Capital Punishment


Just to get this straight.
-The Catholic Church never supported the death penalty.
-The death penalty was never administered by the Church.

But, what I don’t get is, why would God tell the Jews to stone people to death, etc. and then let Jesus come along and stop them from doing this.


Now I know you’re posting just to cause strife.

And actually, believe it or not the Church qua church never administered the death penalty.


Jesus didn’t stop them from stoning the woman - He just said that the one without guilt should throw the first stone.


If you all are interested in stoning, you might look into the Sharia. Convert to Islam and live in the right country one might even get an opportunity to watch or even take part.


Really? Okay, not to endorse the killing of humans, I thought people were killed by Inquisition soldiers sent by the Church. :confused: And didn’t people die in the Spanish Inquisition too? And I ask this as a pro-Catholic, mind you.


Mistakes have been made in the name of the Lord.

It’s not done anymore. Such things were very bad. What’s your point? :confused:


I don’t think Dominikus is trying to cause strife. In an early post he gave his age as 15. I think he is just having a lot of questions come to mind (which I can certainly relate to) and he is coming here to see if there are good answers. Let’s help him out.



Not exactly. I think “support” is the wrong term. The Church teaches that the death penalt is not intrinsically wrong. What that means is that society has the right to protect itself from harm. That includes executing those who commit serious crimes.

In the past, that was just about the only way to ensure these people were stopped. In *today’s *society, we have other alternatives. Therefore, the death penalty should be rarely used because rarely is it the only way to stop someone.

The death penalty may not be legitimately used as revenge, punishment, deterent to others, etc.

The civil government utlized the death penaly, not the Church.

God is the author of life. God can command *punishment *because he has that perogative. Human beings do not and cannot.

God set aside his people in a land of pagan darkness. He set them apart to live according to his Law. Yes, transgression of many of them carried serious consequences.


I believe the confusion you have comes in because **heresy **was a captial crime under civil law.

The rulers of the time considered it to be a serious threat to the social order and treason. So, if someone was declared a heretic by the church, the state would pursue them and execute them if they didn’t recant.


Ohh, so it wasn’t that people were killed on the order of a a group of bishops, it was that people were killed on the order of the civil government?


The catholic Church has ALWAYS supported the death penalty.


Correct. The Church did not have authority in this realm.

However, I would also say that there are probably isolated instances of clerics committing abuse or taking direction from a secular ruler-- after all we are talking about a period of multiple centuries across multiple countries. Those individuals would not be acting on order of “the Church” but rather have taken matters into their own hands.


I suspect in the days of the Papal States the church did execute people. And during the Inquisition although they were not the ones doing the executing they certainly supported it. My question to you is so what?


No, “the Church” did not execute people. Please be precise.

The papal states had a civil government that carried out judicial matters, including capital punishment. These were temporal powers of the Pope, not ecclesiastical.


The assumptions made in the opening post did not sound true to me.


I’ve been told, and read, that if you look at the old laws from how it was before, then it makes more sense. Think about this, it went from when a man harms you, kill his clan and take his stuff in return to an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. It was the beginning of a higher order. Then Jesus took it to turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies. That is the fullest fulfillment of the law. From this approach, man was not ready for the way of Christ, but needed a less violent way of law first.


The Church acknowledges that states have the authority from God to administer the death penalty when necessary to ensure a just ordering of society–this right is however given to the temporal government, not the Church. It is similar to the doctrine on when it is licit to wage war. However, it has been the general judgment of the Pope and Bishops that given current circumstances the death penalty is almost never necessary (just like in the 1940s or 50s Pope Pius XII said that war was almost obsolete given the other means available, as well as the destructive nature of modern warfare.)

As for the Jews, the law is a foreshadow of greater truths revealed by Christ. What the Jews were put to death for were essentially mortal sins. The law and its death penalties showed the deadly result of grave sin. Christ revealed the reality of eternal death–eternal damnation. There is no more need for the figure when the full reality has been revealed.


Thank you for all the answers. But I still don’t get one thing. I’ve been reading the bible and it says that God told the Jews all these rules about when someone kills another, they must be stoned to death.
Jesus later comes in and says that one who is without sin must cast the first stone. Why didn’t God tell the Jews this in the first place?

Also, when someone asks Jesus about divorce and they say that Moses allowed it, Jesus says it’s not allowed.


Yes, the Jews were laying a trap for Jesus to discredit him. He deftly beat them at their own game with his answer.

Well, we don’t know why. God has not revealed all things to us.

Yes, Moses *allowed *it. Moses had no authority from God to allow it. This is what is called permissive will. We all have free will, and God allows us to use it even when it goes against his Divine Will because we are created free, not puppets.

So, yes, Moses did this through his free will, although never given this command from God.


I am not so sure as you.

  1. 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, withguidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows:* June, 2004 *“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.”
    Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: More Concerned with ‘Comfort’ than Christ?, Catholic Online, 7/11/2004

2)* Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000, "At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (Jn 19:1 l).Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Lk 23:41). "
“Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.”
“Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners.”
"The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment. "
“Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.”
"The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime. Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the Consistent Ethic of Life here at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the classical position that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.
"Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. "

(“The Death Penalty: A Right to Life Issue?” at
NOTE: although Dulles makes palpable errors of fact and logic within the sections “The Purposes of Punishment” and “Harm Attributed to the Death Penalty”, it is, otherwise, a solid historical treatment of the Church and the death penalty)

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