Death Penalty

I have sometimes been surprised by some of the comments I have heard from Catholics who seem to be in favour of the death penalty. Pope John Paul II in many utterances and in Evangelium Vitae clearly stated that the Catholic Church, except in the most extreme circumstances, is now against the death penalty. John Paul II saluted a rise in consciousness towards the death penalty as an assault on the dignity of human life.

These are just a few of the many examples:

nccbuscc.org/sdwp/national/deathpenalty/holyfather.shtml

pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/popestate.html

ocw.nd.edu/peace-studies/catholicism-and-politics/lectures/death-penalty

I cannot except a call to Tradition here. The Pope was quite explicit in his condemnation of the death penalty. The Church in the past committed many acts which we would not accept today. We love the Church despite its past failings - in the past the Church executed people for heresy. We would not accept that today, therefore because of the shift in Church teaching, we can no longer accept the death penalty.

I always ask myself ‘What would Our Lord have said if he were here now’?

Catholics are allowed to support the death penalty in principle until the magisterium says otherwise (i.e. with authority and clearly to be held by all the faithful as a doctrine that cannot be disputed).

Here is what the Catechism states:

*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 *

Recourse to the death penalty will always be in line with Church teaching because one will never know for sure whether non-lethal methods are sufficient. Unless this person is given life in prison with no possibility of parole there will always be a chance that the person could be dangerous once he is free from prison. Even so, it is always possible that this person could be dangerous to other prisoners and prison staff within the walls of the prison, etc, etc.

Personally, I am not in favor of the DP, but I can see where faithful Catholics can feel otherwise. And it’s not against Chruch teaching to do so.

PIUS XII was quite clear that Catholics are not obligated only to believe that which the Church infallibly defines.

In 2004, after the 1995 papal dcoument EV, Cardinal McCarrick received a memo from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in response to his query which clarifies the doctrinal weight of this teaching in comparison to abortion or euthanasia. Here is the relevant excerpt:

  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.
    -Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect
    Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith

Our Holy Church teaches that all life is sacred, whether it is at conception, or at trial. If our Lord was here, he would shed his tears for the condemned, especially those who are repentant for their past sins.

 A good example would be torture. In the past, the Church allowed torture, condition being the person does not suffer permanent physical disability or death. If the Church had prohibited torture all-together, monarchies would have just ignored the Church. Nowadays, the Church prohibits torture all-together. This is the same with the death penalty. Sometimes, the Church had to condone the execution of non-heretics because again, if they prohibited it all-together, medieval governments would have just ignored it. Nowadays, the Church prohibits the death penalty (with certain exceptions mentioned in the Catechism). 
 
 The Church has always had to compromise, and it will continue to compromise until the Last Judgement. 

 God Bless.  :highprayer:

I think it is important to emphasize the difference between a Catholic supporting the death penalty versus a Catholic upholding the Church’s teaching that the death penalty is not an act of intrinsic evil.

Like Pope JPII, I do not support the death penalty in our modern society (I think even a killer deserves the chance to repent and by ending his life pre-maturely he may not get that opportunity). That said, I recognize that when the death penalty is pitted up against intrinsic evils such as abortion and euthanasia (which happens commonly during elections) there is no question that the acts of intrinsic evil must be opposed first.

Keep in mind that JPII’s condemnation applies to today’s society where we have the luxuries of a justice and prison system. There was no such condemnation of the death penalty in days when there were still barbarians roaming around. Also, during the inquisition in the 16th century the Church was the first institution to actually bar the death penalty for acts of heresy (not executing somebody for heresy was unheard of before that time). All throughout history, the Church has been very much a light for the world (just like it is today).

I agree, that we should not use the death penalty,because it is again the commandments of God, "Thou shall not kill ',Jesus, will Judge us at the end of our time.We should under stand that we are not good either,that they, that do things to harm others or kill others might not be their fault.

I think this thread is listed in the wrong forum.

I second this. It is true that the Church rules that the death penalty is permissible in cases of last resort, such as where all other alternatives fail to protect society or punish the criminal, or there is an imminent threat to life that cannot be removed through detention. That is why she does not condemn the execution of dangerous terrorists.

However, her limited permission for the use of the death penalty does not give us free reign to take any stand we want on the death penalty. In fact, Pope after Pope and bishop after bishop have repeatedly called upon us to continue to uphold God’s commandment by limiting the use of the death penalty to the above cases. This is the basic imperative of God’s commandment that we shall not murder. If the death penalty is being used in a situation where it is not needed (for example, not fitting the above criteria), the Church opposes it. As a serious matter of faith and morals, we are called to obey the Church.

Perhaps we can draw a lesson from the Vatican’s response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden:

The Vatican says it does not rejoice in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event is an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace,” spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J. said on May 2.

catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-says-bin-laden-gravely-responsible-hopes-for-peace/

While the focus of the statement is on promoting peace, it is clear that the Holy See does not overtly oppose the death of Osama Bin Laden, but neither does it regard his death as something to rejoice over. Every death is a serious issue, whether committed for the purposes of justice or not. We are called to respect all life from birth to natural death, and not to treat it lightly, even those of the most wretched of criminals and enemies. Only then will we understand the gravity of the death penalty, and the reason why we must reserve it only for the most serious of crimes. :slight_smile:

If anyone has an example of where the death penalty would be ***“the only possible way of effectively defending human life against the unjust aggressor”***… please chime in.

This is a defacto condemnation of the death penalty. A situation where there is no alternative does not exist in our society.

I imagine war would be one, or suicide bombers. Strictly speaking, it would not be death penalty in that it is a punishment ruled upon by a judge within a court trial, however, it is a similar in that a disinterested decision must be made to terminate the life a specific individual. It is disinterested in that it is not borne of personal agenda (such as self-defence) but one made on behalf of society (such as protecting others from imminent threat to life).

However, when we limit the context to a court trial, I agree with you that the situations can be hard to come by. However, I would never rule it out completely, as I do not believe that we have excluded all possibilities. :slight_smile:

I’m not following this. We aren’t obligated to believe what the Church infallibly defines?

Knowing your post history I’m going to assume that it’s my fault…that I’m just not understadning you.

I think he means that we should not limit our obedience to the Church only to what has been labelled infallible and ignore everything else. Instead, we should be obedient to the Church in all its magisterial authority, hence:

PIUS XII was quite clear that Catholics are not obligated only to believe that which the Church infallibly defines.

Emphasis mine. :slight_smile:

I was speaking purely as in a court trial and death sentence. I agree that would not rule it our completely because the situation could change, but as of right now I not believe there is a single situation that would warrant a death penalty.

What Filii Dei said. Mea culpa

I suppose that some South American drug dealer-murderers (who can’t be contained because they can bribe the guards) might qualify.

Perspectives of the death penalty that only consider its deterrent or defensive effects overlook the responsibility of the law to create the appearance of justice. Without the impression that the law answers heinous crimes with its ultimate sanction, a cynicism toward the authority of the law is invited. In the end, if the law is viewed as malleable to contemporary sentiment and lacking comparable sanction, cynicism toward the law and the wanton disregard of it are bred. Justice requires that its sanction be both swift and sure - swift, so the sanction is related in everyone’s consciousness to the crime, and sure, so the sanction is seen as not subject to political climate.

To my understanding this is the Augustinian view that has been consistent with Church teaching over the millenia - that justice in the broken city of man does not occur of its own, must be created to as closely mirror as possible the city of God, and that the threat of anarchy where only the strong will out is the enemy actually to be combated. In this event, the lesser of evils must be tolerated.

While I think I understand Pope John Paul’s II’s instruction in this matter, I am simply observing that the issue is far from simple in the mind’s of many of us, and there has always been legitimate authority within the Church to support the view that the death penalty is not inherently evil, but occasionally necessary in the interests of justice.

It is my understanding that the Church did not execute people for heresy; if the Church court found them guilty of heresy, they were turned over to the State to be executed.

What this section does not take into account is the numerous murders and attempted murders committed within prisons, both of other inmates and of guards. It receives little publicity, but being that I have a relative who is a prison guard, it certainly is a matter of concern for his safety. The comment appears to have been made (I have heard it was attributed directly to JP 2 but I can’t confirm) by someone somewhat naive to the reality of prison systems.

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