Capital punishment...again


I admire your tenacity. These past few months I hardly find time or concentration to read anything not work related. Except for the casual browsing of a thread here and there :slight_smile:

A beautiful post @graciew I could never write a post like that :slight_smile:


Thank you adgloriam…


“[P]rotecting society from criminal killers” is far from the only purpose of punishment. Retribution, equity, and the perpetuation of civic order are at least as important. If it’s not licit for the state to kill under any circumstance, then only private vengeance can adequately requite certain transgressions. But leaving such things to private retribution is an open invitation to public disorder and the law of vendetta. Therefore, it follows that the state needs the discretion to impose punishments (including death) that would otherwise degenerate into tit-for-tat private quarrels.


Thank you for taking the time to respond, I’m aware that you have several other users making demands upon your time. I present my thoughts for your consideration, but please do not feel obliged to reply in as much length.

I agree completely, and for that reason this issue demands great clarity of thought and scalpel-like precision in language. Admittedly, there is something to be said for diplomacy and expressing oneself with tact (I’m not looking to get suspended either), but we have to seriously ask ourselves if trying to accommodate the Holy Father’s statements with the continued use of the death penalty is not, in effect, the rhetorical equivalent of jamming a square peg into a round hole. If it is in fact impossible to do so, then one is better off saving oneself the trouble and rejoining Fr. Fongemie’s position; otherwise, another half a thousand posts can easily be made without this discussion advancing in the slightest.

The Holy Father is unambiguous on this point—the Church must, “…work with determination for [the death penalty’s] abolition worldwide.” Clearly, prison systems in the Third World are not more secure than their counterparts in the Occident, even those dating back to the mid to late 20th Century. And yet, this reality notwithstanding, the Holy Father did not see fit to grant exceptions to less developed countries. Instead, the ban on the death penalty applies worldwide, despite Ven. Pope Pius XII’s affirmation that the death penalty has a “general and abiding validity”. (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, p. 81-2). Can we view this as anything other than a change, and a major one at that?

Also significant is the fact that we find very little mention of evolving material circumstances in the Holy Father’s reasoning; rather, stress is laid on the principle that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel” and that our awareness of the dignity of persons has “increased.” If this is so, we must conclude that the teaching has changed not primarily because prison systems have significantly improved across the globe in recent years, but because, as Pope Francis plainly states, the death penalty is, “…an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, “…contrary…to divine mercy”, and because, “Justice is never reached by killing a human being.”


Before emeraldlady, billsherman, et al. throw off their caps in jubilation over my frank avowal, however, I must note that I do not rejoin their position for several reasons, one of which I will attempt to concisely outline for anyone who might wish to probe my reasoning. First, I think we can all agree that if the teaching on the death penalty is circumscribed by divine law, then any prudential disallowance of it is fundamentally misguided and therefore illegitimate. On the other hand, if the death penalty was merely a prudential question all along, then it certainly seems as though the competent authority is free to revise the teaching as it sees fit—and that the competent authority, has, in fact, done so. This I believe is a fair representation of the anti-death penalty faction’s position.

My view, however, is that even a revision of a prudential nature is unacceptable because it causes the foundations of Catholicism crumble; for,

…it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.” —then-Cdl. Ratzinger, Donum Veritatis 24

Changing the teaching now would prove that the Church was “habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments”, and consequently did not enjoy the guidance of the Holy Ghost for well over a century, if not the entirety of her history. If this is so, then Our Lord’s promise in John 16:13 would be risible, Scripture itself incontestably fallible and erroneous, and Catholicism itself not worth more than a cent in the penny jar of world religions. Not being inclined to favor this eventuality, I am instead left to conclude that what we are dealing with here is a judgment which will be overturned in the future.

At this point the following rejoinder can be made: “But J_Reed, aren’t you lending too much weight to Donum Veritatis ? If you abandon the idea that the Church cannot be habitually mistaken in her prudential judgments, that resolves all your difficulties in one stroke—just accept that the Church was mistaken for decades, or even centuries, and all will be well!”

To which I respond, “Prove to me that Donum Veritatis should be ignored, and that I am a better theologian than Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and am at perfect liberty to disregard their decree, and you will have made slight progress towards convincing me that this ‘development’ of the teaching on the death penalty is not a non-trivial concern,” as Ender put it. Until then, I will continue to maintain my position, which in any case is not a difficult one to adhere to, given that it entails deferring to my pastor, who like Fr. John Fongemie considers the revision to the Catechism erroneous, and has no qualms saying so from the pulpit.


It is one thing to assert something, as Fr. Fongemie did, but a very different thing to present convincing arguments that it might be true. Actually, I think his position is unnecessarily confrontational, and pretty much ends the conversation before it can ever really begin. The arguments I have presented are directed at making this point: the change in 2267 is prudential because the interpretation that it is doctrinal is impossible.

Yes, this claim is unambiguous as to what it means, but that doesn’t mean it is anything more than his personal (prudential) opinion.

Yes. If if it is a prudential judgment then it is not a change at all. The church throughout her history has argued (prudentially) against capital punishment in specific circumstances.

  • Man is what God made, sinner is what man made himself to be. So do not condemn people to death, or while you are attacking the sin you will destroy the man. (Augustine)
  • Nevertheless, far be it from your minds that you, who have acknowledged so pious a God and Lord, now judge so harshly, especially since it is more fitting that, just as hitherto you put people to death with ease, so from now on you should lead those whom you can not to death but to life. (Nicholas I)

This is a more troubling assertion inasmuch as before this it was pretty much understood that Scripture supported the death penalty.

  • This teaching has been consistent for centuries — in the Scriptures… (Archbishop Gomez)
  • If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be … contradicting the teaching of Scripture. (Cardinal Dulles)

And this is the sticking point. In order to accept this we have to believe that virtually all the Fathers, and Doctors of the Church as well as every pope prior to this one failed to properly recognize man’s inherent dignity. We also have to believe everyone also misunderstood Scripture on this point…until now. That’s a devastating indictment.

This question is not in fact limited merely to capital punishment but goes to the nature of the church herself.


A prudential judgment that it is always disallowed would be illegitimate if it was in fact allowed by divine law. A judgment that it was currently disallowed because of existing circumstances would be a legitimate judgment (whether or not it was accurate).

I have always understood their position as the church was always wrong before and has now finally gotten it right. There was never a question of judgment.

This question does seem to go to the very roots of the church. It isn’t clear how how anything the church says could be taken seriously if she walks back on this one. Too many things have to be discarded:

And as the things which the Holy Synod of Trent decreed …we… declare this to be their sense, that, in matters of faith and morals, appertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of Holy Scripture which our Holy Mother Church has held and holds, to whom it belongs to judge the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scripture; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret the Sacred Scripture contrary to this sense, nor, likewise, contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. (First Vatican Council)


My cousin is a priest. My cousin is an official chaplain for death row inmates at a Federal prison.

In speaking about this he has said that these people on death row, have absolutely no hope. They do not have hope in religion, they do not have hope in God, they do not have hope that there will be a life sentence commutation. They truly are living Hell on Earth with no hope.

He says that he tries as best he can reconcile them with the Church and few are receptive. But not everything that is in the media is how it’s portrayed. Not everyone is a vicious, unrepentant killing machine. Some people just made a mistake, and the situation and circumstances are in a very grey area.


[quote=“J_Reed, post:567, topic:526294”]
t would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.” —then-Cdl. Ratzinger, Donum Veritatis 16

This isn t consistent with section 16 of the document in Vatican site,
If you have picked this from a blog , please re read the section to which this passage corresponds in full and then you ‘ll see if there is anything to comment…
Suggestion: avoid misleading blogs. And misleading bloggers.
Much less pitch Popes against each other.
And I assure you that I am not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree but this is apples and oranges when you read the whole of the section and Donum Veritatis in the Vatican web site


Thank you for pointing this out, I have corrected the citation.


A lot of people who are in prison find God. I’d be interested to know how common this is with true life sentences vs. those eligible for parole. Of course finding a God is good for the parole board hearing.

One problem with the current system is that it allows someone to sit on death row for decades. That isn’t how capital punishment should work and is wrong as it is cruel. Of course we got here thanks to courts that want to undermine our system of justice. I can see how people under our current system have no hope. They expect to die but it is so far off that they wouldn’t have the motivation to repent.


You are very welcome


He was with an inmate all last year, right up to when he was executed.

Everything up until their point of death is misery, with no hope. Imagine someone telling you that you will die on 3/13/2029. From right now until that very date, there would be absolute misery for you. Nothing you experience from now until then will ever be the same.


Not if the inmate used his time wisely and had the assistance of a chaplain!


Yes I can be more specific. In the following OT passage, death is the penalty for adultery. This isn’t a just penalty today. So why is there a disconnect? If you think adultery was a more severe sin back then, what circumstances made that so? And why wouldn’t those same circumstances apply to a death penalty for murder instead of adultery? Has something about the nature of adultery changed since then?

If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman. Thus shall you purge the evil from Israel.


Everybody is going to have to and does face death. Millions of people face death and die everyday. Many of these people have known for some time that they are dying and only have so much time left to live on earth. And this happens to the young, middle age, and old people. So, it’s not like deathrow inmates who face an execution date of death is like something unique to them. It’s happening everyday around the world and to the vast majority of the people who haven’t committed any heinous crimes, to the good and bad alike. If we were to follow the logic you are presenting here, then many people, young and old alike, who die from various diseases or cancers would have a greater reason to despair than the death row inmates because they may die and do die at a younger age without even committing the crimes of the inmates.

As ioannes_pius just stated, whether one is an inmate facing execution or anybody facing imminent death, than one needs to use their last hours or time very wisely cooperating with God’s grace to not fall into despair but to retain hope. Facing imminent death is our final trial on earth and the forces of evil, the demons, are most active here to try and win that soul over to eternal destruction especially through disbelief and despair of God’s mercy, salvation, eternal life such as what happened to Judas the apostle of Christ. Disbelief and despair are very grevious sins against God. An inmate or anybody facing imminent death who falls into despair is refusing God’s offer of grace and salvation. At the point of death, all of us and especially an inmate on death row or facing imminent execution can repeat what the good thief said on the cross:

“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23: 40-43).

Also, many people suffer in the body from various maladies for many years even before they die. Today, I suppose some of this suffering is alleviated from modern medications but this was not the case for the greater part of the history of mankind on earth. The execution of inmates is pretty much immediate so in this sense they have not suffered bodily before death such as millions of other people have and do.


Yes there are people who have terminal illnesses, and know when they will die.

From my understanding, these people have nothing. No family, no support, no happiness, no joy, no hope. This combined with being in a cell 23 hours a day by yourself for years at a time prolongs such an insufferable existence.

There are some death row inmates that he reaches, and there are some who refuse. My initial comment was more about the finality of their existence and how my cousin sees it. Media that hypes up these death row cases are often woefully inaccurate.



Again, many people who are not criminals in prison live sadly without hope or very little in society such as people who commit suicide, who are euthanized, severe cases of depression or sorrow, and who are addicted to drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 'Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids." These opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroine, and synthetic ones such as fentanyl. On average, there are about 123 american suicides per day. There is a much greater problem in the American free society apparently with despair than in its prisons and inmates on death row.

A final thought in this post in relation to my prior post is to look closely at what the good thief says in his execution on the cross from the gospel of Luke. Inspired by Christ’s grace and moved by the Holy Spirit, he says to the bad criminal “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” It seems the good thief is saying that his and the bad thief or criminal’s sentence of condemnation of capital punishment is God’s sentence on them being administered by the Roman authorities (cf. Romans 13: 1-7). And then the good thief says “And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” The good thief says that their sentence of capital punishment is just “for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.”

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13: 1,4).


For punishment (capital) to be just it must be a last resort and there be no other means of protecting society.

Also it must not be so violent as to offend the intrinsic dignity of the criminal.

Pope Francis prudentially appears to have ruled out CP in modern countries as passing these two principled criteria.

You likely disagree with these two principles.
Yet they are implicit in the deposit of faith and the former bobs to the surface often in ancient discussions.

Yes Francis has made these principles explicit, just as Paul VI did re contraception.

As @donrugerro advises Catholics owe religious assent to these normatively declared principles even if they cannot accept them.

We may well debate the prudential judgement that modern conditions do truly well exist even in USA…though I agree with Pope Francis on that also.


Do you agree that death is the commensurate punishment for adultery today?

If not who changed that and why?

May I suggest Jesus’s teaching implicitly changed that.
The punishment was prudentially judged as no longer being in accord with the above principle of the dignity of the person as Jesus implicitly taught re the woman caught in adultery.

Alternatively it might be argued that Jesus there newly taught (or corrected) that the authority to wield the sword or throw the killing stone on God’s behalf is conditional…on sinlessness of the State. In other words even the State cannot always justly stand in Gods place to carry out punishments reserved for God. The just punishments are best completed in heaven…as Jesus says elsewhere. Sometimes the State may only justly impose partial punishments and must leave the remainder to God.

Regardless, Jesus demonstrated here the principle that even rightly proscribed capital punishment can have further conditions to be met if the agent (ie the State) is to act justly.

So Moses said nothing about purity of heart or the sinlessness condition Jesus explicitated. Now the Magisterium has explicitated a few more, and not out of the blue as Jesus did.

Do you disagree Ender?
If so what is your take for today denying the just capital punishment commanded in the OT for adultery.

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