Catholic Heretics and the Death Penalty


A simple question - is the death penalty still able to be given to Catholics who refuse to repent of a heresy ? The death penalty for heretics certainly seems to have been advocated by Roman Catholic canon lawyers as recently as the early 20th century. I have two publications from papally approved books which say that it’s lawfully that heretics should be executed. And these books (both of them published in the 20th century in Rome) had official approval of the papal office.

What’s the truth of this please ?


Given by whom? The Holy Roman Empire? The Kingdom of France? The British Empire? The Empire of Spain? The dutchys and dukedoms of the Germans or the Italians?

No, I don’t think so.


According to canon law heresy is a crime against the church, yes ?

According to canon law it is the canon lawyers of the church who try cases of heresy ?

Canon law is the law of the Roman Catholic Church, yes ?

The two publications to which I refer were written by Canon Lawyers of the Roman Catholic Church based in Rome. These publications were approved by the papal office. In the 20th century.

And both publications say that obstinate Catholics found guilty of heresy should be killed.

I therefore ask again what the teaching of Roman Catholics IS on heretics and on the death penalty for heresy.


First, the death penalty against heretics was always carried out by the civil governments, not by the Popes, bishops, and priests. Not only that, the death penalty against heretics was carried out not only by the civil governments of Catholic countries but also by Protestant countries as well (Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Orthodox, etc.)

Second, (source of reference The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 edition, found at the web site New Advent) since 1909 the death penalty has been abrogated by said civil governments. Penalties for heresy remain purely spiritual (excommunication). I guess your books are incorrect, or your interpretation of what is said is incorrect.


With respect, I am not talking about CIVIL governments and what they may or may not do.

I am talking about the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic church has taught, and STILL teaches that obstinate heretics may be put to death. Is this true or not ?




So the Roman Catholic Church, which has over centuries found heretics guilty under their own canon law, and which has given them over to the civil authorities for execution, has changed its own teachings on Heresy ?

If it has changed its own teachings of Heresy it no longer follows canon law.

For, the civil government can continually change its policies and its laws. But the Roman Catholic Church bases its teachings on the bible and on tradition. It surely has no right to change its teachings unless they were wrong in the first place.

And when did the Roman Catholic Church change its teachings on Heresy ?


It’s a fair question. There has actually been a thread on this forum where there were Catholics (just a couple) advocating for the death of heretics.

Most faiths do have some complete and total nutters in them. It would hardly be fair to indict the whole of Catholicism because a couple of Holy Mother Church’s children shouldn’t be left alone with the scissors, now would it?


Change, no. Further explain, yes. For example, we distinguish between formal and material heretics.

If you’re wondering about the relationship of the Church to non-Catholic Christians, the best place to get your answer is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can access it online, just google it.


Well, may I seek some clarification on your last post ?

You seem to be saying that, sometimes, the Roman Catholic Church may indeed sentence a lapsed heretic to death. Yes ?


I’m sorry but you are incorrect in your assumptions and in your conclusions. Please check out and under the letter “H” for heresy. Please read it through thoroughly.

The teachings have not changed.

Let me give you an example. Your denomination (protestant, I believe?) had members who once held slaves and engaged in slavery, even citing ‘approval’ for the basis of slavery in the Bible.

Of course, you don’t have slaves now.

Did the Bible ‘change its teachings?’


If you’re asking me, no. I’m saying there are nut jobs who think that the Roman Catholic Church SHOULD be able to do that.


The Church does not sentence a heretic to death. Will you please read the Encyclopedia so that you will find written confirmation of this? The civil authorities (the ones who originally condemned heretics) no longer have the death penalty.

I note that you carefully avoid the fact that Protestant civil governments utilized the death penalty on heretics previously. . .why?


Very well. Thank you. In answer to my original question you now say -

‘The teachings have not changed’

In that case the Roman Catholic Church MAY indeed sentence a lapsed heretic to death. Yes ?


A discipline MAY well change. A juridicial sentence is not a dogma or a doctrine, which may not change.


No. Please read the Encyclopedia.


Indeed, I’m wondering myself.


I again seek your clarification.

You seem to be saying that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed its teachings on heresy.

If it has not changed its teachings then, surely, the teachings are the same today as they were at the time of Thomas Aquinas, Granderath or other canon lawyers.

Both of these canon lawyers believed in the death penalty for lapsed heretics. Yes ?


You need to decide which attack you want to press against the Church in this thread. Your claim that Church law calls for death for heretics, or your claim that since heretics are no longer killed, the Church is not infallible.


Protestant church leaders also called for the death penalty against heretics, which the civil authorities carried out.

Have the Protestant churches changed their teaching on heresy?

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