Church Teaching on Death Penalty

I was just reading through my Catechism regarding the death penalty, and comparing it with the fact that Pope Francis has now changed the Catechism to declare the death penalty “inadmissible”.
I find the previous Church teaching much more balanced and sensible.
So I’m left with a couple of problems for which I have questions:

  1. I cannot find myself able to accept this “new” teaching of Pope Francis. Does a Catholic have to accept everything in the Catechism? Can I disagree with this teaching of the Pope in the Catechism? And if so, why this teaching and not others?

  2. How can a teaching of the Church change? I understand societies ability to reform and house prisoners without the need for the death penalty has increased greatly, especially in the west, however surely what is morally acceptable cannot change?

It’s all a bit confusing.
Any light that could be shed would be appreciated.

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The Catechism change says that the death penalty is inadmissible, not immoral (not intrinsically, anyways). The “morality” of it isn’t what the Church is challenging- it’s challenging its legitimacy in modern days in light of the fact that we can have relative assurance that offenders won’t be able to escape and hurt others.


Seems like a very vague word for the Church to use, though…


We are called to assent to the teachings of the Church and the Pope.

“Disagree” is such a vague term here in this post. See above regarding religious assent.

See again the link above, and Lumen Gentium.

Doctrine doesn’t change. Our understanding of it changes. In this case, the foundation of the doctrine didn’t change. Our application of it in this age is what has changed.

Acceptability isn’t the same as morality.

It is not intrinsically evil.

It is also not an acceptable remedy in the modern age.


I’m Catholic, but I believe in the death penalty. I guess this isn’t an issue unless I’m on a jury… which brings an interesting point by declaring this the Pope has given prosecutors reason to exclude faithful Catholics from Juries.


This particular deceased horse has been flogged mercilessly. The search feature is your friend.


{13:1} Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God.
{13:2} Therefore, he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation.
{13:3} For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same.
{13:4} For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

Executing God’s Wrath sounds a lot like the death penalty to me.

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As above, this question has been debated time and again. What puzzles me each time is why people who claim to be faithful to Church teaching would wish to hold a position that is not the same as the one held by the pope. Now, there’s a lot in Catholic teaching with which I disagree, but I am the first to admit that I hold heterodox views and that I disagree with the pope on a number of issues. What puzzles me, therefore, is that the people who find it hard to accept Catholic teaching on the death penalty are usually very conservative, traditionalist Catholics who are absolutely scrupulous in their adherence to Catholic teaching on everything other than the death penalty. Furthermore, they tend to frame their opposition in terms of thinking that the pope himself must somehow be in error because he appears to have changed the Church’s immutable teaching. They seem to think that they are quite possibly more Catholic than the pope. Also, they always seem to be American conservatives who feel a strange cultural attachment to the practice of people being killed by the state.

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The same reason why people who advocate gay sex, premarital sex, artificial birth control, skipping Mass on Sunday without penalty, etc wish to hold a different position. They’re so married to the idea of being able to do something they agree with, in this case execute “monstrous” murderers, that they can’t imagine a world where we don’t do this, even though the number of executions in USA is so miniscule that whether Joe Murderer gets executed or just rots away in prison for 50 years has very little effect on anyone’s life.

Also, they think it was somehow allowed to kill murderers before and the Pope changed the rules, when actually he didn’t.

By the way, I don’t think you should be popping off about Americans given that your own country brutally executed people for centuries. The USA is only about 250 years from being a wilderness where it was pretty much kill or be killed when you met hostile persons. We aren’t the ones who were hanging, drawing and quartering people right and left, or doing the even worse things other countries in Europe did for hundreds of years, before everybody got sick of it and stopped.


What’s vague about the word “disagree”?
I understand that the teaching on the death penalty isn’t a doctrine, but it certainly seems that, doctrinal or not, the teaching has changed. So, must a Catholic accept the “new” position of the Church on this? And if not, what does that mean for that Catholic.
It seems that the statement “it is also not an acceptable remedy in the modern age” is nothing more than your opinion, though.

Also, I’d rather not get into a tangent argument. I’d rather get as clear an answer to my original questions as possible!! Thanks!

A Catholic must accept what is in the current version of the Catechism. If you have a serious disagreement, you should talk to your priest, think more about the issue, and if you absolutely can’t agree then you must tell God that you don’t agree but you accept it and will act in accordance with it, and ask him to send the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind.

This applies whether the issue is gay sex or death penalty.

If you insist on publicly disagreeing with the position of the Church as expressed in the Catechism then it might very well be a sin.

It’s been explained on dozens of threads here that the change regarding the death penalty is not a “new” position. I suggest you read some of the old threads as there are probably at least 15 of them and you’re late to the party here.

Ok, so my problem is something like this: 1st August 2018: The death penalty is admissible in certain, albeit limited circumstances.
2nd August 2018. The death penalty is inadmissible.

I find that a little hard to swallow.

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“A Catholic must accept what is in the current version of the Catechism.” - Without exception? If that’s the case, ok. I’m just wondering because I have heard others, online and elsewhere, say a faithful Catholic can disagree with the Pope on the issue of the death penalty. I’ll try to find that.

“It’s been explained on dozens of threads here that the change regarding the death penalty is not a “new” position.” - Seems new.

Well, there is disagree and then there is disagree.

Disagree = don’t really understand but keep working to understand and assent the authority of the church… OK

Disagree = obstinantely disagree, don’t try to understand, and blog about disagreement… not OK


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This is what I was thinking of:

“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 Ratzinger

With no offense meant, how do I know this is more than just your opinion?

I already referred you to Lumen Gentium and the write up on religious assent.

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Why would you think it’s okay for Catholics to pick out sections of the Catechism and disagree with them?

Edited to add, I’m pretty sure Pope Benedict formerly Cardinal Ratzinger would not tell you “yeah that’s fine, if it’s just some little moral issue feel free to ignore what the Catechism says.” I just can’t see that coming out of his mouth.

Well then I disagree, but I’m not going to go public with that disagreement or make my opinion the Truth. And I’m open to having my mind changed, but nor will I make an act of the will to assent to something I disagree with.

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