Are Pope Francis' statements about capital punishment infallible?


So I’m confussed and I’m afraid of being in schism are Pope Francis Statements About the death sentence and life long inprosement infallible or not i recently discoverd these statemenst so i comformed my opinion to that of the CCC but then i started looking up more and came across articles ect About how pope Francis cant override the previous statements can somoene help me on this mater


I don’t think his teachings are infallible, but rather pastoral / prudential teaching.

But that’s my personal opinion only.


They are not infallible, as they are not a definitive and irreformable judgment about a truth revealed by God (or one necessarily connected to such a truth). It is a purely a contigent judgment about how states should act today given particular circumstances. It is by its very nature reformable, since circumstances can change.

Likewise, since the Pope is not omniscient, his consideration of the circumstances could be insufficient. This is the very thing where our consciences can legitimately clash with the word of a Pope.

Since the Church’s doctrine that is irreformable (the Pope has no power to change the natural and moral law) is that the death penalty can licitly be used as a punishment to provide proportionate redress for a crime and to protect society according to the needs of the common good, and since care for the common good and infliction of punishment are properly within the orbit of the temporal power, the responsibility for deciding when to use the death penalty or not ultimately falls to that power (of which we citizens participate in most countries these days).


The short answer to your question is no. There is no need to worry about schism.


I’m not sure there is infallibility. But I am sure that there are people that are worth listening to, setting aside any previous bias we might have. We may then end up with views that are unchanged, slightly modified, or radically changed. Whether our views end up changed or not, we will have probably learned something along the way. I believe Pope Francis is such a person (as is Pope Emeritus Benedict), a person who is worth listening to with open ears, mind and heart.


In fairness, I don’t see the big deal with this. Pope Francis only brought JPII’s thoughts to their logical conclusion.

Basically, the Church teaching still stands. There are circumstances where it may be permissible to execute a criminal.

However, as Francis observes, modern technology means that methods of restraining and containing prisoners, so that they are rendered unable to pose a threat to wider society, means that it is increasingly inconceivable that there is any real need to execute anyone.


The Church never regarded capital punishment as Good, only that in some circumstances the lesser evil. In Augustine’s time, there was no way government was going to feed and supervise a lot of prisoners for decades. The lesser evil was to kill one than to let many be murdered.

It was formerly believed that capital punishment of one was a deterrent to many murderers. If our experience has found this is not true, or no longer true, then it no longer is the lesser evil.


Defending society has never been the primary objective of punishment, and the legitimacy of any punishment is not determined by whether it provides sufficient protection, but by whether it is just. It is retributive justice that demands punishment - and that justifies it.

The Romans had slaves for centuries before Augustine. They had the ability to manage tens of thousands of prisoners, nor was capital punishment considered a simple evil. In the simple sense all punishment is evil.

Now evil is privation of good. And since man’s good is manifold, viz. good of the soul, good of the body, and external goods, it happens sometimes that man suffers the loss of a lesser good, that he may profit in a greater good, as when he suffers loss of money for the sake of bodily health, or loss of both of these, for the sake of his soul’s health and the glory of God. In such cases the loss is an evil to man, not simply but relatively; wherefore it does not answer to the name of punishment simply, but of medicinal punishment (Aquinas ST I-II 87, 7)

Deterrence is a valid objective of punishment, but the severity of the punishment is not determined by whether it deters, but (again) by whether it is just. The justness of a punishment is determined by whether it is "commensurate with the gravity of the crime." (CCC 2266)


If you read the text of the two closely, they don’t actually contradict each other. The second is a clarification of the first. The first text speaks of capital punishment being permissible if it is a ‘legitimate defense’ of the common good.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. CCC 2265

Pope Francis is stating that society and the ability to contain criminals has advanced to the point that the execution of the criminal to protect the common good is no longer part of a ‘legitimate defense’. Every government has the ability to fully contain criminals in such a way that they are no longer a threat. As such, capital punishment is no longer permissible under ‘legitimate defense’.

The Infallibility can be approached in two different ways. First, if looked at as an evolution of this concept of legitimate defense, then it does apply to the moral aspect of “infallibility in matters of faith and morals,” and is wholly infallible. If looked at as simply an re-application of a previous standard to modern capabilities, then it is infallible insofar as those capabilities are not reassessed and found to be once again valid.


Is this doctrine found anywhere in the CCC as it now stands, following last month’s change to n. 2267?


I don’t think it’s infallible, by my understanding that something that is more or less taught with a common thread over time, that lends towards infallibility. Given that the Church has allowed capital punishment in some circumstances in the past, this change in how it’s applied doesn’t strike me as being infallible. Plus the fact that the declaration of it being inadmissable is conditional and dependent on whether or not criminals can be detained and the public can remain safe. I think it’s a legitimate question as to whether or not these conditions really are being met everywhere worldwide.


The very preceding paragraph (2266) says:

Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation.

Death, by definition, is a proportionate redress to an injustice of equal gravity (murder being the obvious example).


They are not infallible.


It can be argued, as you say, that the death penalty would be “a proportionate redress” in the case of murder. The problem we are dealing with here, however, is that the Pope has now explicitly rejected that argument, and has enshrined his rejection in his new n. 2267.


That’s why the whole thing is so bizarre and creates a contradiction in the Catechism. In the new text, he explicitly bases that judgment on the idea that “a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state” and yet, the traditional understanding of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state is still in the Catechism right in the preceding paragraph. It is literally incoherent.


Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a contradiction. Nevertheless, I think it was an error of judgment. I suspect that at some future date the Church may come to the conclusion that Francis overstepped the line between that which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s.


In my opinion, Pope Francis is 100% wrong on this assertion. He’s making an inference on the visible security of prisons but not on the effectiveness of that security. In other words, he’s only focusing on the ability for prisoners to literally escape and not the ability to contain the prisoner’s actions to the 4+ walls of the prison.

That said, even though I believe he’s wrong, I also believe he’s entitled to his opinion not only as the Holy Father but as a human being.

Yes definitely.

And I’d say that was a naive observation by the Holy Father. I’d certainly hope another pope would reassess that possibility, especially in regards to the way prisons actually work rather than the way you’d like them to work.


A pope speaking infallible is very rare. He has to say he is speaking so, to the whole church, on a matters of faith and morals, from the chair of Peter. The last such declaration was when Pope Pius declared the Assumption of Mary to be a doctrine of the church.


I don’t think any Pope has ever explicitly said he was going to speak or had just spoken infallibly. The closest I have seen is some have referenced Jesus’ prayer for Peter that his faith not fail (St. John Paul II did this prior to his definitive judgment as to the Church’s inability to ordain women, for example).

The only conditions that musy be manifestly evident are that the judgment is definitive (not reformable), required to be believed or held by the whole Church, and in the realm of faith and morals (that’s because those are times that if the Pope were to err, the whole Church would fall into error, which is impossible).


Not only was that the last time Papal Infallibility was invoked. It is the only time in all of Church history when it was invoked. Practically speaking, it is not a thing for daily conversation.

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