Capital punishment...again


Do you think that the rest of the world and all the Catholic faithful on the forum believe that this is what they are doing? What qualifications or superior knowledge are you referencing to come to that conclusion over and above the Magisterium of the Church with her wealth of theologians and historical work? You must surely realise that what you are arguing is nothing more than your limited opinion because ‘prudential judgements’ aren’t come to in an armchair.

Prudential judgment is the application of moral principles to a particular case in order to do good and avoid evil. It is a recognition that we live in an imperfect world, in which achieving pure goodness is not always possible, but the Christian must constantly strive to move toward a more perfect world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806).

Prudential judgment is not a way to rationalize a political calculation, avoid rocking the boat or justifying one’s own interest. Nor is it a pretext to ignore Church teaching. If a Catholic finds herself in conflict with the Church’s teaching on an issue, she must give serious consideration to the teaching and work to understand the conflict. It is important that we put aside any personal motives, including partisan preference or individual gain that might cloud our judgment.

“The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence, which St. Ambrose described as ‘the charioteer of the virtues.’" (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, No. 19)


It is no less morally acceptable now than it has ever been, given that morality does not change with the times.

“My” interpretation is quite literally nothing other than what the church taught for 2000 years.


I disagree. If a way to treat an etopic pregnancy that allows the baby to survive is discovered the current morally acceptable treatment would become immoral.


We’ve been over this earlier in the thread. Slavery, flogging, polygamy. Once moral, now immoral. This problem is very much with your power to reason without a sound understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic natures.

No, your interpretation does not factor in the principles of intrinsic and extrinsic moral qualities. The Church has defined those principles in order to understand how a “growing moral sensitivity” can warrant the abolition of previously endorsed practices without going outside doctrine.


Well obviously the church thought it was.

  • The Catholic Church has always taught that legitimate governments have the right to impose the death penalty on those guilty of the most serious crimes. This teaching has been consistent for centuries — in the Scriptures, in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the teachings of the popes. (Archbishop Gomez, 2016)
  • 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. (Archbishop Chaput, 2005)
  • If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4). (Cardinal Dulles, 2002)
  • It is lawful for a Christian magistrate to punish with death disturbers of the public peace. It is proved, first, from the Scriptures (St. Bellarmine, c 1600)

I’ll say this for the last time. The determination of what harms society is a prudential judgment. It is not a moral judgment and an error in judgment is properly called a mistake, not a sin.

As for what Scripture supports, it is the morality of capital punishment in general. That it may be unwise in particular circumstances is not what it addresses.


I think the real question is not what others believe but what is true. It was a heresy before to deny the legitimacy of capital punishment. If we are now required to believe what we were required to deny before then apparently the heretics were right and the church was wrong.


No, only “always objectively disordered”. Just as “thou shall not directly kill” means.
It is murder that is intrinsically morally evil.
You have confused the object of a human (ie moral) act with the complete moral act itself.

Yes direct killing has always been wrong.
Yet surely you accept lethal self defence is ok if conditions are met.

Why do you then insist all State Killings in the past must have been unjust? Pope Francis is fairly clearly saying that if the violence of CP is likewise proportionate for defence of the State then it was and is moral. Even the last 3 Popes can be seen to say that.

By saying immoral you are suggesting both the Church and State knew they were wrong and killed in malice anyways. That is emotive rhetoric on your part not a logical, cool assessment of the past.
Yes, Churchmen make mistakes such as tolerating the burning of witches, slavery, allowing and sanctioning torture, wrongly condemning scientists and abusing children.
Hopefully we learn from our mistakes and correct them as we learn better. Which the last 4 Popes are doing.

I think a better counter argument than this is needed.
Have another go.


Thats quite the leap and hardly the only meaning of the text, nor its face value one.

Punishment means more than penalty…even Dulles agrees to that…yet you treat the words in each quote as exactly the same.

Nor is “primary scope” the same as primary purpose.

Nor does implied “secondary purpose” (if that was even meant) of State defence make a sensible interpretation of the CCC if you see that as meaning this is not essential for a just punishment as the CCC later makes quite clear.

Hence if your above interpretation of the CCC is correct then you must hold the CCC is intrinsically contradictory re State Killings. So why quote part of the CCC that you like for your own defence? That is not intellectually honest. If other CCC parts are wrong you must accept that what you CCC quote in your own support is contaminated also and with uncertain authority.

That only leaves you with Cardinal Dulles…not that I think you have interpretted him correctly either.

Regardless, why would a loyal son of the Church insist his interpretation of C Dulles’s view of the matter trumps the contrary clear view of the last four Cardinals with the Office of Peter? That would suggest your interpretation of Dulles is wrong or Dulles is wrong. Why would you prefer the Popes to be wrong instead?

I am not trying to be impolite but the only answer I can come up with is hubris or an unwillingness to reassess ones long cherished theological worldview.


I think you misunderstand.
The judgement being made in the CCC is that the “scope of the penalty” normally demanded of a murderer is to be narrowed from death to something less violent if at all possible if the State can still be protected … and under pain of injustice.

This is all about a judgement at the level of principle. That is not called a prudential judgement. Its a doctrinal teaching. That is the Popes privilege.

Yes, identifying whether actual State Killings in the US or Zambia meet these principles (and hence is unjust) is a prudential judgement.


If an execution, by denying the dignity of the person, is always objectively disordered" why is it not always immoral? How can something that is always disordered not be immoral? Are you implying that there are times when denying someone’s dignity is acceptable?

No, it hasn’t. Even today direct killing in a just war is acceptable, and before last year direct killing (whatever that term means) was also specifically allowed as punishment.

If capital punishment is immoral because it is an affront to man’s dignity then it is immoral without exception, and defense of the state is immaterial, but if it is justifiable on prudential grounds when deemed necessary then nothing has changed. His objection, like those of the popes immediately preceding him, is prudential.

If capital punishment is immoral today it must have been immoral in the past as morality does not change, but if it is immoral then everyone who supported a state’s right to use it was mistaken, which means virtually everyone in the church (Fathers, Doctors, popes, magisteriums, councils…) simply failed to understand a significant moral question, and not only failed to understand it but also completely misunderstood Scripture.


I believe your referencing here what the CCC said, probably #2267, before the recent change of a couple of months ago. This text did not bind authorities under pain of injustice if they didn’t follow precisely what is said in the text such as “If non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means” nor even the catholic faithful. The catechism inserted here what was essentially St John Paul II’s opinion and prudential judgement on the matter. Pope Benedict XVI clarified when he was prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under St John Paul in a letter he sent to Cardinal McCarrick and the US bishops in 2004 on the worthiness to receive communion the following:

  1. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

When Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, he spoke of the moral non-negotiables and other moral matters that are negotiable and subject to diversity of opinion and various prudential judgements such as the application of the death penalty. So, the language of the CCC didn’t bind a catholic absolutely to what was essentially St John Paul II’s opinion or judgement on the application of the death penalty. It is more of like a moral persuasion or counsel without binding under penalty of sin. The idea in the catechism that today’s prisons have rendered criminals ‘incapable of doing harm’ cannot be sustained at least inside US prisons where prison violence such as assault, murder, or rape is not infrequent. I was just reading an article from 2015 where it says that The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that somewhere between 86,000 and 200,000 cases of sexual assault happen in our prisons every year .


I disagree; the terms are synonyms.

Again, the terms are synonyms.

Protection is a desired element but it is not an essential element of a just punishment. Neither are the other secondary objectives of rehabilitation and deterrence. There can be only one primary objective, and if in satisfying that objective a secondary objective is left unsatisfied that doesn’t make the punishment unjust.

First, why use a term like “state killing” instead of execution? Does this imply they are somehow different things? Second, I have no idea what you’re referring to here. Retribution is the primary objective of all punishment, that’s what the passage in 2266 means. 2267 simply ignores this and implies that defense is primary, but that implication is incorrect as long as 2266 remains unchanged.

I am so tired of these petty insults. If you have nothing useful to say, say it somewhere else.


Arguing that a judgment is not really a prudential judgment but is doctrinal is like trying to square a circle.

Right, it is a prudential judgment, just as it was before. As I said, essentially nothing has changed.


You have to realize what you are saying here.
Morality evaluates human acts in reference to the good.
The good we are referring to here is human life.

The Church observes and proclaims that it is good to be alive. And that God is the author of life. And that good should be affirmed and protected.
So morality is not merely a set of unchanging rules and prohibitions. Those are an essential part of a moral system and expression, but those are not the sum of the thing. In this particular moral evaluation, the desired end of prohibitions and the end of the whole moral system is the good of life.

And it is hard to see how the new CCC passage runs afoul of that. Doctrines develop. Expressions of doctrines change. Disciplines change. Practical considerations come and go.
The Church has not wavered on any core issue. To the contrary, we can say the Pope is reaffirming the core issue: that good which is the sanctity of life.


That is it to a tee. When you look back at the Churchs treatment of capital punishment, it is always within the context of the 5th Commandment. Not as a principle of positive law or human justice. It is permitted if the good of society warrants it. It is defended by the Church only as a permission as a medicinal measure in serving justice.

All who sin mortally are deserving of eternal death, as regards future retribution, which is in accordance with the truth of the divine judgment. But the punishments of this life are more of a medicinal character; wherefore the punishment of death is inflicted on those sins alone which conduce to the grave undoing of others. (ST II II 108 3)

It is forbidden when the good of society is harmed by its use.

Our Lord forbids the uprooting of the cockle, when there is fear lest the wheat be uprooted together with it. (ibid.)


Because you do not have a sound understanding of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic values, it will be difficult for you to receive the above statements as defenses against the claim that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. The statements read to you only as proclamations that abolition is illegitimate.


That is all coming from your own version of what prudence entails. The Church teaches prudence relates to moral reasoning.

CCC 1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going."65 "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

Your explanation that imprudence means nothing more than unwise or a mistake is solely yours.


This is the bottom line. This is were the subject immediately gets changed to something else.


What we understand is that there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic evils. Our Church has established that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil. There was a time that it served the common good and it was heretical to claim that it was never of good service. That is what we understand in complete accordance with Church teaching.

We also understand that because it serves a medicinal purpose and is dependent on what is good for society, it is heretical now to claim that abolition is inconsistent with justice and Church teaching to that end. The Church says that while it is legitimate to have disagreement on current conditions in a society discussing the death penalty, that it is a cruel and unnecessary punishment where there are ways of protecting society without it.

Aquinas is the Churchs prolific doctor in explaining human justice.

“In the other moral virtues the rational, not the real mean, is to be followed: but justice follows the real mean; wherefore the mean, in justice, depends on the diversity of things.” (ST II II 61 2)

Justice unlike the other virtues is not fixed within itself. It is a good only in relation to how it serves society.

"As stated above (Article 9; I-II:59:4), the other moral virtues are chiefly concerned with the passions, the regulation of which is gauged entirely by a comparison with the very man who is the subject of those passions, in so far as his anger and desire are vested with their various due circumstances. Hence the mean in such like virtues is measured not by the proportion of one thing to another, but merely by comparison with the virtuous man himself, so that with them the mean is only that which is fixed by reason in our regard.

On the other hand, the matter of justice is external operation, in so far as an operation or the thing used in that operation is duly proportionate to another person, wherefore the mean of justice consists in a certain proportion of equality between the external thing and the external person. Now equality is the real mean between greater and less, as stated in Metaph. x [Didot ed., ix, 5; Cf. Ethic. v, 4: wherefore justice observes the real mean." (ST II II 58 10)

When capital punishment does not serve the common good, it is no longer good. It is unjust and immoral. As a punishment, it has no fixed, intrinsic character and is either just or unjust depending on external factors.


This is also an issue related to the dignity of persons which one doesn’t t loose for being incarcerated.
And it is something else to tackle with and improve worldwide or where needed in countries with or without CP.
It doesn’t end only by ending CP…it goes on …
Now , as far as the cases you mention , I do not recall anyone in death row who also killed sb in prison (I may be wrong…) so the case you present may be unfair for those who were and are in death row.
Nobody is talking about perfect prisons. But true is that there is a lot of room for imptovement in many areas.
As a side note, where I live, conditions in prison need to improve a lot, even some of the buildings which are almost shameful in very bad shape to be guarding human beings, but I read last week that in some of ours a new approach will be taken. Guards usually do almost everything, now sociologists, psychologists, doctors and other specialized people are going to deal with the prisoners daily in a way that guards will do strictly what they have to do. A bit poorly explained, the article was in Spanish but I thought at long last something in view of the person in prison as well as the guardians is being done for the better where I live… Made me glad…

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