Capital punishment...again


In fact, it is not a just punishment. It is an immoral one.

That is Church teaching.


To use the medical analogy Aquinas uses may be better.

“Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good” . . . . ST IIa-IIae, q. 64, a. 2.

“It is permissible to kill a criminal if this is necessary for the welfare of the whole community. However, this right belongs only to the one entrusted with the care of the whole community – just as a doctor may cut off an infected limb, since he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body.” ST IIa-IIae, q. 64, a. 3.

The doctors moral obligation is ultimately towards the well being of the whole body just as the states moral obligation is ultimately towards the well being of the whole community. In the past, the only antidote to serve the well being of the whole body was to amputate the infected limb. Today with advances in medicine and surgery, it is possible to treat an infected limb while still preserving it to perhaps again serve the body as healed.

To amputate an infected limb today rather than take the time to treat it, is not considered medically ethical. It is in fact an unnecessary and cruel mutilation of the whole body.


Yes, I think I had already understood your argument about the ectopic situation, which is why I didn’t comment on it. The intent of the physician is quite different in that situation from the abortion situation. But you have answered what I asked. You assume the intent of the State is good, so the difference for you between CP and FE does not lie there.

I think you intend “directly intend to kill murderers” to mean execute convicted murders as a means to pursue justice or promote human dignity or serve the common good, or whatever good end the State thinks it has in mind. But, the circumstances are not right and those ends cannot be served in the USA by execution on account of the viewpoint of the populace. So the ends of the State cannot be served by those means. Or, even if they can be served by those means, it would not meet the test of fairness (edit: or maybe reasonableness), because lesser means will do (imprisonment).

Have I understood?


It seems to me based on the constant teaching of the Church the death penalty is a just punishment. So your statement would have to be qualified. Of course individual applications of the punishment could be unjust, as with any case of a punishment being administered.


Did the Church teach that torture was a just punishment and then later teach that it was unjust?


Yes, most notably ‘Ad extirpanda’, a papal bull promulgated on Wednesday, May 15, 1252 by Pope Innocent IV.


Then what seems to you would, in fact, be wrong.

Far from a just punishment, every instance of the death penalty going forward would be immoral.

One more time, yet again…

[2267] Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Perhaps…perhaps…there is a lack of understanding for those who are not theologians in the formulation. I find that very hard to believe, personally…to the point of it being impossible. But let us say that it is so.

“The Church teaches” is not a random choice of words. It is formulated as such because it is authoritative. It is not the equivalent of “The Pope postulates…” Rather, “The Church teaches” commands submission and assent of will and of intellect to the Magisterium in the teaching of the Church that it has articulated.

Recourse to the past and past formulations is, at best, futile and is actually evasive of submission to the Magisterium and the authority it possesses. The Magisterium is quite well aware of previous formulations previously. That is precisely why it has seen fit to revise the formulation and impose that revision upon the faithful – who must assent.

There is no option for a personal decision in the matter. None.

The alternative in positively withholding the required obsequium is dissent – dissent from the teaching of the Church in a matter that unconditionally demands obsequium.


I agree we can’t use a good end to spruce up a bad means. We agree that a ruler could easily have limited culpability on account of a lack of knowledge. I’m not sold on calling the average modern USA State execution intrinsically evil. But I think the difference could be one of what type of things we both tend to label with that appellation rather than a difference in outcome of what we label as wrong to do. If one knows that the situation is making it so that the killing will be poison to society rather than a cure, and one is the one who is in authority and in charge of promoting the common good, then it seems irrational to do it, it is an act of destruction to the common good, the very opposite of your purpose in acting. It is wrong to destroy.

But I wonder, I am not confident in my reasoning. Justice has always troubled me. It is easier to comprehend its implications as a virtue than as an obligation.


My compliments. I find the selection of that document impressive – at a level I all too seldom encounter on this forum, @Emeraldlady.


So the church taught something evil was good and then changed its mind. That should be very worrying then.

Every instance from here on out regardless of circumstances?


Without you having a basic understanding of the nature of intrinsic and extrinsic values, discussing the issue with you can only be circular and impotent. A link that may help.


Use of the death penalty is inadmissible. Use of the death penalty is unacceptable.

That is why the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”


That is a convenient way to not answer simple questions. But I completely understand the concept and just rattling off links doesn’t demonstrate your knowledge of the topic.

Right, I got that. The question was in every circumstance until the end of the world?


This concept is really that hard to comprehend?


It shouldn’t be. But getting simple answers to yes or no questions seems to be impossible. I don’t know why that is the case. Well, actually I do.


When persons ask: “What is really meant by unacceptable?” “What is really meant by inadmissible?” it is nothing short of bizarre in the present context.

When persons state “The question was in every circumstance until the end of the world?” when the Holy Father declares that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide" regarding the death penalty…the abolition of something means its obliteration…it is gone…it is consigned to the past. That is very straight forward.

After your Civil War, the government of the United States abolished slavery. Once abolition occurred, do you see the institution of slavery re-emerge in the United States in the 19th or 20th century in the United States? Do you expect it to re-emerge in the 21st or 22nd centuries? How would that be consonant with it being abolished? It is gone.

When it comes to theology, what the Holy Father has articulated are extremely easy concepts.


It is so simple, I am surprised that anyone is still discussing it:

"…an attack on the inviolability and dignity of man…"

Is the death penalty itself an attack on the dignity of man? Of course not! God ordered the death penalty carried out, and Himself often slew sinners. God, Who Is the Author of all Dignity, could no more attack the dignity of man than He could attack Love. So what is being said here? The elegant and clear solution has already been put forward in this very thread, what is clearly being said is that the death penalty does not encourage society to respect the dignity of men anymore. It is saying that the social respect for life is harmed by the application of the death penalty.

But it is not clear that this is true. Those cultures that have abandoned the death penalty almost universally have legal abortion, legal euthanasia, legal contraception. There is no correlation between the abolition of Capital Punishment and an increased awareness of the dignity of man. In fact there seems to be an inverse causal relationship. Those societies that abandon the death penalty tend to respect the dignity of life less than they did when they had it!

"…more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens…"

This has also proven to be false. The murder rate in prisons is not zero or even negligible, and there are many prison gangs that order assassinations to be carried out by members who are not currently in prison. This is not even to speak of the sexual assault that occurs in prison and also of the recidivism rate of convicts.

"…definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption."

Is it true that ALL applications of the Death Penalty deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption? Of course not! The Good Thief is an example of one who repented during his execution. There are many examples of men and women who repented and then were executed.

However, any State-sponsored execution that DID deprive a man of his ability to repent, by not giving him time to reflect on his actions or depriving him access to a confessor would certainly be a grave evil. Charity and mercy demand that all those condemned to death be given sufficient time to reflect on their crimes and also be given access to a confessor if they desire one.


This is the key word. This tells us that the Church is not condemning all Capital Punishment, but only Capital Punishment carried out where specific conditions are met. Thus, we can be sure that if those conditions are not met, the universal teaching still applies and Capital Punishment is still admissible.

I don’t know about other countries, but the USA does not qualify under any of the conditions laid out in the Catechism and therefore capital punishment is still permissible in the USA.


This is most assuredly NOT the case.

I vividly remember when Saint John Paul II clearly addressed the Americans on the issue of the death penalty in the United States and the scourge of racism in the United States. It was during his visit to Saint Louis in January of 1999:

The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae , 27). I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.

As the new millennium approaches, there remains another great challenge facing this community of St. Louis, east and west of the Mississippi, and not St. Louis alone, but the whole country: to put an end to every form of racism, a plague which your Bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.

It is no longer a matter of seeking consensus, however. The State is informed that if they choose the path of capital punishment, it will be in each instance an immoral act they perpetrate which Catholics cannot cooperate with.


The preceding teaching has been superseded because a development of doctrine has occurred.

You are right that “consequently” is a key word, however.

Catholic Answers Director of Apologetics, Tim Staples, explains its significance quite ably:

A key term in the Pope’s revision is the term, “consequently…” In the final paragraph of the revision, when Pope Francis concludes: “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’ (Francis, Discourse , Oct. 11, 2017), and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide,” we have to ask the question: consequent to what ? Consequent to the three societal and doctrinal developments he stated previously. That means that “as a consequence of these , the Church now teaches this.”


Actually this is a great example of the difficulty of this change. The British freed the slaves during the colonial rebellion. But since the British own authority was at issue the declaration had no potency.

Of course historically chattel slavery did disappear from the remnants of the Roman Empire. It emerged later with the discovery of New World.

So circumstances can change and institutions can come and go but most importantly reappear.

Well that is a very long answer but I guess your answer is yes? Meaning forever and under all circumstances capital punishment is now wrong.

That is a logical argument and like all arguments it can be valid or invalid and true or false. Many people question one of the premises.

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