Two recent disagreements I have had with so-called conservative Catholic blogs (which may or may not have obtained permission from their bishop to use the name "Catholic" in their blog title, as required by Church law) highlight the problem I have with calling myself a conservative. I am obviously no kind of liberal, but if these self-proclaimed gatekeepers of conservatism tell me I have to toe their line to join their club, well, so much for their club.
The lesser problem came from someone who had a quasi-religious belief that all government regulations are bad. Well, almost all; I'm 99.999% sure he considers government regulation of immigration not only morally defensible (as do I, even though our immigration system is badly out of whack), but even morally imperative. Let me be perfectly blunt: anyone who thinks that "the free market" is sufficient to determine which drugs are safe to take, which kitchens practice adequate hygiene, which aircraft are safe enough to fly, what precautions keep miners adequately safe, and what are safe and appropriate means of disposing of toxic wastes is too stupid to engage in meaningful debate. Such a person thinks that the only alternatives are his form of "conservatism" and Communism --- a choice I would eagerly put to the public if for some reason I wanted Communism. Make no mistake about it; we should be cautious in permitting government regulations, and we must avoid the idea that the government can regulate us into some sort of earthly paradise; but some regulation is wise and even necessary, and we must also avoid the idea that the "free market" can create an earthly paradise.
The larger problem came in comments to a blog post that was suggesting that it is a mistake for Catholic charities to ever accept government funds, because inevitably this leads to the government "forcing" the charity to do something contrary to the Faith; the specific example of which is the Church's support for the needs of illegal immigrants, and the ACLU's lawsuit that the Catholic charity involved must make abortion available to the immigrants it serves. (I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument of the blog post, but it should be entirely clear that just because you don't receive money from the government doesn't mean you are safe from government impositions.) In this case, the commenter objected that the bishops are "giving aid to lawbreakers" --- not that they are giving aid in law-breaking, nor even that, by making it safer to break immigration laws, they are providing encouragement to break those laws.
This was more than I could take. I gave a hypothetical: Suppose someone had been driving faster than the posted speed --- perhaps 70 mph in a 65 mph zone --- lost control, and hit a tree. He was a lawbreaker, because he had broken the law setting the maximum speed. Should an ambulance refuse to give aid to the lawbreaker? Should he be left to die because he broke the law? In general, should a Catholic hospital never admit anyone who has broken a law at any point in his life? Or does it matter whether the law in question is one that the commenter has broken himself, or one that he will probably never break?
Now I have often argued that, the personal opinions of ever so many present-day priests and bishops notwithstanding, the consistent Teaching of the Catholic Church does not exclude the possibility of the death penalty, and in fact argues strongly for it. The mistake made by these well-meaning clerics is easy to understand, though, because although the Church is not opposed to the death penalty, the Church is very strongly opposed to death. Above all, of course, the Church is opposed to spiritual death --- to sin and to Hell, always and everywhere; yet although is it of secondary importance, the Church is also vigorously opposed to physical death. Physical death is always to be preferred to spiritual death; it is glorious for martyrs and leads to the Beatific Vision for saints; yet it is also always a physical evil and a punishment imposed on us for our sins and the sin of Adam, in which we have a mysterious participation. So even though I think there is much good to be had from honestly confronting a criminal with the magnitude of his crimes and the penalty that may be justly levied on him, I am also 100% sympathetic with those who ask, "Is there no way that we can spare this man's life without sin?" The death penalty should be read out as often as necessary, but it should be carried out as infrequently as possible.
More fundamentally, the Church exists precisely in order to give aid to lawbreakers. How any Catholic can fail to understand that is beyond me. It is not for nothing that on Palm Sunday and Good Friday we are made to cry out with the crowd, "Crucify Him!" That is the true meaning of each of our sins. It is to give aid to lawbreakers that the Church has the sacrament of Confession. It was to give aid to lawbreakers that Jesus laid down His life on the cross and took it up again on the third day, and we are all of us like one of the two lawbreakers who were crucified alongside Him; it is our choice whether we will be more like the Good Thief or the other thief.