Capital punishment...again


You could have cleared this up at any time by answering the question I repeatedly posed to you: does this mean capital punishment is intrinsically evil? It is a yes or no question. In any event, the ambiguity is not lost on others:

Given my conclusions about the certitude of Church teaching in this area (with which conclusions some scholars I esteem disagree) I naturally share the grave concerns enunciated here about Pope Francis’ alteration of Catechism 2267 to reflect his view that the death penalty itself is “inadmissible” (whatever that means, although everyone knows what it means). (Edward Peters, canon lawyer)

Second, the new teaching about “inadmissibility” is expressly predicated on a composite prudential antecedent judgment (indeed, “inadmissibility” is a legal and prudential term). (Stephen Long, Professor of Theology, Ave Maria)

Then again, maybe not.

The conclusion about the inadmissibility of capital punishment in today’s circumstances is an instance of the fourth (and weakest) form of church teaching, prudential admonitions that command the attention of the faithful, but for which believers who conscientiously disagree are never denied communion with the Church. (Stephen Long)


Aside from believing there is no such thing as an intrinsically good act, yes, that is my position. In general if we make a prudential judgment in good faith, that is, if we honestly try to make the right decision, then even if the decision is disastrously wrong there is no sin. That is not a moral choice.

I don’t understand this. Why do you introduce the term “state killings” when what we are discussing are executions? How can there be “sub types” of executions, and what has Pope Francis defined it to be?

Very true, this one escapes me.

The key word here for me is “prudentially”, as prudential judgments do not require assent and it would not be a doctrinal change.


I believe there can be temporary, local conditions that make the use of capital punishment unwise and inappropriate. I do not believe there can be conditions (circumstances) that allow its permanent abolition.


I didn’t cite Peters as proof that my (his) position was right, but to make the point that there is serious debate among the seriously well educated about what the new 2267 means. There is nothing obvious about this.


His opposition to the use of capital punishment did not prevent him from making this observation:

The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity.


No, I have never held that capital punishment is necessary at all times/places. In fact I have repeatedly recognized the validity of a moratorium on its use in particular circumstances. I am hardly going to oppose a position taken by both Aquinas and Augustine. That said, absent such circumstances, yes, I believe capital punishment should be the norm. That is, I accept the position put forth by St. Bellarmine:

For God says, “Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed.” These words cannot utter a prophecy, since a prophecy of this sort would often be false, but a decree and a precept.

I think a reasonable argument can be presented that modern circumstances are such that they meet the criteria for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment. That is a reasonable (accurate or inaccurate) judgment, but it is a practical judgment about its affect on society. It is not a moral choice.


Frankly speaking, I really don’t understand the bizarre attachment some people on this forum have for the death penalty. Why kill someone when you don’t have to? Assuming the person is guilty, which is a big “IF” in some cases, why the need to kill them? It won’t undo their crimes.

Then there are people on death row that may very well be innocent…

This is a list of people from the The Innocence Project that:
Defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-

a . Been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or

b . Had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution or the courts, or

c . Been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

and this here is about a man that was executed by the state of Texas in 2004 despite some of the leading experts in arson saying that the fire that he supposedly started that killed his children was probably an accident caused by a defective space heater. He doesn’t get a chance for a new trial.


I think there are only two criteria that determine whether a punishment is just:

  • its severity is commensurate with the severity of the crime, and
  • use of the punishment does not introduce other harm to society

As for the first, if capital punishment was ever just then it can only be because death is a commensurate punishment for (at least) the crime of murder, and this relationship can never change since the severity of neither the crime nor the punishment can ever change. As for the second, this is a prudential judgment (as I have always recognized) that is the responsibility of the government to make based on its own evaluation of the impact of the punishment.

Justice is not determined by whether or not the public is protected. Just as the need for protection does not allow too severe a punishment, that it is not needed for protection does not justify too lenient a punishment.

The common good cannot be equated merely to security. This idea was explicitly rejected by Pius XII:

‘this retributive function of punishment is concerned not immediately with what is protected by the law but with the very law itself.


Here is the difference between the question of torture and capital punishment: to “reverse” itself on torture meant disagreeing with one document from one pope. Reversing itself on capital punishment means repudiating the virtually unanimous position of the Fathers, all of the Doctors (who addressed the subject) and the dozens of popes who either explicitly endorsed it or actually applied it, as well as a half dozen catechisms…not to mention the councils which addressed - and accepted - its use. These are really not comparable.


We don’t have to impose any punishment. So why impose any punishment at all? We could always be wrong.

The innocence project while it may do some good work is very political. And just because someone is released by their work doesn’t mean they are innocent. Our courts only determine guilty or not guilty. Innocence is not the same as not guilty.

Oh yeah, they aren’t in the same class at all. And to attribute significance to it in this issue is to ultimately undermine papal authority.


There has to be some deterrent for crime; prison is good enough in my opinion. Prisons are horrible places; it isn’t like most violent criminals are living it up on the inside.

Also, some people are natural predators, and it is for the good of society at large to have them incarcerated away from the general public.

None of this justifies killing when not in the act of self defense or defending someone else.


From my observation, there is a large group who think the death penalty is still needed for the common good. There is a small but dominant minority who want to retain the false ‘right to kill’ with no one including the Holy Spirit to take that right away. That group are piggy backing their position on the other. Shameful.


The question itself is false.

The question is besides the point.

The question seeks only to mislead.


It’s not about undoing their crimes.

Neither is it about justice.

It’s thirst for revenge from the desire to hate.


Deterrence is a valid objective of punishment, but it is not the primary objective. Whether or not the punishment one person receives deters others from the same crime really has nothing to do with whether that punishment was justly applied.

Defense is also a valid objective of punishment, but, again, it is not the primary objective. The church has never taught that protecting against future crimes justifies the punishment for the crime already committed.


Why? The primary purpose of punishment is justice. As for being a deterrent neither the death penalty or life in prison deter everyone from grave crimes.


The primary purpose of punishment is rehabilitation of the offender together with justice.


You have bought into the falsehood of a chronology of purposes. In fact justice is not served if the death penalty does not first serve the common good.

Aquinas - it is lawful to kill an evildoer **in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community**

Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. 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,

Don’t be led into error by anyone claiming this chronology of purpose falsehood.


The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. (Cardinal Dulles)

2266 The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.

Deterrence, rehabilitation, and defense are all about what happens in the future. It is retribution that seeks to redress the disorder of past crimes, and it is the obligation of the State to ensure that the primary objective is satisfied. If the secondary objectives can be achieved as well then that should be sought, but the primary objective must be met whether or not it satisfies the other objectives. This is nothing less than saying the punishment must be just above all other considerations.

Yes, everyone recognizes this, but the question of whether it in fact serves the common good is a prudential judgment about which disagreement is legitimate.


What strange logic. Your position is to reject the papal authority proscribing use of the death penalty as harmful to the common good, but happily accuse one who has never rejected Church teaching as ‘undermining papal authority’.

Welcome to topsy turvy land people.

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