Skip to main content

What Does the Church Teach Concerning Capital Punishment? Comments

The question of capital punishment within the Catholic Church is a thorny one, and it is difficult within the cacophony of competing voices to sort out the current state of the Church's teaching. The Church's teaching that relates to the intentional killing of an innocent human being by either public authority or a private actor is certain.The teaching of the Church on the killing of a malefactor-specifically as found in Pope John Paul II's ... Continue Reading

11 - 20 of 37 Comments

  1. Theresa H.
    2 years ago

    Why not simply accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Vatican Edition? "Assuming the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor....Today, in fact....the cases in which execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent." (CCC #2267 I would suggest also reading the lines "in between" the above , as well.) There is a valid point in the "for" and the "against." position! Here in FL, I think we have too many executions, but that doesn't mean there are no instances where it is necessary to efffectively defend human lives against a repeated unjust aggressor.

  2. Diane
    2 years ago

    MarkV and Vance- I agree. We cannot do away with the death penalty entirely, nor should we. In and of itself it is not immoral, if applied when it should be. It's justice. I have come to think that people who agitate against it constantly ARE using it as a red herring to divert attention from the actual murders of millions of innocent people through abortion and euthanasia going on all over the world. One never heard of opposition to the death penalty until after Roe vs.Wade legalised abortion in this country. Why here and why now? It's a red herring.

  3. renton
    2 years ago

    how does zimmernam in florida fit into this equation as the judge and jury ???????

  4. Ed
    2 years ago

    For an article entitled the Legitimacy of Capital Punishment, which among others quotes Pope Pius XII, see the following: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6871. There you'll find Church teaching that has said that capital punishment is also to "expiate for the wrongdoing perpetrated by the criminal. Thus reparation is made to an offended God, and the disorder caused by the crime is expiated."

  5. Phil Smith
    2 years ago

    "It is a serious and unforgivable sin to take a corrupt and flawed system and use it to justify taking a life no matter how egregious the offense and no matter how much it offends our sensibilities."

    It has been said that a majority of the population of the USA would prefer to see an innocent person die rather than allow a single guilty person to go free.

    Those who advocate capital punishment so that victims and their familiies can find closure are confusing in the concepts of Justice and Revenge. The latter can never be the attitude of a Christian who is called to be an "another Christ" in the eyes and ears of all others.

    When a guilty person is spared the death penality for a capital offence (Where the offence must be against the natural law not merely transient positive law.*) the the quality of care they recieve from that time onwards, in a secure environment, must be exceptional and condusive to conversion - which is the sole purpose of mercy. Do any prisons in the USA meet this high standard?

    *for example. In 16th and 17th Century England (and in theory until 1829) it was considered to be an act of treason to be a Catholic Priest in England. Treason was punishable by death - a capital crime.

  6. Ed
    2 years ago

    The Vatican State only, and quietly without any fanfare, dropped the death penalty from its books in the early '70s. That said, the author of an article in CRISIS written in about '04/'05 pointed out that our late Pope made a contribution to the question of mercy, but that the treatment of justice ought to be made.

    Granted that mercy is important; however, consider this: a few years ago a man in CT escaped from his basement after being battered and tied in the basement, while his wife and daughters were rapped upstairs by two men who then set his house on wife: killing his entire family. He alone escaped to ask a neighbor to call the police. Is it just to use (and this is a political science term) the "violence of the state" to compel that man to pay for the rest of his life for the healthcare, living expenses, television, clothing, and so forth for the two men who carried out this wicked act?

  7. Robert Burford
    2 years ago

    I have friends who are policemen who simply say that people who commit violent attrocities should be stopped by execution or life with no parol. The important issue is that they are not allowed to commit further crimes. Ted Bundy the serial rapist and murderer had no remorse. Society stopped him. Where was the mercy here? The important thing is that God's people are merciful. The death penalty has been rightly or wrongly applied more often than not to people of color and of hispanic decent. The simple solution would be to lock them all up and through the key away. However, our prisons are so full of non violent people it seems that there are other ways to take care of the non violent ones. That is where mercy should be applied and maybe stop warehousing an entire generation of young people. Bernie Madoff distroyed lives too but his crimes were non violent in nature.His crimes were just as devastating to so many people who trusted him. What mercy is correct for him? Seems that capital punishment applied can stop a serial rapist but where is the mercy for the victims of fraud, murder and rape. Romans 3 reminds us that we are all sinners and none of us are worthy on our own of any mercy except from God. God loves justice and there are times and places with one example being Leviticus where God set out certian crimes to be worthy of death, but what did Jesus do with the women caught in adultery. He told her to go and sin no more and told the crowd that was about to stone her that the those without sin should through the first stone. The is an example of the mercy Jesus wanted us to follow. Yes make sure the the Bundy's and Madoffs of this world do not commit any more crimes. Show them mercy and keep them from attacking innocent people. However I cannot through the first stone.

  8. techwreck
    2 years ago

    I was once objecting to a teaching of the Church, and a holy and intelligent priest responded that experience had taught that when he disagreed with a teaching of the Church, he had something to learn and needed to study the teaching further. In my own life, I have found that to be true, and it sounds like the advocates for capital punishment also have something to learn. Remember, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. (Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

  9. Andrew
    2 years ago

    @Fr. Ralph Caley OSB/OHI. With respect to your request on St. Thomas:
    Two references to St. Thomas Aquinas handling the death penalty are his Summa Theologiae, IIaIIae, q. 64, art. 2.
    You may view it conveniently at http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article2
    Also, you might reference his Summa contra gentiles, Book III, chap. 147.
    That is conveniently available at http://www2.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/gc3_147.htm.
    God bless.
    You might also want to see what St. Alphonsus Liguori says. I have an article in my blog which takes his Theologia Moralis and translate it from the Latin. I also translate his more popular Instructions for the People dealing with this issue from the Italian.
    http://www.lexchristianorum.blogspot.com/2012/03/capital-punishment-and-church-st.html
    God bless

  10. Andrew
    2 years ago

    @Dliodoir. My argument--perhaps I was not clear--was that justice is a good, but that mercy is a greater good. If there was any "rationalizing" in my article it was that it was a better thing to exercise mercy so long as the public can be protected, and that Pope John Paul II was urging us that we should extend mercy out to its furthest limits (where penal technology warrants it) so that, indeed, capital punishment should be "very rare, if not practically non-existent." This does not, of course, never. It means "very rare, if practically non-existent," which means something more than "never." Those are not my words, those are Pope John Paul II's words.
    But that this ought to be the result is not because it is unjust to act otherwise, but because it is better in the order of mercy to act otherwise. While John Paul the Great's proposition is "simple," it is part of his greater argument that includes recognition that the malefactor's life, though, being human, is worthy of respect, is not governed by the absolute principles involved when innocent life is involved. It also includes recognition that the principal reason for punishment (including the death penalty) is the good of retribution or vindication of the order of justice. These are just as much a part of the encyclical as the words you seize upon.
    As to what Jesus would do? That question, I am afraid, is highly speculative in the premises and neither I nor you have the infallible answer. I do know that he said this: " “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." I believe, on the word of St. Paul and tradition, that this is the same Christ Jesus "who will judge the living of the dead." That's why, in frank awareness of my sins and shortcomings, I end my article with St. Anselm's prayer: "Spare in mercy. Avenge not in justice." And the Lord Jesus is, as the same great Pope reminds us, dives in misericordia, rich in mercy. Let us then be rich in mercy even to the malefactors worthy, in justice, of death.


Leave a Comment

Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws including copyright. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.

Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is a supervised forum and the Editors of Catholic Online retain the right to direct it.

We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations. Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.

We ask that you NOT post your comment more than once. Catholic Online is growing and our ability to review all comments sometimes results in a delay in their publication.

Send me important information from Catholic Online and it's partners. See Sample

Post Comment


Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
Once the king had settled into his palace and Yahweh had ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
for you have said: love is built to last for ever, you have ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town ... Read More

Reading 2, Romans 16:25-27
And now to him who can make you strong in accordance with the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

December 21 Saint of the Day

St. Peter Canisius
December 21: In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was ... Read More