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Home : Viewpoints : Editorials
11/26/2012 10:50:00 AM
Confronting evil with action, faith
Catholic News Service photo
Women attend a candlelight vigil Aug. 6 at the Sikh Temple in Brookfield, Wis., in memory of the victims of a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., the previous day.
Catholic News Service photo
Women attend a candlelight vigil Aug. 6 at the Sikh Temple in Brookfield, Wis., in memory of the victims of a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., the previous day.
Tom Sheridan

The conversation was about evil.

There were four of us, all guys, driving to a senior softball game. Discussion centered around the morning news reports. Texas had executed yet another murderer. And the Tucson, Ariz., shooter who killed six people and wounded several others last year, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would escape the death penalty.

The talk was sadly predictable. The execution delighted my buddies, despite the fact that the murderer had an IQ of only 61. That Giffords' assailant, Jared Loughner, would spend the rest of his life in prison brought only hoots of displeasure. Rope and a tree were mentioned.

Such crimes -- and such conversations -- put renewed focus on the existence of evil in our world, and how we respond to it.

We are not an evil people. Our actions, however, demonstrate that we are a people with a capacity for evil.

That capacity is revealed in senseless acts, such as the hate-fueled slaughter at the Sikh temple outside Milwaukee in August and the July massacre at the Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., as well as in war, terrorism, abuse, abortion, poverty and too much more.

We shouldn't be surprised at the evil around us; it has long been there. Nevertheless, evil must be recognized before it can be faced.

Following the Colorado shooting, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley acknowledged that the shooter's "heart was ruled by evil." Scant weeks later, when told of the Aug. 5 attack on the Sikh temple, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki responded, "This tells us that we have to be mindful of evil in the world."

True enough. The question, as always, is how must Catholics respond? We can flash to anger; we can hate. Or we can act with justice.

Hardly had emergency sirens faded away outside the theater in Aurora before the first calls sounded for the death of the alleged shooter, James Holmes. Web comment boards, letters to the editor and media reports were filled with demands that he be put to death "as painfully as possible."

My friends in the car that day were quick to join the chorus of those who believe that revenge is a response to evil. "I'm from the old school," one told me almost proudly. "It's an eye for an eye."

But revenge is simply hate turned inside out. And hate is its own brand of evil.

That's one reason why the church generally opposes capital punishment, even for heinous crimes when bloodless means such as life in prison can protect society. It's a long-standing article of faith that an "evil action cannot be justified" by having a good intention (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

In 2005, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington spoke for U.S. bishops, saying, "We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing."

How we respond to evil is a mark of faith.

We are called to be merciful even as we are called to challenge the evil that surrounds us. Yet that is a part of our faith that draws many complaints from Catholics. When the church addresses the evil in the world by fighting for justice, working to end poverty, demanding support for life issues, opposing war and more it is seen as soft and even too liberal.

Confronting evil with justice tempered with mercy is a way of restating Jesus' request to turn the other cheek. The cycle of evil must be broken.

That morning, after the debate in the car over execution simmered down, I asked my eye-for-an-eye friend when revenge replaced justice. He stopped for a moment and said, "You know, I'll have to think about that."

Well, maybe that's progress.

The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.

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