Death Penalty

Traditional Catholic Church Magisterial Teaching Has Not Been Changed


The Church Cannot Reverse Past Teaching on the Death Penalty.  Crisis Magazine.  09/08/2016.

Why the Death Penalty Is Still Necessary.  Catholic World Report.

Can the Church Ban Capital Punishment?  Crisis Magazine.

The Catholic Church and Capital Punishment.  Dr. Raphael T. Waters.  Catholic Family News.

Capital Punishment:  Drawing The Line Between Doctrine and Opinion.  Dr. Jeff Mirus, Catholic Culture.

God’s Justice and Ours.  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  First Things.  2002.

“Even when it concerns the execution of a man condemned to death, the state
does not dispose of the individual’s right to live. It is reserved then to the public power to deprive the
condemned man of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his crime, he has
dispossessed himself of the right to life.” – Pope Pius XII


The Death Penalty Vote:  1980 Conference of Bishops

Objections to the practice have come from many quarters, including the American Catholic bishops, who have rather consistently opposed the death penalty. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1980 published a predominantly negative statement on capital punishment, approved by a majority vote of those present though not by the required two-thirds majority of the entire conference. 1 Pope John Paul II has at various times expressed his opposition to the practice, as have other Catholic leaders in Europe.

Some Catholics, going beyond the bishops and the Pope, maintain that the death penalty, like abortion and euthanasia, is a violation of the right to life and an unauthorized usurpation by human beings of God’s sole lordship over life and death. Did not the Declaration of Independence, they ask, describe the right to life as “unalienable”?

In the New Testament the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. Jesus himself refrains from using violence. He rebukes his disciples for wishing to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality (Luke 9:55). Later he admonishes Peter to put his sword in the scabbard rather than resist arrest (Matthew 26:52). At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die” (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).

1 The statement was adopted by a vote of 145 to 31, with 41 bishops abstaining, the highest number of abstentions ever recorded. In addition, a number of bishops were absent from the meeting or did not officially abstain. Thus the statement did not receive the two-thirds majority of the entire membership then required for approval of official statements. But no bishop rose to make the point of order.

“False Compassion” a sermon by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Page updated 09/11/2016.



2 thoughts on “Death Penalty”

  1. The Death Penalty & Catechism Problems: Section 2267
    Dudley Sharp

    1) The death penalty teachings in CCC 2267 (amended 1997) are prudential judgments and have been confirmed as such by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1), Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

    Saint/Pope John Paul II appointed Ratzinger.

    As a prudential judgment, any good Catholic may call for more executions, based upon 2000 years of Church traditions, finding that justice is primary, as confirmed within the CCC (see redress) , and that a primary principle cannot be subjugated by a secondary principle, even an important one, such as defense of society, and one can confirm the rational truth that executions provide better protections for the innocent than does a life sentence (2), calling on the Church to consider that sparing more murderers will cause more innocents to be murdered (2), as history and the facts make clear (2) and that the expiation effects of execution will better provide for the unjust aggressors salvation, the ultimate in restorative justice (3).

    I do not believe that a prudential judgment has ever been entered into a Catechism, before, as such is contrary to the purpose of a catechism and 2267 is a solid example as to why this should never have occurred and, hopefully, will not be repeated.

    2) Re: CCC 2267:

    from Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Flannery was, also, appointed by SPJPII.

    “The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II.” (4).

    “The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception.” (4).

    3) from 2267: ” 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 the unjust aggressor.”

    Reply: Such does not appear to exist in traditional Catholic teaching and, in 17 years, I am unaware that anyone has found that it does.

    4) from 2267: “”If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

    Reply: “sufficiency” has never been the Church standard, as the CCC makes clear – CCC 2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

    “require a reckoning”

    2267’s “bloodless” conflicts with that eternal command within 2260 and 2260, further, establishes that execution is MOST “in conformity to the dignity of the human person”, as it is a commandment from God. “Require” rules over “sufficiency”.

    CCC 2265: “Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.”

    By reason and CCC the common good requires executions, as it is the only sanction which “renders the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.”, although I suspect the CCC simply didn’t consider the meaning and a re write is in order – just another problem.

    Living murderers can and do harm and murder, again, in prison, under supervision, after release, after escape and after we fail to restrain them. Executed ones do not.

    Sufficiency is not the issue or, hardly, a standard. The issue is what sanction best fulfills justice (redress) and what sanction protects innocents to a higher degree.

    Execution is just in some cases (redress) and execution protects additional innocents lives, in three ways, better than does a life sentence (2).

    2266: “The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good.” which, as per CCC, “requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm”.


    5) from 2267: “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

    a) It is not the “possibility” or the “means” of preventing crime, but the reality, which matters.

    The most obvious, relevant example is that the Church not only had the “possibility” and the “means” to prevent child sex abuse by priests, but the moral obligation to do so, yet, instead, abandoned the innocent and protected the guilty, even allowing some to repeat their crimes, over about a 50 year period, that we know of.

    Such is why reality must rule over both “possibility” and “means”. Man errs and sins and any err by the Church should be on the side which protects more innocent lives as opposed to what the CCC has now, which is sacrificing more innocent lives, again.

    Countless innocents are murdered and harmed, every day, by known repeat offender/unjust aggressors, because of the reality of widespread human error and harm committed in the world’s criminal justice systems (5), just as with the Church “mismanagement” of the priest sex horrors, where both “possibilities” and “means” had zero relevance to the reality of not protecting the innocent.

    Such reality is the factual opposite of: “very rare, if not practically nonexistent . . . “.

    It is astonishing that neither Evangelium Vitae nor the CCC show any consciousness of this, when EV and the 1997 CCC amendment were written as the firestorm of the priest sex scandal raged.

    b) “. . . .without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself”.

    How this language could, possibly, get into a Catechism is incomprehensible.

    Man does not redeem “himself”, but is redeemed through the grace and mercy of God.

    The CCC is saying that God is taking away from man the possibility of redemption, because of an early and earthly death – execution.

    That is not possible, of course.

    The well known teaching, not subject to change, is that we all have the opportunity of redemption (3), prior to our deaths, whatever that early and earthly death may be, whether by cancer, car wreck, old age, drowning, murder, execution (3) and all others.

    And the authors of CCC are, somehow, unaware?!

    Additional writings

    — The Traditional (CATHOLIC) Case for Capital Punishment, By Fr. C. John McCloskey, The Catholic Thing, MARCH 16 2015

    — Four Catholic Journals Indulge in (anti death penalty) Doctrinal Solipsism, Stephen Long, THOMISTICA, March 5, 2015,

    — Okay, what about Catholics and the death penalty?, In the Light of the Law A Canon Lawyer’s Blog, Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap. March 9, 2015,

    — Intellectual dishonesty and the “Seamless Garment” argument, JIMMY AKIN, National Catholic Register, 01/25/2015

    —- New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming


    1) “3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
    “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, from a memorandum sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick, made public in the first week of July 2004.

    2) a) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    b) Catechism & State Protection

    3) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    4) “Capital Punishment and the Law”, Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University(Rome); and Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (University of Notre Dame.

    5) see footnote 2, above


    Do a google search: I am sure this was not done for either Evangelium Vitae of the CCC.
    a) crime recidivism — 852,000 results (0.34 seconds)
    b) prison violence — 179,000,000 results (0.24 seconds)
    c) prison “cell phone” crime — 1,780,000 results (0.37 seconds)
    d) recruit terrorism prison — 12,800,000 results (0.40 seconds)
    e) prison escape news — 5,720,000 results (0.31 seconds)
    f) repeat offender — 1,170,000 results (0.63 seconds)

    and on and on and on

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