Capital punishment...again


It seems your formulation of your difficulties is itself problematic. Surely there are other possible solutions than the binary “it must logically be one or the other” you have limited yourself to here?

Personally it seems to me it is not a logical either or.


I don’t intend to defend the death penalty for the crime of adultery; whether it is or is not is irrelevant. I have argued only that death is a just punishment for (at least) the crime of murder. Murder is the worst of all crimes, so if death is an unjust punishment there it is unjust for all lesser crimes, but that it may be unjust for a lesser crime doesn’t make it unjust for more serious ones.

In the case of murder, circumstances cannot make a crime that already calls for the strictest punishment call for an even stricter one. There isn’t one. Murdering two people carries the same penalty as murdering one. So while circumstances could have made adultery a more serious crime in the past, no circumstance can worsen the nature of murder such that a more serious punishment is called for.

Unlike other crimes, whose severity may depend on circumstances (think horse stealing), nothing changes the essential nature of murder: it is as evil today as it ever was, and if death was a just penalty before it is equally just today. That it may not always be applied is due to the effect the punishment may have on the society that uses it, but it has nothing to do with the essential equality of crime and punishment.


No, the protection of society is not now and has never been the primary objective of punishment.

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

Protecting society against future crimes has nothing to do with redressing the disorder already caused by a past offense.

I do disagree. This is not what the church teaches, regardless of what may be inferred from 2267.


I don’t think the church ever taught this either.

Thirdly, from St. Augustine, who says, “Since this is the case, let us not attribute the giving of a kingdom and the power to rule except to the true God, who gives happiness in the kingdom of heaven only to the good, but the kingdom of earth both to the good and bad, as is pleasing to Him to Whom nothing unjust is pleasing.” (St Bellarmine, De Laicis)

I don’t need to argue it; it is irrelevant to the question of whether it is a just punishment for the crime of murder. If capital punishment is unjust because the severity of the punishment exceeds the severity of the crime then the church for 2000 years has not only taught that wrong was right but engaged in that wrong herself. Recognize the implications of that position. Everyone in the church, all her greatest theologians and saints as well as every pope and magisterium until last year has been wrong about a serious moral issue.


If you are dispensing of Scripture as the basis of your claim that only death is a just punishment for murder, then what are you drawing from? We know that the very first murder recorded in Scripture ie. Cain upon Abel, that God punished Cain with exile.

What authority do you base your claim on?


As I have never made that claim I don’t base it on anything. Again and again I have said there are two criteria that must be met for a punishment to be just: that the severities of the crime and the punishment must be comparable, and that the punishment not harm the society that applies it.


I agree.
I stated the licitness of what is otherwise a violent but commensurate punishment has always been conditioned by other principles (which may or may not be secondary objectives of punishment).

Namely the condition that there is no other means of containing the criminal,
and the violence does not deny the dignity of the person.

I fail to see how a CCC quote about scope can be used to deny this given the same CCC (even the old one) also affirms what I say. There being no contradiction in the old CCC means your attempt to oppose with the above quote is groundless and you have mistakenly inferred from it as I suggest.

If you believe there is a contradiction even in the old CCC why do you attempt to quote from it?


Do you agree then, that if 2nd criteria is not met ie. the punishment harms society, it renders the punishment unjust?


This is just a little illogical Ender.
Do you deny that Capital Punishment was also required for crimes against the 6th as well as the 5th Commandment.

Why are you making a special exception for adultery but not for murder?

You do need to argue your case for using a different set of moral principles in each case.

Pope Francis and his predecessors dont need to because their principles (which you seem to disagree with) already explain the apparent contradiction.


Containing the criminal, which is essentially part of the protection of society, is only a secondary objective and of itself cannot determine the severity of the punishment.

[quote]Namely the condition that there is no other means of containing the criminal,
and the violence does not deny the dignity of the person.[/quote]
If an execution denies the dignity of the person then its use has always been immoral. It cannot deny it today and not have denied it in the past, so the objection still stands: if it is wrong now it has always been wrong and the church taught evil as good.

The catechism does not affirm what you say. You have inferred your position; I have quoted mine.

The contradiction is not between catechisms but between what the catechism actually says and what you have concluded.


Of course. Understand, however, that making that determination is a prudential judgment. It is not a doctrine. The only doctrine is the teaching that death is an (otherwise) just punishment is based on Scripture.


If the doctrine holds that death is not just if it doesn’t serve the common good, it is right and proper that the Church who with Christs authority guides humans in matters of morality, is duty bound to speak when injustice is occurring. Whose moral authority can we trust more than the Church?


Ender this is mere assertion.
The CCC even before correction says recourse to the death penalty may have to be excluded (ie it may be unjust, impermissable) when there are alternative ways to defend lives from the agressor.

Why would you ignore this teaching?


If the revision consisted only of this then it would not be much of a “change”, given that the 1992 text already strongly discouraged the use of the death penalty, teaching that the circumstances requiring it are, “…very rare, if not practically non-existent.”. If these cases were already “practically non-existent” yet further restrictions have been introduced, what are we to conclude but that the use of the death penalty has been ruled out completely?

While this is true, I have to think that taking into account a person’s reasoning is an important part of understanding their conclusions. Above, you stated that in your view, “[Fr. Fongemie’s] position is unnecessarily confrontational, and pretty much ends the conversation before it can ever really begin.” But doesn’t discounting the reasoning given by the Holy Father in support of his conclusions also end the conversation? I could easily make the case that Pope Francis isn’t in favor of abolishing the death penalty worldwide by ignoring the contents of the letters and decrees promulgated, but that wouldn’t be fair to the Holy Father.

We must also take into account the not-insignificant number of bishops (my local ordinary among them) who take the revision to mean that the death penalty is now, in fact, unacceptable in all cases and publicly state as much. If they were mistaken and misrepresenting Pope Francis’s views, we should expect them to be admonished; thus far, this has not occurred. How far does ignoring Pope Francis’s prudential reasoning extend? I suppose I’m putting you on the spot here, but are you also willing to ignore your local ordinary, even entire bishops’ conferences?

Agreed. If the revision is erroneous then we are dealing with a very serious matter indeed, one which must be addressed and rectified so that no confusion arises in the minds of the faithful. My view, however, is that this can only happen if there is a general acknowledgment of this need for a correction. Trying to downplay the revision or harmonize it with prior statements, in the face of all the (admittedly non-infallible but still consequential evidence) only serves to slow down that process.


It is the task of those who have responsibility for the common good to make that determination. Just as for war, so too for capital punishment.

2309 These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.


Punishment has four objectives…

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. (Dulles)

The primary objective is retribution, protection is a secondary objective.

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

Of the two criteria that make a punishment just, the first - whether it is of commensurate severity with the crime - is always true of capital punishment and murder. The second, whether the punishment is harmful to society, is a prudential judgment.


It is one thing to say capital punishment is ruled out because of a prudential judgment about existing conditions, and quite another to assert doctrine rules it out for being immoral. Given the church’s belief that capital punishment was supported by Scripture it seems a bit much to accept that it is now Scripture that bans it.

I do not ignore it. I have very carefully addressed the issues…and then come to a different conclusion, a position I believe is justified inasmuch as prudential judgments do not require assent.

If it ever came down to a matter of assent being required I (we) would all be in the position of assenting to this magisterium and of dissenting from every previous magisterium. I am unwilling to accept that we are required to believe today what was a heresy to believe before.


From your Bishops ( USSCB) year 2000.
There is a lot more to read . This is just a few lines

“Our society seems to prefer punishment to rehabilitation and retribution to restoration thereby indicating a failure to recognize prisoners as human beings.

In some ways, an approach to criminal justice that is inspired by a Catholic vision is a paradox. We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that threatens lives and violates the rights of others. We believe in responsibility, accountability, and legitimate punishment. Those who harm others or damage property must be held accountable for the hurt they have caused. The community has a right to establish and enforce laws to protect people and to advance the common good.

At the same time, a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate these laws. We believe that both victims and offenders are children of God. Despite their very different claims on society, their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. We seek justice, not vengeance. We believe punishment must have clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the law.

We believe a Catholic vision of crime and criminal justice can offer some alternatives. It recognizes that root causes and personal choices can both be factors in crime by understanding the need for responsibility on the part of the offender and an opportunity for their rehabilitation. A Catholic approach leads us to encourage models of restorative justice that seek to address crime in terms of the harm done to victims and communities, not simply as a violation of law.

Scriptural Foundations
The Old Testament provides us with a rich tradition that demonstrates both God’s justice and mercy. The Lord offered to his people Ten Commandments, very basic rules for living from which the Israelites formed their own laws in a covenant relationship with God. Punishment was required, reparations were demanded, and relationships were restored. But the Lord never abandoned his people despite their sins. And in times of trouble, victims relied on God’s love and mercy, and then on each other to find comfort and support (Is 57:18-21; Ps 94:19).

Just as God never abandons us, so too we must be in covenant with one another. We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or reintegration of all into the community.

The New Testament builds on this tradition and extends it. Jesus demonstrated his disappointment with those who oppressed others (Mt 23) and those who defiled sacred spaces (Jn 2). At the same time, he rejected punishment for its own sake, noting that we are all sinners (Jn 8). Jesus also rejected revenge and retaliation and was ever hopeful that offenders would transform their lives and turn to be embraced by God ‘s love “


I didn’t say that the Church makes civil laws. I said that it is the duty and evangelical commission to speak out when there is injustice happening. The Church exists as the guardian of the faith and morals of society.

Abolition of the death penalty has been happening around the world as no longer morally acceptable. The Church has had to come out strongly in the last 20 years to defend this movement of the Spirit, against interpretations of Catholic doctrine such as yours, which work to prevent that movement of the Spirit.


Capital punishment was never ‘supported by Scripture’. Capital punishment is a civil sentence. Scripture permitted execution if the good of the community warranted that redress. As Aquinas stated, it is forbidden if society is harmed by it. Aquinas is not talking about individual cases. What court has ever factored the harm to society in an individual case? That’s an absurd interpretation. Aquinas is referring to the culture of capital punishment and it’s effect on society. Society is forbidden to entertain the death penalty in law if it is harming society. It is immoral and unjust if it harms society.

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