The trial of Kermit Gosnell has come to an end and, as Tim Stanley points out in his article in The Telegraph blogs, it raises an important question for Catholics. Gosnell now faces the death penalty. The Catholic Church itself does not rule out completely the death penalty; how could it? Jesus himself never did in the account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-30). In fact meditating on this it can teach us how to respond and why as Catholics.
Politics and the Death penalty
The first thing is that as human beings our motives for wanting this form of justice are not always pure. The woman is caught in the act of adultery (John 8:4), there is no denying her guilt. However, the motivations of those who brought her before Jesus are highly suspect. Not only does the gospel writer question their reasons for bringing her (John 8:3-6 they made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" they were using this question as a basis for accusing him.") but the fact that they do shows their hypocrisy. Despite being caught in the act and therefore there must have been someone with her, her male partner is ignored.
In this society women are weak and therefore she is politically expedient. As Christians we should have been involved in the long hard battle to oppose abortion. Whether that is to make it illegal, or as my friend would put it, unthinkable through education. Yes, it's right and just that we stand Gosnell before the media and therefore society. He, unlike the woman in the encounter with Jesus, was not weak. His actions were ignored because it was politically expedient to do so; the weak ones were the children killed. However, the manner in which we stand him before society must be carefully considered.
Humanity and the Natural Law
In bringing the woman before Jesus in this way she is a pawn in a game of politics; her humanity is lost. By losing her humanity her accusers lose the point of the Law. Adultery is adultery because of natural law. We are the only ones in all the animal kingdom who are accountable to it despite our freedom to ignore it.
If we stand Gosnell before those who uphold abortion and forget his humanity we too will undermine the natural law by undermining the sanctity of life.
We do not have the right or ability to determine who lives and who dies, hence our inability to give the death penalty.
I say we do not have the ability as, due to original sin, none of us are immune to the frailties of our humanity in attempting to detrmine whose life should be taken. This is why Jesus says "let those who have no sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7). This, I believe, refers not only to the fact that we are guilty and therefore unqualified but that our guilt impedes our judgement of others. It gives us hearts of stone, not of flesh and blood.
Is the Death Penalty Ever Justified?
I know people may disagree with me because Gosnell's crimes were so abhorrent, his victims so innocent, surely even in our brokeness, we can confidently give this verdict.
This is a controversial position. As I previously said Jesus does not deny that the law calls for death. When people cry out for justice in this manner they are echoing one of the two most powerful cries that have repeated throughout the ages; "Why does a good God allow these things to happen?"
Justice demands retribution. Love demands mercy.
However if, as Christians, we focus only on the retribution we deny the triumph of the cross.
Jesus died to atone the sins of all mankind; those of Kermit Gosnell too.To end Gosnell's life now, before any repentance shown for the evil he has committed, will probably result in his spending eternity cut off from the grace of God. He deserves this, but I do too.
In my other posts I have spoken about how I have terminated a pregnancy. I am not as guilty as Gosnell in number, knowledge, barbarity etc, but I am still guilty.
If I compare myself to my mother, who has lived all her life as a holy, devout woman - righteous as they would say in the Old Testament - in her shadow I have been barbarous destroying life. Yet I believe God has forgiven me.
Look at others, such as John Newton who also disregarded the sanctity of life within his fellow humans; forgiven, redeemed, set free. To deny that this could happen to Gosnell denies the power of God.
What Happened to the Woman?We never hear of her again in the Gospels. Did she leave a changed person. Stood before Jesus He never denies or legitimises her guilt; "Go and sin no more".
When they first brought her to Him how did she feel? Frightened? Surely, she knew she was facing death. Defiant? Angry? The men dragging her before Him, she must have known of their reputations? Despite her guilt she may have been overcome with the injustice of that. Then here she was before Jesus. His actions - kneeling to write in the sand, his careful consideration - must have confused and stunned her. Then, the others leave until it must have felt like it was just the two of them.
As she looked at Jesus then did she have a sense of who He was?
She doesn't run. She waited. Is this because she starts to realise that there is no escaping from Him? "Then I condemn you neither".
I think at this stage she must know that not only does he have the power to do so, but the moral authority.
I say this because Gosnell too must be going through similar emotions. It is evident that he is not the only practitioner of later term abortions and he will convince himself of the injustice of his situation. However if we uphold Christ's stance, be his body, Gosnell may have something of the encounter with Him. How will Gosnell respond?