The issue of capital punishment with respect to the pro-life movement can indeed be a probing dilemma.  The question is, how does the pro-lifer resolve this issue in relation to the capital punishment policy of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) of Canada?

In a letter to the editor published in the July/August issue of The Interim, this question is raised by Fr. Lawrence Abello, S.J.  Writing from Calcutta, India, he refers to the CHP policy, asking “How can we have a pro-life party that discredits its pro-life position by not being 100 per cent pro-life?”

The writer of this column is among those members of the CHP who have come into the CHP movement in order to better fight for political restoration of the pro-life principle once again in our great nation of Canada.  Although not a one-issue party, one of the strongest planks in the policy platform of CHP is its policy on abortion.

Its policy on the Sanctity of Human Life states, in part, “We affirm that human life is sacred from conception and has God-given value, regardless of race, age, gender or physical or mental handicap (Exodus 4:11).”  The policy further reads to prohibit”…death by means such as abortion, euthanasia or suicide.”

There are undoubtedly a number of CHP members who strongly identify with the pro-life movement, and vice versa.  To relate this question of the pro-life position to the capital punishment policy of CHP, perhaps one should first refer to the wording of the policy itself.

In full, the CHP policy on capital punishment reads as follows: “We affirm that man was created in the image of God, and that justice, therefore, requires the ultimate deterrence and punishment for the shedding of innocent blood.  Government is that minister of God invested with the power of the ‘sword’ (Rom. 13:4) to punish evildoers and promote the good.  We believe that the law should provide for justice which includes capital punishment for those found guilty by an unanimous verdict of judge and jury of offences so heinous in character as to be termed ‘capital’ (Gen. 9:6; Lev. 24:17).”

To balance this policy, and to be fair, the CHP also has a policy dealing with the Objectives of the Justice System.  The fourth objective listed under this policy states that one of the objectives and aspirations of the Canadian Justice System should be, “To induce, if possible, a repentant attitude and effect rehabilitation of the offender.”

The question remains, of course, as to how the pro-lifer can reconcile these two policy positions, one clearly supporting in full the right-to-life of all Canadian citizens, regardless of developmental age or status, and the other supporting the right of the state to effect the death penalty when judged, by due process of law, to be warranted.  No doubt there are pro-lifers both inside and outside the CHP who are grappling with this very question.

Certainly, when recruiting new members, the capital punishment policy is one of the first questions posed by prospective members in the pro-life movement.  While CHP is not officially connected to the pro-life movement, it must be said however, that the two movement have much in common, with respect to furthering the pro-life cause in the public life of this country.

How then does the pro-lifer, who otherwise identifies with most other CHP policies deal with the capital punishment issue?  Is the pro-lifer better off working within one of the secular federal parties, simply because of this policy on capital punishment, or can this person find a position of accommodation within CHP.

One must look at how this policy was received at the founding convention of CHP held November 18-21, 1987, in Hamilton, Ontario.  As one of two delegates from the Cumberland-Colchester riding, this writer observed that because of the large numbers of policies presented at the convention, and the extremely limited time available, many policies passed basically by means of a rubber stamp vote by delegates.  The capital punishment policy, to this writer’s recollection, did not receive significant debating time on the convention floor, before being voted upon by about 524 delegates.

It is interesting to note, however, that despite the fact pro-life members were not afforded time on the convention floor to properly present the pro-life view, this policy probably received the largest number of dissenting votes of any policy passed at the convention.  The capital punishment policy was supported, by this author’s estimate, by roughly two-thirds of the delegates, who voted by raising their delegate cards.

It appeared that about a good one-third of delegates voted against the policy.  Party organizers conducting the policy session took a count of the number of those opposed to the policy as information for future policy-making purposes.

The next policy convention of the CHP will be held in the fall of 1989 in Edmonton.  There appears to be a fairly significant wing in the CHP membership which would likely favour a second look at this policy and hopefully this opportunity will be afforded at that time.

This is not to say, however, that the policy will be completely reversed in Edmonton.  It is more likely that the policy could be modified and could very well receive a much fuller debate among party rank and file.

There is a strong centre-right wing in the party which firmly supports capital punishment.  This camp is made up largely of Evangelical Protestant members who believe there is clear biblical evidence for the death penalty.

The centre-left element among the membership, comprised mostly from mainline Protestant/Catholic members, oppose the death penalty.  Their thinking is that all Canadians are entitled to the right to life, including the criminal.

This writer leaves it to the experts to give the final word on the scriptural and moral arguments for or against capital punishment.  To provide just two references for the reader, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., in The Catholic Catechism (Doubleday & Co., 1975) states “Capital punishment is part of the acknowledged Christian tradition , illustrated by St. Paul’s statement…(Rm. 13:4).”

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the evangelist quotes Jesus as saying “You have learnt how it was said: “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth’ but I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.” (Matt. 5:38-39).

However, the Jerusalem Bible is unclear as to the severity of injustice spoken of by Christ.  The commentator does appear to be referring to crimes of a lesser extent than a capital offence.  Furthermore it appears difficult to find a direct reference in the gospels to capital punishment.

The abolitionists, then, in CHP, must find their own ground within the party.  Although the pro-lifer may not agree with the capital punishment policy, he/she can in conscience accept a party with which there is much more agreement on other policy issues.

In the final analysis, the pro-lifer will find much more policy to agree with in CHP than in the case with the secular parties.  Particularly when the chips are down as far as human life issues are concerned across this land, pro-life/pro-family electors must remember the larger picture which requires the absolute solidarity of all pro-lifers and Christian democrats.