A Catholic's right to Press Charges?

Hello all,

I was wondering about to what extent of a right a Catholic has to press charges on another person whose done them wrong? Does pressing charges on a person go against Jesus’s teachings, especially the line, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” For example, if a Catholic was robbed, would fair restitution be making the thief return stolen items, if he was sorry? Or would putting him in Jail for 5 years be a “Just” sentence in the eyes of God?

What about the case of a young man who drunkenly assaulted a woman by inappropriate touching? Is God okay with that woman putting him in jail for years? Even if he was repentant? What if the man was a practicing Catholic and just made a simple mistake due to lack of reason? Would it be just to ruin his life?

Just some examples to think over. I guess its really a debate of God’s Justice vs. Man’s Justice. What right does a Catholic have to ruin somebody’s life, especially if the defendant is not a danger to society?

1 Like

By reporting a crime and prosecuting the accused, we prevent harm to others. We can still be forgiving, but that doesn’t mean letting them continue to hurt others. I would never want to see a death penalty imposed on anyone.
If they repented, and confess their sins, the Lord will forgive. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences.


So as long as someone is repentant, there should be no social justice or punishment? Who determines if someone is not a danger to society or other persons in general? Only God knows if one is truly repentant or a danger to society or not if they repent.

Without looking specifically, the Church doesn’t take a stand on social punishment as long as it is not extreme, except for the death penalty in which if there are other alternatives which would keep society safe and allow for the perpetrator to remain in prison without receiving the death penalty.

Unfortunately as a member of society and a member of the Church, you must deal with the consequences of both. God forgives, society usually expects some form of restitution which often times includes things which affect your life in the future.

1 Like

I think Matthew 18 is relevant,

"15 But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.

16 And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.

17 And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican."

I’m not sure if we are obligated to handle offenses in this way or if it is just commendable.

Give unto Cesar what is Cesar’s, give unto God what is God’s.

Forgiving those who wrong us can be accomplished simultaneously with pressing charges. Following the laws and being a good citizen also implies we will press charges against those we truly believe need to be dealt with by civil authorities.

1 Like

I wonder how its different in cases where the plantiff is just really seeking a punishment that’s not fit for the crime due to their wrath and desire for revenge? How is is okay for the Catholic plantiff to forgive and yet seek the fullest extent of the law, which may be considered 'over-doing- it?

Catholicism does not teach actions don’t have consequences. People have to face up to what they do. Victims of crime are not “ruining lives”, perpetrators do that to themselves when they commit crime.


That’s why the justice system keeps the victims out of the decision making process. They typically can testify at a sentencing hearing, then it’s the statutes and the judge that determines the punishment.


Are you asking “should a Catholic press charges”?

Or “at what level of gravity of the misdeed should a Catholic press charges?”

Words that follow are worth exactly what you paid for them.
The wording of your post mentions a Catholic having or not having a “right” to ruin the life of another person, twice. Society is governed by laws decided on ideally by the popular vote. Everyone should be aware that any crime may be punished based on those laws. The individual that perpetrates the crime is solely responsible for their actions, AND as such brings the judgement upon themselves. It is not what another person decides to do willingly to that person with malice.
In the case of the assault, the victim, their family, and others near to them bear the life-long scars of that attack. If a pregnancy is a result, you now have another factor in this big problem.
The Catholic may forgive the act, but as a society, punishments are the agreed upon action. If the wrongdoing is not reported, harm could come to another person through “What I’ve failed to do”.
The victim can address the court before sentencing, to make a plea for a lighter sentence if they choose. Judges will take this into consideration when sentencing is performed.
In smaller matters, it can be up to the person who was wronged to proceed as they see fit. Report, or forgive with appropriate restitution.
Dominus vobiscum

1 Like

Im asking 'At what level of gravity…" and if even the least severe consequences that can be given turns out to be too harsh for the crime committed, would it be just for a catholic to press charges at all?

In this example, the victim is not the one ruining his life. He did that all by himself.


It does seem that we, “Let the punishment fit the crime” for the most part. We don’t impose 50years without parole for tearing off the “do not remove” tag on the mattress before we buy it. I knew a person long ago that had 13 DUI convictions. With 13 of the same crime, I have no idea why they weren’t dealt with more severely. Seems to me that it was a miracle no one lost life. Some things I am not meant to understand yet.
I suppose, if a victim decides to keep the crime un-reported, it would not be my right to judge them for doing so. It would be totally their decision to make, and their conscience to deal with from then on.
Dominus vobiscum

1 Like

Can you give an example? The ones you provided didn’t have punishments too harsh for the crimes.

Serious crimes need to be reported to protect others. But if something is minor, like taking fifty dollars that is not theirs, I probably won’t report it, thinking they probably needed it more than I do.

I guess examples that Im talking about here would pertain to cases where reason was lacking on part of the defendant, or an accident. Involuntary manslaughter could put you in prison, even more so any actions you commit while impaired by drugs or drunkenness.

Same thing for the possession of marijuana, but I know that that is a whole other can of worms.

Are you suggesting that if someone drives drunk and kills people, putting him in prison is harsh?

I would highly recommend the book Wholly Citizens, by Rev. Joel Biermann, which goes in some depth through the topic that you are discussing. He lays out an excellent doctrinal framework for thinking about the interplay between the Church and the Civil realm, and how the Christian is to live in both of these realms. I think you would find this a great resource.

1 Like


I’m saying that sometimes people can not choose to do the wrong that they sometimes do. And they shouldn’t be overly penalized for the mistakes they’ve made.

Yes putting someone in jail for drunk driving for 5 years might be a good thing. But what good is ten years or twenty years? If the Catholic in court wanted to put that person in jail for life, they could. But what good is that, if even a sentence of 5 years will do to teach them the lesson that they need?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.