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

            “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

            “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

            I don’t know how it could be any more clear.

          • An encyclical is not an ex cathedra pronouncement. And if it were, the use of birth control measures would have the same weight. Yet we all know that very few Catholics take In Humane Vitae seriously.

            In the words of Pope Innocent III, “We assent concerning the power of the state that is able to exercise a judgment of blood, without mortal sin, provided it proceed to inflict the punishment not in hate, but in judgment; not incautiously, but after consideration,” quoted in Judith A. Dwyer, ed., The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought (Collegeville, Minnesota: Michael Glazier, The Liturgical Press, 1994), p. 110.

            Before him, Pope Innocent I, “It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.”
            (Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495).

            “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.” (Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System, 14 September 1952, XIV, 328).

            Catechism of the Council of Trent

            “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

            “In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8). ” (Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566, Part III, 5, n. 4).

            Either the Church did a 180 or the earlier teachers were instructing error. How could both positions be doctrine? Perhaps, they weren’t.

          • The Doctors of the Church.
            St. Augustine “The same divine authority that forbids the killing of a human being establishes certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time.

            “The agent who executes the killing does not commit homicide; he is an instrument as is the sword with which he cuts. Therefore, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of public authority to put criminals to death, according to the law, that is, the will of the most just reason.” (The City of God, Book 1, chapter 21)
            St. Thomas Aquinas “It is written: ‘Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live’ (Ex. 22:18); and: ‘In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land’ (Ps. 100:8). …

            “Every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part exists naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we see that if the health of the whole human body demands the excision of a member, because it became putrid or infectious to the other members, it would be both praiseworthy and healthful to have it cut away. Now every individual person is related to the entire society as a part to the whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and healthful that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since ‘a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump’ (1 Cor. 5:6).” (Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 2)

            The fact that the evil ones, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement.

            They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so obstinate that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from malice, it is possible to make a quite probable judgment that they would never come away from evil.”

            (Summa contra gentiles, Book III, chapter 146)

          • TMT – what are these books you are quoting?

            forgive my ignorance guy but I’ve never heard of them.

            are you saying that, in fact, God did condone killing?

            are there quotes in the traditional bible that support that?

            what is the criteria that God gives that makes killing another person ok?

          • Larry,

            The books quoted from are books on theology written by Catholic Church leaders and theologians over the years. Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is generally regarded as one of the leading expositions of Catholic theology.

            I think we are debating the very difficult moral issue of whether the state can justifiably cause the taking of human life as judged by God’s (church, doctrine) standards. And, if so, under what circumstances? To my limited understanding, this involves questions of: capital punishment, just war, self-defense, the conduct of law enforcement, etc. Some include abortion and mercy killing as part of the fundamental question.

            I see these questions as very complex and believe good people can disagree. Most mainline churches have concluded that, under certain circumstances, the state can morally take a life. Others disagree. E.g. Sargent York’s decision to join the Army, rather than claim conscientious objector status based on the teaching of his pacifist church.

            My point remains: the “official” opposition of the Catholic Church to capital punishment is new and contrary to hundreds of years’ teaching. I think Catholics and all others can honestly and morally take differing positions on capital punishment.

          • Thanks TMT.. I was not aware that the church would sanction killings at all… I guess I was ignorant about it.

  6. basically the Church teaches collective, and for that matter – centralized approaches to the needs of our fellow men.

    Not only the Catholic Church but other churches have spent hundreds, thousands of years to help the less fortunate and not just “welfare”, in the template of the loaves and fish….

    today, evangelical and related religion have taken a convoluted turn for the worse – rendering judgement on others AND wanting to use government to impose de-facto penalties on those who are deemed not hewing to the proper religious morals.

    Cuccinelli is of that mold. He’s “pro-life” and opposes abortion but where is his support for contraception?

    it’s that kind of thing that reveals what I consider to be hypocrisy… because at the end of the day – religion is supposed to be teaching us to HELP our fellow man EVEN when they may “stray”.

    Helping others is not judgmental…at least it does not get in the way of helping others.

    In today’s world the evangelicals seems to have aligned themselves with the right – of which a good part of – IS judgmental AND blames.. washes it’s hands of problems.. that’s not charity.

  7. Can Jim Bacon speak ex cathedra? I thought he was agnostic.

  8. Oh.. and I WAS raised Catholic and went to Catholic School for a few years.

    My fondest remembrance was “Candy Day”. That was the day we were all instructed to bring a candy bar to school (and some money) and they were collected in the morning.

    That afternoon, after lunch, we were all invited to “buy” our favorite candy bar from the candy bar platter being passed around.

    Then the Nuns who would speak at us from the BACK of the classroom and instructed us to face forward…. and every now and then some hapless schmuck would feel the yardstick whacking down on his desk…

    The older I got, the more I started to think the Catholic Church was not for me. Since then I’ve been a Baptist and then an Episcopalian – often derided as Catholic “wannabies”. They like the ceremony but not the doctrine.

    Religion is the crack cocaine of many of the adherents… and that explains completely in my mind how they can be so vehemently “pro-life”, anti-abortion, anti-contraception and pro death-penalty.

    I’m quite sure that GOD is APPALLED at the stuff advertised these days in his name not the least of which is the Secret Muslim Obama.

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