If Catholics support life so much, where were they when Troy Davis died?

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Saira Khan, a Pakistani-American woman who is vehemently pro-choice. She currently works in publishing but dedicates her free time to social commentary on her personal blog. Saira graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and hopes to pursue a Master’s in Journalism.

Over the past few weeks, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has made it very clear that they do not support the Obama Administration’s recent birth control mandate. Their main argument against it is that it violates their right to religious freedom. In regard to this notion, journalist Dante Atkins asks: “Where Were the Catholic Bishops when Troy Davis Died?,” referring to the recent execution of the man millions believe to have been wrongfully accused.

Anti-abortion Catholics and the bishops in question subscribe to the belief that all life is sacred. They don’t believe in birth control and most definitely don’t believe in abortions. More so, the Catholic Church officially opposes capital punishment. Atkins adds,

“This doctrine is in the same vein as those opposing abortion, birth control, and physician-assisted suicide: church doctrine dictates that life begins at conception and is a gift from God. Consequently, it is beyond the scope of any soul, no matter how high the earthly authority, to terminate a human life. It does not matter if it is legal, and it does not matter if the rationale is to relieve suffering: the taking of life is God’s department, not ours.”

Keeping this philosophy in mind, it is mind-boggling that the USCCB failed to act when the government took Troy Davis’ so-called ‘sacred’ life. Atkins continues, “Yet in the middle of September, as opposition to the impending execution of Troy Davis reached a fever pitch and a singular opportunity presented itself for the Church to not just call for an act of mercy, but support a key element of doctrine, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was silent as the grave. Yes, some local Catholic bishops in Georgia did support the conscience of their doctrine by calling for a reprieve, but the USCCB, the organization most responsible for lobbying and policy advocacy on behalf of the Holy See here in the United States, sat idly by. The execution of a possibly innocent man was not enough to stir the bishops into action.”

This lack of response and apathetic attitude of the USCCB towards real human life is perplexing. Especially, considering that they spend so much of their time defending the notion that all life is sacred and attempt to deprive women of their free will to choose in regards to their sexuality.

The Troy Davis execution is great example of the blatant disregard for life outside of the womb that the USCCB holds. Their silence has inadvertently exposed their hypocrisy and lack of commitment to the notion that every life is sacred. If you search hard enough on the USCCB website, you may be able to find a page titled “Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.” While there is no mention of Troy Davis on this website, there is a quote from 2005 that states, “Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life.”

For anyone grappling with the USCCB’s choice not to speak up, this lukewarm quote is hardly reassuring of their commitment to end capital punishment.

The crux here is that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it a point to fight the birth control mandate to protect what they call the sanctity of life. Yet when these very same bishops had the opportunity to speak up about saving the life of a possibly innocent man, one whom the state had no physical evidence against, they remained quiet. Their fight against abortion and birth control is relentless and constant. Luckily, at the moment these bishops don’t have the power to prevent a woman from getting an abortion but as we are aware, they are trying very hard to make that possible. Nonetheless when they did have the power to possibly influence the outcome of the execution and save a life they chose not to act.

There is no guarantee that had the USCCB expressed concern about the execution that they would have been able to stop it, but being a large organization that has the ability to lobby and possibly influence social policy, had they thrown their support in with the people who were demanding clemency perhaps the outcome could have been different. Further more, the USCCB has closed relationships with powerful Republicans that also could have done something. But Troy Davis’s life was not an important enough cause for them. They violated their religious conscience, I assume, in order to maintain political relationships.

Is the perceived life in a fetus more important than the actual life of a living, breathing man with memories? Or did they in fact want to appease their Republican counterparts? Whether it was because they didn’t care enough or that they didn’t want to throw their support in with the types of people that were lobbying against the execution, the fact is they didn’t do anything and they didn’t voice their outrage about the extinguishing of Troy Davis’ life. In many such cases actions speak louder than words, and in this case particularly, the USCCB’s lack of action spoke very loud and extremely clear.


  1. Hi all, Saira here.

    I want to point out that if you read the Atkins article, he CLEARLY states that SOME local GA bishops attempted to intervene; I didn’t think it necessary to mention that since it’s stated in the article and I am focusing on the lobbying and adovcating practices of the USCCB.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. Thanks for your post, Saira! I find the hypocrisy of those that are both anti-choice and pro-death penalty just breathtaking. It’s just further proof that all they care about is restricting women’s choices and telling them what to do with their bodies, not actually valuing the people that are already here.

  3. I’m a Catholic and your article uses an old and worn out false stereotype that those that are Pro-Life don’t care if convicted criminals are put to death. This is false because Catholics do support life in all shapes and forms, just not in a liberal fashion.

    I’m Pro-Life and I don’t want anyone to die. If you really think the death penalty and abortion are the same thing then we must be admitting that abortion is sentencing a baby to the death penalty. Although, an unborn baby has not been convicted of any crime, but Life.

    • Interesting, Jackie. What does it mean to support life “in a liberal fashion?” You either value it or you don’t.

      Why is the life of the guilty less valued? Not to mention the dubiousness of claiming every person now on death row is assuredly guilty–is our justice system as infallible as the pope?

      John Paul II befriended the man who attempted to kill him. Jesus forgave those who crucified him. Those crazy liberals! They should value life like *real* Catholics.

      You should spend some time thinking about how you are able to rationalize this contradiction. You don’t get to choose the easy positions and forswear the more difficult ones. It’s easy to value life in utero. It’s much harder to when the person is already here. But if you’re a faithful person with a consistent ethical code you are obliged to do both.

      Or you could just decide to be a hypocrite. Most people are. Hypocrites don’t have much ground to stand on, though, when they come to comment at a website and criticize others for their moral positions.

      • c. lauren says:

        Essentially calling someone a hypocrite is a little judgmental, don’t you think? (Not to mention an “ad hominem” (to the person) attack. Just because a “capital punishment” is wrong doesn’t somehow magically make abortion right. It does sound like you’re admitting they’re in the same category, of “life” issues. It seems that you are setting up a straw (wo)man argument-something that is easy to denounce, while doing nothing to prove that abortion isn’t wrong.

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