What could have been an inspiring lesson in Catholic faith but has become just another tale of hypocrisy began on Dec. 17, 1948, after a porter slashed the throat of assistant manager Fred Naumann at 905 Liquor Store in St. Louis, Missouri.
“He had told me to help unload a liquor truck,” the porter, V.O. Willams, said in a written confession following his arrest. “I refused because I was mopping the floor. He told me two or three times to go out, but I said I would go out after I dried the floor. He had been behind the counter when he came toward me and said: ‘I mean for you to go on out there.’ When he was about 10 feet from me I picked up an open pocket knife that was lying on a table and when he got close to me I struck him in the neck or head. Then I dropped the knife and ran from the store.”
Naumann was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. He was a former professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals farm team and had served as a staff sergeant in World War II. He was survived by an 18-month-old son, also named Fred, and his wife, Louise, who was two months pregnant.
On June 4, 1949, the widow gave birth to a second son, Joseph. He witnessed firsthand from his very first breath the impact violent crime can have on the survivors. He also came to believe that his family’s life would not have been easier if the killer had been executed rather than sent to prison for second-degree murder.
With those lessons, Joseph Naumann grew up to become the archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, and, as of November 2017, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This son of a murder victim seemed a paragon of true Catholic virtue when he joined Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in calling on President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to halt federal executions. The executions had resumed in July 2020 with three in a week after a 17-year hiatus.
“Stop these executions!” Naumann and Coakley pleaded in their joint August 2020.
The plea might have been expected to have more of an impact on Barr. He is a practicing Catholic who is often called “devout.” And he has spoken publicly about Catholic morality and “the bitter results of the secular age.”
But Barr just went ahead and approved two more executions that month. He had scheduled two more for September when Naumaan and Coakley issued another statement.
“In the last 60 years, before the Trump administration restarted federal executions, there were only four federal executions,” Naumann and Coakley said in this second written statement. “Since July, there have been five, which is already more federal executions than were carried out in any year in the last century. There are two more federal executions scheduled this week.”
They added, “Executions are completely unnecessary and unacceptable, as Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all articulated.”
After citing the last three pontiffs, the statement made another plea.
“We say to President Trump and Attorney General Barr: Enough. Stop these executions.”
Barr just kept scheduling more executions. The bishops issued yet another statement in October.
“Sadly, we must call on the Administration yet again to stop an execution, this time scheduled on November 19. Two more are scheduled in December. We are now on pace for ten federal executions in 2020, more than double the previous record of four in 1938.”
They continued, “The death penalty is not necessary to protect society. It is not necessary to hold people accountable for grave crimes. The decision not to execute someone, even someone who has done something terrible, is not ‘soft on crime,’ rather, it is strong on the dignity of life.”
That concept of “the dignity of life” should be familiar to anybody who paid any attention to the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding abortion. The two men repeated it again in another plea.
“We ask President Trump and Attorney General Barr, as an act of witness to the dignity of all human life: stop these executions.”
The allusion to the church’s stance on abortion could not have escaped Barr. He nevertheless proceeded to order the Nov. 19 execution, followed by two more in December and three in January.
Back in 2008, Naumann had moved to deny communion to an official who had ignored his plea to heed church teachings on the dignity of life. Naumann was responding to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto of a state legislature measure that would have restricted abortions. He ordered Sebelius to “refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life.”
Naumann said the required confession would have to “include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion.”
Naumann subsequently learned that Sebelius had gone ahead and received Communion at her parish church. He demanded in a missive that she “respect my previous request and not require from me any additional pastoral actions.”
But Naumann did not even raise the possibility of prohibiting Barr from taking communion as execution followed execution. The last was four days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration with the clear intent of getting in as many as possible.
That was going far beyond just ignoring the bishops’ pleas.
Biden made clear that he is personally opposed to abortion and respects the church’s teachings on the matter. He also said he does not think the government should deny women the right to make their own personal choice.
That was too much for Naumann. He is now moving to have the USCCB prohibit Biden from taking communion.
And what might have been a tale of true Catholic morality starting with the murder of Fred Naumannand his son’s opposition fo the death penalty now took a turn into cheap politics.
“I think the reason [Bishop Naumann] goes after Biden instead of Barr is that Biden supports politics Naumann doesn’t.”
“I think the reason [Bishop Naumann] goes after Biden instead of Barr is that Biden supports politics Naumann doesn’t,” Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), told The Daily Beast. “I think it’s as simple as that.”
The move against Sebelius came during President Obama’s first run for office. The move against Biden now comes in the midst of another political conflict. Among those Naumann has not moved to banish from the communion rail are the many priests proven to have been pedophliles. A good number of the ones the church has reluctantly acknowledged in Naumann’s archdiocese and elsewhere have been “laicized,” meaning they are no longer priests and cannot say Mass or give communion.
But they can still receive communion. And Naumann has said nothing about that even as he has sought to deprive Sebelius and now Biden. How can a pedophile priest who gave communion during a time when he was sexually assaulting children now be allowed to receive it?
At present, Naumann is leading an investigation into allegations against Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is conducting a parallel investigation into the same charge of sexual abuse of a minor.
Brungardt has stepped aside pending the outcome, which could leave him imprisoned or exonerated or somewhere in between.
Whatever happens, he will be able to take the sacrament of Holy Communion that Naumann and others in the USCCB seek to deny Biden. The USCCB voted last week to draft a document on “the meaning of communion,” a move that many see as a first step toward blocking our first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy from fully participating in the church’s most sacred rite.
If the doctrine as conceived by Naumann were to be boiled down to a few words, it would be these:
Barr and pedophile priests yes, but Biden no.
Naumann and the USCCB and the Archdiocese of Kansas did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Naumann has said nothing.