Catholic church on death penalty

Can someone fully explain what does the Church teach about the death penalty and why is it moral. So i could defend it against the attacks of secularists…

I thought the Church was against the death penalty. You should be able to find it in the Catechism, I am just unsure where.

The Church has always taught that the state and individuals have the right to self defense but that the use of force must be a last resort.

The Catechism:

Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66 

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."68

The Church teaches that the death penalty is wrong, because all life is sacred and should never be ended deliberately.

Also, the Catechism shows that the only legitimate punishments are those that rehabilitate the criminal. The death penalty clearly does not.

The only time, therefore, that the death penalty may be acceptable is if there is no other means of preventing the criminal from striking again or protecting society. However, in the modern justice system, there are many other ways (such as life in prison) to protect the rest of society from further crime. This makes the death penalty virtually inacceptable.

The United States Conference or Catholic Bishops condemned the death penalty in the 1970s for these reasons and because it is not humane.

The Catholic Church considers the Death Penalty not to be immoral per se, but to be used rarely when no other viable options are available for protecting society from the malefactor.

It is a variety of self defense as Paul from Iowa noted

Here are the references from Church teaching

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Cathechism of the Catholic Church

Catechism of Trent (on the 5th Commandment)

Execution Of Criminals

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life.

Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord. (Ps 101:8)

In short, it is permitted by the Church, but only in rare circumstances.

Richard, I would like to see your reference for that statement.

Generally, speaking, Catholic Moral Theology sees punishment as a redress of the wrong, It falls under the Virtue of Justice.

Pauls response is the best in my mind. It does include the possibility of the death penalty under very strict guidelines that there is no other apparent way to protect others from the person who may face the death penalty, explains self defense well and the sanctity of life.

I struggle with my position on the death penalty, as I can agree that killing is a sin and there is always the risk of executing an innocent person and life is sacred. But the place that troubles me is when we are dealing with serial killers or mass murderers. I sometimes really think these individuals have sealed their fate with God and often honestly think they are already dead inside. I do think the only way to protect people from such individuals is through the death penalty.

It does not mean I would vote for it, but I most likely would try to see myself excused from a jury if it was this kind of trial. I really do struggle with this, and accept life sentences as the next best way to protect society from these kind of people. I have to leave the rest to God really.

“Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it *must *contribute to the correction of the guilty party.” (CCC, 2266, emphasis added)

We are all guilty parties and we all get the death penalty sooner or later. :frowning:

The Church teaches that the death penalty is wrong in most cases. The exceptions would be when there is no other way to protect the public. There are examples of felons directing hits on people on the outside, and generally conducting their other business as usual from prison. So yes, sometimes the death penalty is necessary.

But that’s not the same thing as this:

Rehabilitation must be one of the goals of punishment; but it’s not true to say that it must be the result, nor that it must be the only form of punishment.

Even the best (most fair, safest, wisest, just, etc. etc.) forms of punishment cannot rehabilitate every criminal.

Further, rehabilitation is only part of the overall “desired end.” A desire for rehabilitation does not mitigate the desire for justice in the form of a redress for the wrong.

A man gets caught running a ponzi scheme.
He might be rehabilitated (truly and sincerely), but returning the money to the victims, as much as possible (redress), is also a necessary goal.

Wrong.

"Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party…Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. "

That is Correction, not Rehabilitation. There is a decided difference

For example, a student might put on a test that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 22, 1776. The Teacher would apply Correction, in that the student would be shown that the item was wrong. The act of Correction does not Rehabilitate the student, the student could remain convinced that their answer was correct. But Correction was still applied.

True, but I would say that “medicinal purpose” can be viewed as “rehabilitation.” The two do not necessarily mean the same thing, but as I read it in this context of the Catechism, I think that it’s safe to say that the concept of rehabilitation is more–or-less the meaning of “medicinal.” Of course, it must “contribute to the correction of the guilty party” meaning that the Church takes into account the obvious fact that the state cannot simply heal the criminal. The patient must be willing.

I would agree. I would also claim that rehabilitation and the death penalty are not as contrary as Richard might think, especially if, by rehabilitation, we mean telelogically, not temporally.

As Cardinal Dulles noted in his article in First Things

Capital punishment does not reintegrate the criminal into society; rather, it cuts off any possible rehabilitation. The sentence of death, however, can and sometimes does move the condemned person to repentance and conversion. There is a large body of Christian literature on the value of prayers and pastoral ministry for convicts on death row or on the scaffold. In cases where the criminal seems incapable of being reintegrated into human society, the death penalty may be a way of achieving the criminal’s reconciliation with God.

As further evidence, I would put forth Timothy McVey. He received a conversion while on Death Row. He asked for (and received) Sacramental Absolution. He received it again just prior to his execution, along with viatcum and the Apostolic Blessing.

So if he received such under the normal conditions for the Plenary Indulgence, there is a strong likelihood that he is experiencing the Beatific Vision as we speak. Either way, we will eventually see him in Heaven.

Thus, with a view towards our end, rehabilitation was achieved, as it brought about his conversion and a death in Grace. He could not be integrated into temporal society again (temporal rehabilitation), but he COULD (and was) integrated into the community of the Saints. Which is really the goal of the Church :slight_smile:

FYI, here is Cardinal Dulles article on the Church’s teachings on the Death Penalty.

I know of no Ordinary that disagrees with his conclusions.

catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0461.html

There have been those who have quoted Cardinal Dulles out of context, or have attempted to use his words to claim something other than Catholic teaching and here is his rebuttal.

ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=23852

In his rebuttal, he had a great summation

“In my First Things article of April 2001 and several subsequent talks,” said the theologian, “I have made two principal points: first, that the death penalty is not a violation of the right to life of a person who has committed a deliberate and heinous crime; second, that, given the current situation in countries like the United States, it is generally undesirable to impose the death penalty.”

“The first of these theses is a reaffirmation of Scripture and long-standing tradition; the second is a prudential application of the principles, dependent on contingent circumstances,” the cardinal stated.

I read it this way too as it seems more in keeping with the visual model used by Thomas Aquinas. Correction is the measure by which the person *is given the possibility *to redeem himself in the same way that an infected or broken limb is treated with antibiotics or set in plaster, giving the body the time and support to heal itself.

Firsty, I agree.

I struggled with exactly how I wanted to phrase the last sentence or 2 in that post.

My point was to say that we can (in a limited way) say that “medicinal” and “rehabilitative” have similar meanings (in context) therefore rehabilitation is indeed a value that the Church wants to express, rather than to say that it’s not intended at all.

Brendan wrote “that’s correction, not rehabilitation” in response to an earlier post
and I wanted to make my point (above) so that someone else would not misunderstand and think that either of us were trying to say that the Church is not looking for rehabilitation.

The second part was to emphasize the “contributes to” words in the Catechism. Punishment contributes to the correction of the guilty party, but it does not necessarily achieve it. More than just punishment is needed (a lot more).

Not that anyone is advancing the idea here, but I wanted to make the point that punishment by itself is insufficient.
Both of these extremes are misguided:

  1. the solution is simply more prison time or more stringent prisons
  2. when an inmate has served (1/3 of) his time, we automatically assume that he’s been rehabilitated

So, punishment is not an “end,” it is a “means to an end.”

As to the discussions regarding rehabilitation. If there is any place that are system fails completely it is in rehabilitation. We seem to have nothing more than holding factories for the criminally inclined.

And, I don’t think that there is any way to rehabilitate sex offenders or serial killers. These folks should never be released from prison, and are among those that the death penalty may be the only answer, particularly serial killers. This is just my view here.

I just can’t believe how many times you can hear about an assault and rape being committed by repeat offenders. I always wonder why in the world they have been let go…so they can commit these crimes again and again.

I have found the explanations about the death penalty helpful here. I now feel more confident in my own views of the death penalty, where earlier I thought the Church had no allowance for it’s use.

This may be a common perception but it is not accurate; the church does not teach that capital punishment is wrong because all life is sacred. The irony of this assertion is that the church’s actual position has been based on two Scripture passages (Rom 13:1-4, and Gn 9:6) and Gn 9:6 states that capital punishment is required … because the life of the victim was sacred.

Also, the Catechism shows that the only legitimate punishments are those that rehabilitate the criminal. The death penalty clearly does not.

Not quite…*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)
Rehabilitation is certainly a valid objective, but the primary objective is identified in 2266:
*The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. *
“Redressing the disorder” actually refers to retribution.

The United States Conference or Catholic Bishops condemned the death penalty in the 1970s for these reasons and because it is not humane.

The opinion of the USCCB in this case did not represent church teaching.

Ender

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