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Comments from Fr. Giacomo Capoverdi

From the Pew Forum


Federalist Society - Washington, DC


Symposium in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Federalist Society

Hi, I'm Father Giacomo Capoverdi. I'm a priest with the group Priests for Life. And of course I find this conversation very fascinating considering the fact that Priests for Life and the director of Priests for Life, Father Frank Pavone, played such a vital role in the whole situation that happened with Terri Schiavo. I think the problem that we're coming upon here, and the difficulty we're having, is distinguishing and determining if our laws should support the taking of innocent life. And that is really, I think, where this debate can lead us to.  

And as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, and as far as the moral code of what we believe and what Christianity teaches, it's always wrong to take an innocent life. In the Old Testament God tells Moses that "Thou shalt not kill" is one of the commandments, yet you see in the Old Testament the Jews would kill their opponents in battle. So certainly God didn't mean "thou shalt not kill under any circumstances," but what he meant specifically and what our culture has come to embrace very rightly is "thou shalt not take innocent life."  

So that is why when we broaden the parameters of whose life isn't worthy, or whose life legally can be taken, we find ourselves in very dangerous territory, which is what Edward was describing. And this issue then determines a whole broad range of other issues like the abortion issue. Can an innocent life be taken if it's in the womb, if it has a heartbeat, if it can feel pain and brainwaves, if it has fingerprints? This is an innocent life, and yet the laws right now determine that it can be taken.  

And so if someone is vulnerable in a situation, like they're dying, can that life be taken away from them? And we need to realize that in all cases it's wrong to take an innocent life, and certainly that includes the life of someone who is dying. You know, we make the distinction between whether or not morally you stop something, you stop treatment or you aggressively do something that is going to cause that person to die. Like in Terri Schiavo's case, she was in a hospice and she wasn't dying. There was no reason for her to be in a hospice. Her husband decided to put her there, but she wasn't dying. Father Pavone testifies that when he went to see her and spoke to her, she looked at him very intently. When he prayed she closed her yes. She followed him as he walked around the room. And yet sustenance was called a medical treatment, and it was removed from her, considering it was a medical treatment. But you and I, we just had lunch and we wouldn't consider this a medical treatment. We would consider this just sustenance that we received to keep us alive.  

And so I think she is a good example of how, with a loss such as this, that could pass as assisted suicide - it already is leading to blurring that line about who is worthy to live and who should be killed because maybe they are unproductive in society or because maybe they are considered to be in a quote, unquote, "vegetative state."  

MR. RABEN: I don't get paid enough to take that on. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. I both respect everything you have said and I hear it a lot. I'll say a couple of things in response. I not only deeply respect your view and your education about what you would do and what you counsel people to do. I fully support and will work seven days a week - which I already do at my firm - I will fully support your right to implement your views and to define your life and the lives of those who agree with you in the way you see fit. And so there is nothing about anything I'm doing or advocating that has anything to do with how you implement your choices about how you live your life and how you die. Nothing.  

I guess the fundamental question I would ask is how your deeply held views about life translate into the standing of the government to make the same decisions for other adults who are competent to so make them. And that is where I think we're going to not only disagree, but disagree for several generations. I love the Lord. I pray every day. I'm a member of synagogues. I try to abide by the law. I have very strong personal views that are infused with my relationship with God about how to die and how to live my life.  

Those views don't inform anything about you and what decision you should make when you're in the hospital room with your mom. Nothing. I have no standing through my government to exhort you that this is innocent, this isn't innocent, this is a course of treatment that is appropriate, this isn't appropriate. And I would ask the same of you.  

I have got a lot of other thoughts about innocent life. And one of the things I love about the Catholic Church and really appreciate is that their defense of life is significantly broader than what you just said. They don't limit it to innocent life. The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty.

FR. CAPOVERDI: But it's not an intrinsic evil.  

MR. RABEN: The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty.  

MR. WHELAN: Father is pointing out - and I think we need to make sure that the Catholic teaching is not misrepresented - that there is a fundamental distinction between Catholic teaching on things like abortion and euthanasia, and the Catholic teaching, which is essentially prudential, on the status of capital punishment.  

FR. CAPOVERDI: You can be an orthodox Catholic and raised in the church's teaching and believe in the death penalty, but you can't be an orthodox Catholic embracing the church's teaching and believe in abortion or assisted suicide because one is an intrinsic evil, and the other is wrong, but not always wrong.  

MR. RABEN: I withdraw a proposition I didn't even make, which is that I have any standing to explain Catholic doctrine. Okay, I don't know where that came from, but believe me, believe me, I have zero ability to explain or defend, but -  

MR. WHELAN: Robert, can I jump in to offer my answer to the question you posed? The question as I understand it is, What standing do you have to try to impose through the democratic process your views on this? It's a very important and interesting question. I think the answer at bottom lies in a distinction between what we Catholics would call natural law, on the one hand - reasoning that is not at its core sectarian but attempts to appeal to the human mind (which isn't to say that some won't reject it) - and sectarian teaching on the other. And I supposed the very belief in this distinction may turn on the broader distinction between good and evil that I was maintaining before and that I think you, whether it's semantics or not, were rejecting. 


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